Friday, August 28, 2015

Tales of the Bagnio, Vol. 1

     I have all these different ideas of what I want to write about, some recurring features, some long-winded diatribes about Queen songs and the current hilarious state of Philadelphia sports franchises. If I ever get the chance, I'd tell you about what I've been up to, but it isn't very interesting. None of my plans involve my experiences as a father or the how wise I am now because I have to encounter human feces on a regular basis. That's the Cotton promise™.

     But today, I want to tell you a story, an old one. Not like India old, but old enough for this country and this coast in particular. For the past year or so, I've been reading an eye-raising number of essays and accounts of prostitution in the American West. My library account remains scandalous. It started as research as something I've been working on for what feels like a decade (but actually only 7 years, thank you very much) and am no closer to finishing than when I started.

     This began with Herbert Asbury's incredible Barbary Coast, an amazing account of San Francisco's early days. You might recognize Asbury as the author of The Gangs of New York, and this is a very similar book. I love nonfiction pieces like this because they provide that rare account of what the lower classes (i.e. 80% of the population) did with their time. Obviously there are church records and censuses and all that stuff, but when you really want to know something about the culture of an era, look to that era's dirtbags. I could go on and on about this and probably will on another day, but I still have that story to get to.

     Anyway, this incredible book put me on a path of finding anything I could about prostitution of the era. The bagnios, the brothels, the pretty waiter girls and the madames. It's difficult to put to words how important this aspect of life was to the creation of American culture and the west in particular. You could argue (easily, as Cy Martin does in his book Whiskey and Wild Women) that these women, along with the barkeepers, were the only vestige of culture in the American west through its nascent years.
There are so many incredible stories contained in these accounts, and I'm sure I'll discuss some of them in greater detail at another time, as I keep having to delete whole paragraphs as I get sidetracked talking about the importance of these "degenerate" institutions within the development of an American culture and psyche.


     This is the story of Ada LaMont, the first madame in Denver. Well, the first white one, anyway, Records from that era are spotty at best, and unfortunately almost always with a European bent. But this we already know.

     Ada LaMont is said to have boarded a wagon train from Indiana in 1858 or 1859 with her husband, a young minister hoping to spread the Word in the morally abandoned West. She was all of 19 years old. Somewhere on the journey West, her clergyman husband disappeared at the same time as a woman of "questionable character" (a pretty broad term and usually just meant that she was unmarried and not a schoolteacher). The wagon train halted to search for the missing parties, but when they were not found the assumption was that Ada had been abandoned in favor of the other woman.

     Dismayed, LaMont had little choice but to complete her journey in heartbroken silence. When the wagon train reached Denver (the neighborhood of Auraria, to be specific), the once demure Ada stunned her fellow travelers by appearing before them and stating "As a God-fearing woman, you see me for the last time. As of tomorrow, I start the first brothel in this settlement. Any of you men in need of a little fun will always find the flaps of my tent open."

(how great -and utterly American- is that?)

     Anyway, Ada (or Addie, as she renamed herself), was true to her word. She worked as a well-liked madame in Auraria for most of the remainder of her life. She began on "Indian Row" on Ferry Street, now known as 11th street and currently appears to be the center of the UC Denver campus. Later, she relocated to a two-story brick building on Arapahoe Street. Aside from the notoriety of her scandalous profession, Addie was also famous for her reasonably priced liquor, sympathetic ear and workers who never stole from their clients (all rare for that time).

     Over time, she fell in with a rough crowd, which is to say her clientele and competition, notably a gambler named Charley Harrison. Harrison was a charming man of the South, the proprietor of the Criterion Saloon, and allegedly an undercover agent of the Confederacy. He was also a raging psychopath known to commit murders all over Denver. After being acquitted of one, he aspired to kill twelve white men, so that he could "have a jury of his peers in hell." Apparently, he did not consider the dozen non-white men he'd already murdered his peers, although some say he counted the murder of three women equal to that of one white man.  Charming guy. Addie LaMont, it seems, was instrumental in getting bribing the right people to get Harrison off the hook for at least one killing, although he was later chased out of town. Justice eventually caught up with him, though, as a party of Osage caught up with him and sent him to the hell he was looking for.


     But this story is not yet done. Because years later after decades of infamy as a a bordello operator, an old friend from back East came to see her and brought with him a startling artifact. It seemed that while camping in Kansas, he had stumbled across several corpses, and in the arms of one, found a bible that bore Ada's inscription to her minister husband. There was a bullet hole in his skull. The missing woman that he had been suspected of running off with all those years ago was also found among the dead. It had been supposed that they had been killed by natives, but I've never been able to find confirmation to that effect.

     Devastated, Addie turned to drink. After squandering her considerable fortune in an alcoholic stupor, her business had declined and she moved to nearby Georgetown (then in the throes of a massive silver find), where she herself worked as a prostitute before dying penniless on the streets of a wealthy boom town.

     Is that not a story or what!? I know it doesn't have the happiest of endings, but there is rarely such a thing if you follow the plot long enough down the line.

So that's what I got for this beautiful day. I'm going to go for a walk in a little bit and if I get the chance, I'm going to try to start a new regular feature thing later this evening. In the meantime, I hope you all have a fantastic Friday.

Below is an old news story about Charley Harrison because it's sadly a lot easier to find information about him than Ada LaMont.

All True--All Fact--Stories of the Real West, 15(3). 1968.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Post called on account of terrorism

A long and furious tirade about how stupid our guns laws are will do nothing right now, and I'm afraid that's the only thing I can type at the moment. If you're reading this you probably know my opinion, just as I know that if we disagree, I'm unlikely to change yours.
but this is fucked.

I need to get the hell away from the internet for a day or two.

Five gun control groups worth your time and donations

Monday, August 24, 2015

sugar, this one is it

yeah, I'm gonna try taking a stab at this again.

There's a few reasons for this: for one, I am trying to do more of the writing I promised myself a decade ago I would get serious about and I need to focus on getting those muscles (figurative and literal) back into shape. I swear I've written that here in the not-too-distant past.

Another reason is that I was recently catching up with an old friend who mentioned how he missed seeing stuff here (yes, I'm vain enough for that to work) and I realized how much I enjoyed writing a lot of it. I spent some time recently going back through the archives and I forgot just how much writing I did here. A lot of it is riddled with typos and most of it is difficult to read on account of its didacticism. We all have the internet. I'm not going to assume you've never heard of most of the stuff I'm writing about, but I can already tell you that it'll happen, just because I'm trying to inform most of the time and  the only thing worse than smarmy enlightenment is pretense. Bear with me, and call me out on my bullshit.

There will be some differences. I'm going to try to be much better about sourcing pictures responsibly and not just image searching. This tends to take more time, but I'll feel better about it when I sleep.
Also, I have way more to do than I used to, so don't expect me to post as often as I once did. And expect more of the posts to be about things I can do from my living room, because I don't get out much.

I'm also gonna try to change the name and url. Actually, I will change the name and url once I think of some stuff.

I doubt many of the posts will be all that personal, because I've done enough of that, but surely some stuff will seep through and other stuff I will vent accordingly. But I am a person who looks for jobs sometimes, and that will (hopefully) be at the back of my mind most of the time.

anyways, welcome back me. I've already got a post or two banked and I can think of at least one more that's half-written in my head. So hopefully we'll hit the ground running.

Like things smothered by their own Green, mindless, unkillable ghosts.

Galen Parks Smith

there's an interesting article about kudzu on the Smithsonian website today

In short (although it's definitely worth the read), it posits that the overwhelming belief that kudzu is a sprawling terror threatening to smother the American South is largely a farce. It claims that while the vine certainly does spread as vines are known to do, it has never been at a dangerous enough rate to be a concern.

It also tracks how much of this belief got started, proving once again that the internet only sped the rate at which misinformation spreads so much.

It's funny, because I've definitely heard all of the tropes mentioned about the vine before except maybe the idea of closing the windows at night because the vines will creep in*, one echoed in James Dickey's poem from which I've lifted the title above. But weirdly enough, I've seen more kudzu in Maryland than I did in the entire time I lived in Georgia (or even travelling throughout the rest of the south). Of course, I remember seeing it a lot more when I was a kid on road trips throughout the south as a kid. Although, now that most of my traveling is done on major highways (and usually on the West Coast), it's not like I get to see the real South as much as I'd like to.

This supports a lot of the article's claims, and I thought it was funny that when I tried to use Google Maps to locate one particularly nasty stretch of the stuff in Kent County, MD, it turned out to be off the street view map (making me feel a truly authentic Old Line stater in the process).

Anyway, one line from the article that I walked away with states that:

 A writer for Deep South Magazine recently gushed that kudzu isthe ultimate icon for the amazing metaphor for just about every issue you can imagine within Southern Studies.

Which is a pretty great point, in some ways. identifying the South through kudzu is an identifier not unlike describing southern California through the highways. It's helpful description and provides some regional flair, but it's also an indication of lazy writing or, worse, Google tourism, of which I am as guilty as anyone. 

But it's also a pretty apt metaphor for pretty much anything. I could use it to tie into the encroachment of the 2016 Presidential election, or the pervasiveness of beatboxing in general American culture. My point is... crap I don't have a point. My point is that metaphors are usually either crap writing or way too subtextual to have any real effect.

Actually, I think my point is that kudzu might be an invasive plant**, it looks pretty beautiful when draped over a sprawling landscape... especially when it's covering up some manmade relic carelessly left behind.

*this sounds both terrifying and also so, so hot in the summer. Also, sleeping with the windows closed anywhere that Kudzu would actually grow sounds like it would be a horrible way to deprive oneself of the beautiful summer night sounds that I still play recordings of in order to fall asleep at night. But then, the thought of green vines reaching in through the windows and enveloping me in my sleep has a certain Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe that might convince me to sleep in relative silence.

**"invasive species"  is rarely a positive descriptor, and this is no exception (Kudzu is the invasive species poster child, much like it would be toads and rabbits in Australia), but bamboo is far more invasive than kudzu and idiots still plant that all the time.