The Twelve Days of Guy Town Christmas, Day Eleven

December 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

On the eleventh day of Christmas (1888): “eleven half seas over, mud to the 10th power, nine shades of grey, an 8% solution, seven strips of bacon, sharp 6 o’clock Sunday morning, $5 fine with costs, four cut-up caballeros, three maudlin lines of poetry, two fighting drunks … and a pungent suit hanging from the police station clothes tree.”

Standing under the glare of a great arc light just before midnight in that portion of the city traversed by West Fourth street, an officer said to a reporter:

“That’s a hard place over there.”

“Over where?”

“There, where you see that light,” and he pointed to a two-story brick, on the ground floor of which is a saloon. “That is about the hardest place in this city, and it requires constant watching. You had better go over there and take a look at the ranch.”

It was a dreary night with a drizzle and heavy mist filling the atmosphere, while the great arc light cast a baleful glare over the entire neighborhood. Very few people were out even in that quarter of the city where humanity, ever restless, tirelessly tramps through the brooding darkness or in maddened revelry battle against it in dive or brothel. No sleep for weary eyes; no comforting rest for weary hearts in that quarter of town when the shades of night gather.

The building to which the reporter had been directed is a two-story brick, known in the lingo of the neighborhood as the “Devil’s Eyebrow.” The name is appropriate, for it arches over and shadows eyes that see nothing but iniquity in all its horrid deformity. In front of the building on the sidewalk a group of men and women engaged in conversation in which oaths and slang largely predominated. They gave way as the reporter neared the door, and an ominous hush fell over the crowd. They were sizing up the newcomer to see if there was a chance to rope him in for the drinks.

On the inside the atmosphere was reeking with the fumes of stale beer, whisky, tobacco smoke and the odor from damp and dirty clothing. There was a motley crowd of whites and blacks, men and women, in the bar room, while from a rear apartment there were sounds of many voices.

Thither the reporter wended his way, and looking in he saw a hardened crew of blear eyed men and assertive negro and white women of the lowest and most abandoned type. Nearly all were half seas over, and there was a suspicious odor of the fumes of opium permeating the room. They paid no attention to the reporter. In that room the visitor must make the advances, and woe be unto him if he advances too far.

The inmates of the room were scattered here and there, some standing, some sitting, and some leaning against the wall. Some were drinking beer and all had been. The reporter stood by the door and listened to the conversation a few moments. It was horrible. Incomparable, overwhelmingly horrible. Not a word, not a whisper, not a move that betokened even a faint trace of the higher emotions and feelings that move upon the human heart.

It was hell.

The reporter, tired of the scene, passed out of the building and on the sidewalk met two girls coming from a saloon hard by.

“What shall we do?” said one.

“I don’t know,” said the other, and she ripped out an oath or two.

“We can’t let her starve. I won’t let her starve. I’m going to take her to my room.”

They were talking about a waif from a far away city who had just reached town penniless and sick. In all this city there was no place for such. No helping hand save that outstretched by her sisters in iniquity. A sad comment on the civilizations of the day.

“Will it always be so?” mused the reporter as he thought of this waif and hundreds and thousands like her, who have not where to lay their heads when heart-weary and yearning for a better and a holier life.

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