March 24, 2017 § Leave a comment
Chapter Five: A Girl from a Good Family
At 2:30 in afternoon of February 10, 1892, Annie Miller, a young German girl living over Mrs. Emily Jacoby’s eating house on West Fourth Street, died from the effects of some kind of poison taken with suicidal intent. At the inquest held about 4 o’clock by Justice Fisher, Mrs. Jacoby stated that she had known deceased for some eight or nine months; that she was about 20 years of age, and the only name she knew her by was that of Annie Miller.
All day Tuesday she appeared to be perfectly well, with the exception of a slight headache that grew worse towards night. She had no idea where deceased procured the poison with which she killed herself, as it was never kept in the house and the girl had not been out to purchase any all day Tuesday. The first indication she had that anything was wrong was about 10:30 on the morning of the 10th when she went to deceased’s door, which was locked, and was unable to rouse her by repeated rappings. She then went down and got Officer William Davis, who gained an entrance into the room through a window, which was about half way up. No note whatever was left as a possible explanation. Mrs. Jacoby said that a few days ago Annie had told her that her folks in Berlin, Germany, were trying to force her to go home, and that Officer John Chenneville had been to see her in reference to it and also that a reward of $200 had been offered for her return. They thought seemed to prey on her mind a great deal and she indulged in a good deal of crying. It may have been this that led to the rash act.
Officer Davis testified to his having entered the room, and to having summoned the doctors, the girl not then being dead, who worked on her until the time of her death. Three small empty wooden boxes were found in the room, but what they had contained is not known. He also stated that for a short time after she came to Austin she was an inmate of Jessie Mead’s “female boarding house” on Colorado Street in Guy Town.
Some other facts that were not brought out during the inquest were learned by a Daily Statesman reporter. They were to the effect that the girl was of a good family, her parents living in Berlin. She was sent to an uncle in New York, where she was educated. When her time was up it was intended to send her back to Germany, but for some cause she refused to go, and to escape ran off and came to Texas. She went to Houston for a short time and from there came to Austin. Annie Miller was not her right name, but what it was and her reason for not wanting to go back home remains a mystery.
A reporter saw Detective Chenneville that night and learned some further facts connected with the unfortunate girl. Her right name was Emma Peech. The uncle in New York was a baker, doing business on East 33rd street. The cause of her leaving home was not that she was disinclined to returning to Germany, but that she was decoyed away and taken to a variety dive in Houston. It was this fact that caused the reward to be offered for her. On the steamer while coming to Houston she was seduced, and to avoid detection she shaved her head and came to Austin. In the meantime Detective Chenneville had received information as to her absence from New York and located her and identified her by a picture. She confessed to him that she was the right party and expressed a willingness to go home if she could conceal her shame from her parents.
Could she have or couldn’t she have? That answer died with her. Re-entry into “proper” society from the company of the “fragile ones” was rare, as we shall read in a succeeding post.
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.”
“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.
December 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
On the tenth day of Christmas (1893): “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.”
The young people living in and about Fiskville (about six miles north of town) had congregated that night for the purpose of enjoying a Christmas dance. News of the affair was in some way communicated to two of Austin’s gay and festive young men and they at once concluded to go out and partake of the fun. They were not content to go alone, but hired two buggies and went down to Guy Town, where they secured two fine looking damsels of easy virtue as partners.
As soon as the quartet reached the scene of festivities the Fiskville boys recognized the two rent girls, and vice-versa, and at once proceeded to make life interesting for the big city intruders. They placed the two joyous filles in one buggy and started them back toward the First ward. The Fiskville boys treated their gentleman partners to a different fate. Close by was a pond filled with the muddiest kind of muddy water. The Austin boys were hustled and thrown into the pond, clothes and all, after which their buggy was returned to them and they headed for home, a very crestfallen pair.
August 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
It’s seems hard to imagine Austin without the University of Texas, but back in 1881, Austin’s future of becoming “the Athens of the South,” was anything but assured, as dozens of Texas cities and towns jockeyed for the prize, to be awarded by the voters of Texas in a special election. During the state university campaign, opponents of Austin frequently urged that the vices of gambling and prostitution prevailed to an alarming extent in Austin, rendering it an unfit place for the location.
Student fun at UT has changed a tad since 1881: computer gaming has replaced gambling. The sexual revolution put the screw to prostitution. “Eating Out” isn’t just for dinner anymore. Herpes, HPV and HIV have “cum” ahead of syphilis and the clap. An evening with Venus no longer brings a lifetime with Mercury. Hillbilly heroin, not hillbilly hooch, fries the minds of our best and brightest.
When the following editorial appeared 132 years ago, a number of citizens hoped that Austin would become “as noted for good morals and good order as it is now for pure air and healthful climate, so that the refined and cultured will seek homes in our midst.”
Has their dream come true? You be the judge. One person’s Sodom is another’s Eden.
August 24, 1884
Will Gambling Dens Be Suppressed In Austin?
The county attorney says the gamblers must go, but at the same time confesses that in order to reach the desired result he must have the active co-operation and moral support of all good citizens. The attorney has answered the belligerent attitude and threats of the gamblers by a declaration of war, and the important question now is: shall he be backed by those citizens of Austin who have the best interests of the Capital City at heart, who desire to see Austin become as noted for good morals and good order as it is now for pure air and healthful climate, so that the refined and cultured will seek homes in our midst?
Always attractive as an educational point on account of its favorable location, since the establishment of the state university here, it is fondly hoped that in due time Austin will become the great literary and educational center of Texas and the entire southwest. During the canvas for the location of the state university it was frequently urged by the opponents of Austin that the vices of gambling and prostitution prevailed to an alarming extent, rendering it an unfit place for the location. This was sometimes met by a bold general denial, and sometimes by the assertion that Austin was no worse in this respect than the other cities of this state, and that the citizens and authorities of the place selected for the location of the university would be aroused by pride and self-interest to the suppression of these vices. During the building of one wing of the university and the one year that it has been open to students, what has been done for the suppression and removal of these vices? Comparatively nothing.
Gambling houses and houses of prostitution continue as heretofore to ply their damnable vocations on the principal streets and in the heart of the city, and the support of the proprietors and patrons of these dens of infamy is eagerly and openly solicited by candidates for office. Does anyone suppose these facts are not well known throughout the length and breadth of the state? And if they are, what must be their effect on the welfare of Austin, its schools and the State University?
Does anyone doubt that the existing state of things, if allowed to continue, will be fatal to the growth and prosperity of the university and to the highest interests of Austin? Does anyone doubt that a remedy for these terrible evils exists in a faithful and vigorous execution of the laws? Or, if any law should be found insufficient for the suppression of the vices alluded to, does anyone doubt that united action on the part of the good citizens of this community would procure the enactment of laws that would be sufficient?
Then, let the good people of this city bestir themselves in this matter of vital importance, and see that men of virtue and good morals are elected to office and that every officer receives in enforcement of the laws against the evils referred to the necessary assistance and moral support. This done, and ere long the said vices, if not suppressed, will be removed from our principal streets into such obscurity that they will no longer flaunt themselves before the public gaze as they now do to the detriment and disgrace of our city.