Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not in my Neighborhood: Downtown Tries to Fend off "Ill Fame" and "Moral Defamation," 1893

Sanitation and prostitution were long-time problems, not limited to the typhoid scare of 1909 or peppermint flat between 1900 - 1910. They also tapped into fears and anxieties. In 1893 almost two decades earlier, managing dirt and disorder, whether represented by the raw sewage variety, or by the metaphorical and menacing "other," was also top of mind. Two episodes that year show intense interest in drawing a line between clean and dirty society. Both show that the line was generally difficult to draw and more than a little fuzzy.

Encroachment of Houses of Ill Fame on a Business Block

The business block just north of Hotel Willamette now possesses a full-fledged red-windowed bawdy house. This is an insult to hitherto respectable business block in Salem.

Looking out of the hotel dining room and staring people in the face is a low dive. Ladies passing on the street are apt to be brushed or jostled by the women on the street. The home is rented by some one in Portland and is owned by the Hirsch estate of that city. A window as been draped in red to catch attention from State street.

The place formerly had better tenants but was vacant six months.

There should be a vigorous protest form all who live in that block.

The next day a quasi-editorial note appeared.

Bawdy Houses Forcing Their Way Towards Commercial Street

No action has been taken so far to remove the house of ill fame from opposite the Hotel Willamette. It is an injury to that property and an injury to the entire business interest of the city.

The city authorities should consider this matter at once. The city police should be ordered by the mayor or by the city council to raid the house that has recently been opened in the same block with Ladd & Bush bank and other prominent business houses of the Capital city of Oregon.

THE JOURNAL wishes to sound a warning against this encroachment by houses of prostitution upon the best business blocks in the city. Such things cannot be tolerated across the street from our only first-class hotel, and in the block with our principal bank and leading business house. The disreputable office should be confined to the territory it now occupies and wiped out if that is possible. If that cancer is allowed to spread it will take its next step into Commercial street. THE JOURNAL considers it the duty of police and magistrates to use all their power and authority to drive out this vile traffic before it becomes established and thus save our moral defamation and injury to property.

It is not necessary to call names in this matter. A newspaper is not a public prosecutor, nor defamer of individuals. It is not necessary to state that a Salem business man in good society pays the rent for these women. The facts are not hard to get at. But the city government should act.

Later that fall, attention turned to Chinatown. The view of Chinatown is mostly appalling, and yet nativist rhetoric was hardly atypical then and still sometimes echoes today. Nevertheless, the problem of raw sewage was real, and was a problem of infrastructure, not merely of assimilation or respect for cultural differences.

The Authorities Gently Reminded of Filthy Chinatown

A sure way to spoil an appetite for several meals ahead is a trip through the alley in the rear of the China dens on Liberty street.

The foul smell arising from the carcasses dumped into this alley, is only equaled by the stench that emanates from the back doors of the row of dens that front on Liberty and State streets.

If it is true that this race of people live on dead cats, rats, etc., the den must now have on hand a surplus stock in that line. In this alley near the tower of the fire bell, which they are now using as a dumping ground for their surplus edibles, lie a number of putrid carcasses that give rise to an oder that would do credit to a soap factory.

The writer observed in this alley, through the sense of sight, emphasized by that of smell in two dead cats, one that has laid for many days and another that is swollen to immense proportions, just nearing the ripening stage, and if not removed will thicken the atmosphere around with its odor in a day or two.

In this same locality lies a decomposing rat that contributes its share to excite the olfactory nerves, and to this is added the fragrance of a dead chicken and odor arising from bones of meat that are dumped into the alley with more or less flesh on them. The idea one gets of Chinese life at their backdoor is anything but exalted and the closer one gets to their dens the more nauseating the smell.

There is one place on Liberty street where they never take the trouble to carry the slop pails to the back door, but empty it out a at [sic] side window where stands a pool of their filth which is very unsightly as well as deleterious to the sanitary conditions of the surroundings.

The white residents in the neighborhood of Chinatown are beginning to complain, and they as well as the entire population of the city should be protected against the filthy habits of these uncanny people.

That part of the city known as Chinatown, centrally located in the Capital City, is a fruitful source of disease and moral degredation [sic] and is becoming a menace to those ow[n]ing property or doing business in that vicinity. Within easy stone throw are three Chinese or Japanese houses of prostitution besides one conducted by American demi monde.

Chinatown should be renovated, forcing the denizens to conform to sanitary laws as well as moral laws or that hole should be depopulated.

For more on Chinatown, see the rehash of Ben Maxwell's article. More on Salem's multiculturalism here.

On Wednesday, January 20th, as part of honoring the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, at the Library will be a showing of the film, The Ku Klux Klan in Oregon 1920-1923.


  1. and now I feel a strong need for a small bouquet of violets attached to my wrist.
    Can you imagine? Today we loudly complain about a dairy farm's smell that lasts a few seconds as we drive on by.

  2. Yup. In the winter buggy and wagon wheels spashed a slurry of manure and sewage and mud; and in the summer the sewage and manure was drier, but riper. Aromatically, cities and towns were pretty foul, and we really underestimate the olfactory contribution of modern sanitation and water treatment.