The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Prostitution--The 1913 Cleanup

H. C. Garnett Testifies Regarding Vice Conditions, Queries Summersville--
Meeting Adjourns When City Atty. Pleads Inability
    "Now we must go home and tell our families and children we are helpless against vice and immorality, and our boys and girls must grow up surrounded by these conditions," said Rev. D. D. Boyle at the special meeting of the city council last night after City Attorney McCabe had said that the city government and officials were absolutely helpless to suppress prostitution, that the council had no authority to order the police to close notorious resorts, and that the new law that permits the closing of disreputable houses because of common "fame" is unconstitutional. With this all but one or two of the fifty men present walked out of the hall.
    His speech was made at the close of one of the most exciting meetings ever held in Medford. Attorney Fred W. Mears had been invited by the council to tell all he knew of immoral conditions in Medford, and he accepted with interest. Mayor Eifert immediately asked him to give his testimony. Mears contended that by the last act of the legislature common fame was enough to close rooming houses, and any city official that permitted such houses to exist was doing a criminal act. He read his evidence and remarks which was as follows:
    1. Read 1913 session laws at page 519-520.
    2. Read advertisements.
    3. Question: If there is a single councilman who does not believe that there are in this city houses of assignation based on the "common fame" of these places, I wish they would say so right now.
1. Common Fame
    (a) Mr. E. E. Kelly, the prosecuting attorney, told the W.C.T.U. a short time ago that he was gathering evidence to go after these immoral places. If there are no such immoral places in this town, what is Mr. Kelly gathering evidence for, and why did he tell these women he was gathering such evidence unless there are such immoral places?
    (b) A leading citizen of this town told me not long ago that his business was such that he did not naturally come in contact with the people who would be liable to know about such immoral places, yet that he had heard on the street that these places existed in the town and that he was satisfied from what he heard and based on "common fame" that such immoral places existed here at the present time. I asked this man the direct question if he thought the council had done anything the last few months to remedy the conditions, and he said, and I quote his exact words, "Not that anyone knows of."
    (c) Councilman Millar testified on the witness stand here that the Royal Rooming House was a sporting house. I ask the question now, "Has the Royal Rooming House been closed up?" Is it running now? The committee accepted a $5 contribution from the notorious Royal Rooming House for our Fourth of July celebration.
    (d) A man who is connected with a saloon in this town told me recently that he knew that what was known as the "Moore Annex" was an immoral place. He asked me not to use his name, but if I were allowed to give the name you would know that this man knew what he was talking about.
    (e) Mr. T. B. Ellison, a Civil War veteran and one who is downtown on the streets a good deal, told me that it was common knowledge on the streets that these immoral places existed here at the present time, and that he was willing for me to quote him as saying this.
    (f) Another leading citizen of this town, and one whose probity is unquestioned, told me a short time ago, and he verified the statement this morning, that he went to one of the councilmen of this city to get a scythe sharpened and in the conversation told this councilman that the scythe made no more impression on the grass than the reporting of these places of immorality to the council made upon the councilmen. And that is all the good it did to talk to this councilman. This same gentleman went to another one of these councilmen, the gentleman who so kindly introduced the motion last night asking me to appear before you, and he told him this same story that he told the other councilman, and in addition told him that it was commonly reported that there was an immoral house near one of the councilmen's homes, and the only reply he got was a smile. I can get a statement from this gentleman verifying it if it is necessary. And yet, gentlemen, this was the councilman who told me this morning that he objected to my making a public statement last Sunday night, but it would be all right to bring it before the council. I [would] like to know what use it is to present these matters to the councilmen in a private manner, only to receive a smile. I tell you, gentlemen, this matter has been presented to some of you individually, and you have been asked to do something. You have been asked to keep your public promise which you made a few months ago that you would clean these places up, and what have you done? The same business man--whom you all know and who stated to me that although his business was such that he did not come into contact with these things, yet knew from general fame and talk that such things now existed in this town, and when asked the direction question by me if he thought the council had done anything the last few months to remedy the conditions, said, and I quote his exact words, "Not that anyone knows of."
    It is a well-known fact that in all cities of any size in the United States the police know where these places are. And I am right here to say that the police in this city know where these places are. Did not the police about the time of the Millar trial of a short time before, run the inmates out of town? Now, if they could do that they certainly must know where these places are. The mayor of this city told one of our citizens who went to him asking him to do something to bring about some of these prosecutions against the owners of these places, the mayor told him that he could not get any help from the police and that the council would do nothing. Now, it is a well-known fact in this town that whereas the mayor has the theoretical right and power to handle this question, yet as a matter of fact since the election on the [charter] amendment a short time ago the real power is in the council.
5. Statements of Leading Citizens.
    (a) A leading physician of this city told me yesterday in one of the leading business houses in town, and in the presence of the proprietor himself, that he had just treated professionally a woman whom he knew to be a prostitute, and that she told him that she had a room in one of these places on Main Street, and the physician gave the name of the place. The physician further said that whereas he had never been to that place himself in a professional capacity, he was satisfied in his own mind that the place was an immoral place. I could give you the name of this physician, but I will not do so without first getting his permission.
    (b) Mr. H. A. Canaday said that I might use his name and quote him. Mr. Canaday has his office and living room in the Fruitgrowers Bank building. He told me that within the last thirty days he was returning home from the 11:30 p.m. train; that after he had got something to eat in one of the restaurants here he walked along toward his office at about 12:30 a.m., and he saw a number of young men and boys going up and down a certain stairway leading to certain rooms. He passed along a little farther and saw a number of young men and boys going up and also going down a certain stairway leading to some other rooms on Main Street. This was the same place mentioned by the physician as being an immoral place.
    (c) I can bring evidence to show that some of these places have both a front and a back entrance, that on a certain day not long before three reputable citizens saw a large box over half-full of beer bottles, that men have been seen going up the back way during the week day. And yet this place is not a mercantile place. And so I might come on and give you more facts if I desired.
    You have called me before you to give you information as to these immoral places existing in our midst, presumably not knowing anything about any of these immoral places and presumably on the theory that you have no common fame as to these places.
    I have given you some of this information, sufficient for you to proceed.
    Mr. Mears then quoted the following laws passed at the last session of the legislature:
    Section 1. Whosoever shall erect, establish, continue, maintain, use, own or lease any building, erection or place used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation or prostitution or any other immoral act, is guilty of maintaining a nuisance and the building, erection or place or the ground itself in or upon which or in any part of which such lewdness, assignation or prostitution is conducted, permitted or carried on, continued or exists, and the furniture, fixtures, musical instruments and contents are also declared a nuisance and shall be enjoined and abated as hereinafter provided.
    Section 2. Whenever a nuisance is kept any taxpayer of the county may maintain a suit in equity to perpetually enjoin such nuisance.
    Section 3. The suit when brought under the provisions of this act shall be promptly tried, and in such suit common fame shall be competent evidence in support of the complaint.
Promised To Enforce Law
    You promised the people of Medford a few months ago that you would clean up the city, an admission by you that these immoral places did exist. Advertisements have appeared in both of our newspapers, the Mail Tribune and the Sun, as I read to you tonight, calling up on you to close up these immoral places. No attention has been paid to this public notification.
    You have been seen individually by leading citizens of this community and told recently of these places, and your only reply has been a smile. Leading citizens have gone to some of you personally and offered to furnish evidence if you would prosecute the owners of these houses. Your only reply has been one of evasion. You have been told that if you would honestly ask your own police to furnish you evidence that the police could do so. Didn't the police send some of these people out of town? Do you or any honest man for one moment imagine that these places could run if they were not permitted to run? Would not an order to our police or to the police of any city in this country to close these places up result in their being closed up?
    You ask for evidence as to these things. I have given you sufficient evidence with which to proceed. This is not the place to give complete evidence.
    This council is not a judicial body to use said evidence.
Asks for Roll Call
    In fact, it looks to the citizens of Medford that this council does not approve of the doing away of these places. That no less a one than the former city attorney, Mr. Boggs, and the one whose duty it was not only as a public official but a good citizen as well, presented before the court evidence of these things and the prosecutor a case to its finish; and for so doing this council absolutely threw him out of office. And now knowing what the council did in that matter with their own public official, it would be utter folly for me or any other private citizen to furnish further evidence.
    As you have asked me to appear before you and answer questions, I now ask the privilege of asking the council a question. With the permission of this council I would like to ask the recorder to call the roll and let each councilman answer whether or not he is in favor of closing up these places.
    H. D. Penfield then made a speech in which he asked why the city authorities have not long since closed up the Royal and said that punishment should be dealt to the owners of the building rather than the inmates.
    He told how Governor West had sent the promise of aid to other cities where immoral conditions existed. All the members of the council said that they were in favor of cleaning up the city, but lacked the knowledge of the various places. Penfield responded to this by saying that if the city authorities could drive out the inmates of the houses at one time they could again and said that it was absurd that the police did not know where the infamous places were.
    Rev. Midridge of the Methodist Church said that unless the city authorities took steps to clean up the city of immoral women the citizens would. This caused much applause. When Mr. Mitchell said that he did not believe the council would be able to do this, Rev. Eldridge said that if the present city government found that they were powerless, more efficient officials should be chosen. Rev. Boyle then said if past laws did not give the city officials jurisdiction over immoral houses, the new law did.
    H. C. Garnett rose to say that he had heard many times that the rooming house directly above the mayor's place of business was a house of prostitution and that Mrs. Larsen, one of the inmates, was a lewd woman. He also said he has heard many things about a rooming house near Councilman Summerville's residence. [The 1912 and 1914 city directories place John T. Summerville's residence at 629 North Central.] Summerville replied that the place was "all right." Shortie Garnett asked him then if he allowed his family to communicate with women living in the house, and he said [as] he had never learned anything against her. He had never instructed his family as to the matter.
    Rev. Eldridge spoke again and said that he knew a Medford merchant who on July 4th saw a woman in a nearly nude condition stand for nearly an hour in the window above Mayor Eifert's business house [The 1912 city directory places this at 132 West Main, the Palm-Niedermeyer building. In 1909 part of the upstairs had been fitted out as an annex to the Hotel Moore.], and that if he was ever brought up as a witness he could mention the man's name.
    Councilman Campbell responded to this by saying if the merchant had been a good citizen he would have reported the matter to the police. Rev. Eldridge suggested that a number of detectives be appointed to watch the suspected houses and gather evidence for a trial. It was suggested that Governor West's assistance be asked, but this plan was rejected because it would give the city such a bad reputation. Mr. Fouts, Dr. Lockwood, Mr. Stine and others made speeches.
    Attorney McCabe rejected nearly every plan proposed to rid Medford of the unwelcome element and said that the only way out of the difficulty would be to secure someone willing to turn state's evidence against the women, which would of course be nearly impossible to bring about. He said that the new law as to "common fame" would not hold up in court and the city would have no authority to subpoena anyone seen going out or in the suspected places because no evidence other than "common fame" could be secured against them. The council all expressed their heartfelt cooperation with the movement for a cleaner Medford, and different members said if immoral conditions do exist it is because the wrong-doers could not be located, and no evidence could be secured to drive them out. McCabe seemed to think that the council did not even have authority to instruct the police to raid or inspect the suspected places.
    Councilman Mitchell was in favor of swearing out a complaint this morning against the two inmates of the house above Mayor Eifert's and issuing subpoenas for all those giving evidence at the meeting. Mr. McCabe thought the case would be lost because of lack of testimony, and only three of those present held up their hands in favor of the move.
Medford Sun, July 17, 1913, page 1

Notorious Royal As Quiet As the Grave--Not a Landlady in Sight
    After the adjournment of the council meeting last night, we, the mayor, members of the city council, chief of police, H. S. Stine and a reporter for the Sun, visited practically all the rooming houses in the city and failed to find anything of a suggestive or incriminating nature.
(signed) W. W. Eifert, Mayor
               J. F. Hittson, Chief of Police
               W. M. Campbell
               J. W. Mitchell
               Geo. W. Porter
               J. T. Summerville
               J. E. Stewart
               G. H. Millar
                H. S. Stine
    Finding nothing of a suggestive or an incriminating nature is right. In fact, the rooming houses visited were nearly as empty as the proverbial "shark's egg," and even the Royal den o' sin had only two lonely men sleeping in it.
    The council, the mayor, the police and Mr. Stine began first with the Oaks Rooming House in Front Street, which contained about twenty beds that had not been slept in for the past six weeks, and a few more which were occupied by men. Then the famous place above Mayor Eifert's was investigated, with like results. Then the small army of officials strode on to the other rooming house, the Royal (now known as the Opera), the Palm, the Seattle and many more. At the Seattle were three men, one of whom claimed to be a member of the Ashland police, one the man who had a small prize fight with Shorty Miles some time ago, and another youth. A number of empty beer bottles were the nearest thing in incriminating evidence here.
    Then with the resolve to rid Medford of "immoral influences" the chief, Mr. Stine, the mayor, Mr. Porter and Mr. Mitchell got into the chief's and Porter's automobiles and hied themselves to the house near Johnny Summerville's residence. This was found correspondingly empty, with the landlady downstairs and one boarder upstairs.
    Then the party visited the Oregon Rooms and made a minute examination. The landlord was inclined to be huffy and said that he would permit the search this time, but his slim bunch of boarders were not to be disturbed again without a search warrant.
    "A few more of these Hoosiers around here," he said, "and grass will be growin' in the middle of the pavements." This made Mr. Stine rather hot under the collar, as he was the only Hoosier in the party. Then the six men joined the rest of the council and the police at the Manhattan, where they all had coffee and pie.
Medford Sun, July 17, 1913, page 1

Business Men and Ministers Criticize Morals at Medford.
    MEDFORD, Or., July 17.--(Special.)--Stung by public criticisms of F. W. Mears of the moral conditions of Medford, the city council held a special session tonight to allow Mr. Mears to make good his assertions.
    Mr. Mears, who is an attorney, was backed up by virtually all the ministers of Medford. H. C. Garnett, president of the Garnett-Corey Hardware Company, and other business men testified that disorderly houses were allowed to run on the principal business streets.
    At the conclusion of the testimony City Attorney McCabe said that the common fame law passed at the last Legislature was unconstitutional and that the city was powerless to act unless someone would turn state's evidence against persons said to be conducting the houses. Evidence was offered that one of the establishments under suspicion was directly over Mayor Eifert's office and another was next to the residence of councilman Summerville. Criminal proceedings may be started for a city housecleaning.
Morning Oregonian, Portland, July 18, 1913, page 17

Declares Same Are Malicious--Has Grievance Against Garnett-Corey Bldg.
    To the editor: I want to state to the public that I have just returned from California visiting friends and looking for a rooming house location and have just got back in time to read those horrible assertions Mr. Garnett has said against me.
    I want the public to know that these assertions were made through malice on Mr. Garnett's part, and I will explain to the public his reasons.
    In January 1911, I traded [a] lovely home for this rooming house, 207 West Main Street, and was compelled to move on account of Mr. Garnett's tenants in his office building using the stairway from dark until daylight whooping and laughing, drunk and disorderly men and women both. They kept my roomers awake and were such a nuisance that I could not rent my rooms, and I went to my landlord to see if I could have them stop using my stairs and was informed that the Garnett-Corey building had the right to half those stairs, although he promised to see them about it and see what could be done. Time went by and the nuisance kept up so I finally could not stand it any longer and moved out the furniture which was all I had left out of my home, and it was hardly worth moving. I also found out that Mr. White's former tenants had the same trouble. She also offered to build a new stairway to get rid of the nuisance but was refused the privilege on account of no front space to share.
    I wonder if Mr. Garnett is seeking revenge by trying to ruin my character, because I reported the above mentioned. I would like to make Mr. Garnett prove the assertions he has made but am not financially able to do so, as I am now having a lawsuit with my husband, which costs lots of money, in fact more than I am able to pay. If I have a cent left when I get through with Mr. Larsen, I shall call on Mr. Garnett and prove to the public that I am not a lewd woman as Mr. Garnett has called me. It is true I run a rooming house for my living, and the rooming house business in Medford don't seem to have a very good reputation, but I must make a living for myself and child. I also want the public to know that I am not responsible for a woman looking out of a window in my house on the night of the Fourth of July parade. I rent my rooms to all that claim to be man and wife. I don't demand a marriage certificate. Do the hotels do that? If I did that I would insult them and am afraid would go out of business soon. I ask Mr. Eldridge to get any two of the many hundred people that were on the street during either parade to testify that they saw me in a nearly nude condition looking out of a window. Why didn't Mr. Eldridge, or the parties that saw such, notify me? I would have greatly appreciated their kindness, as I don't tolerate such in my house. I also want to state to Mr. Canaday that the people will continue to see the large box of beer bottles on my back porch as long as my child can buy them up over town for one cent and sell them for two. He can only sell them on Saturdays, so he has missed selling any for two Saturdays as he had gone to Ashland the last two Saturdays and therefore he has quite a lot on hand at present. He has saved up $33.00 at this work. I wonder if someone doesn't want a commission from the child as there has been a kick about that box of beer bottles before. I also want to inform Mr. Canaday that every man, woman or child or crowds of men seen going up and and down the stairs at 207 are not all patronizing my rooms, as they use both front and back stairs entering the Garnett-Corey building. I only wish this office door could be closed; I then would be rid of men following every lady up those stairs and ringing my doorbell asking silly questions. That building has been a public nuisance ever since I opened this place.
    Women flirt on the street with men and then make a straight headway for the Garnett-Corey building, and then I am compelled to answer my doorbell and inform the crowds of men that those women don't stop here. Then they get angry and accuse me of hiding the women away. Sometimes I have to threaten them with the law before I can get rid of them.
    I also want to state to the speaker in the meeting that was held the other night that I have nothing to do with the Hotel Moore Annex, have never run it and know nothing about it.
MRS. H. P. LARSEN.       
Medford Sun, July 19, 1913, page 1

    Chief of Police Hittson and assistants made a tour of the rooming houses late Saturday night and announced this morning that as a result the women in the Florida and Windsor rooming houses would be ordered to vacate. These were the only lodging houses that failed to come up to the police standards of propriety.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 10, 1913, page 2

    A moral reform wave, caused by an anonymous letter, hit the city council Tuesday night, when it passed an anti-gambling law, a reenactment of what already is a state law, which if strictly enforced will prevent shaking dice for cigars between friends, bridge whist among ladies, the playing of cards for treats, and practically mean suspension of business by a number of local cigar stores. In its drasticness it rivals the "blue law" of New England. Meanwhile slot machines are running without interference in saloons and cigar stores.
    The ordinance passed without a dissenting vote. Councilman Millar and Stewart complained of its wide scope but voted for it. Mayor Purdin, City Attorney McCabe and Councilman Mitchell led the fight for the ordinance.
    The ordinance was passed upon the allegations of an unsigned letter, in which Noah Lyons and Dex Hale were charged with conducting a poker game in a cigar store on Front Street. The writer said he had lost money there, and if called would appear as a witness and bring others. The ordinance provides immunity from prosecution for him if he does. Mayor Purdin and Prosecutor Kelly told him the ordinance was necessary.
    The act provides from $5 to $100 fine for the players, and $25 to $100 fine for the dealer, and is a copy of the state law, but under the city measure gambling is made a misdemeanor, instead of a felony. Every form of gambling from roulette to turkey raffles is covered by the ordinance.
    In striking contrast to the ordinance passed last night was the one passed June 13th, amending section 10, ordinance 475, prohibiting card playing in saloons to read as follows: "It shall be unlawful for any person to cause, permit, suffer or allow any games of dice or cards to be played in any saloon or barroom, or room therewith, excepting in rooms of hotels of fifty rooms or more.
    This exception was the only change in the law, which is ordinance 753.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 3, 1913, page 2

A. A. Johnson, 72, and Negro Held on Girl's Charges.
    MEDFORD, Or., Dec. 16.--(Special.)--A. A. Johnson, 72 years old, and Charles Turner, a negro, have been held under $500 bonds to the grand jury on the charge of living in a house of ill repute.
    According to the evidence of the 19-year-old niece of Johnson, she had been beaten and abused by her uncle and inmates of the house in an effort to compel her to submit to the advances of Turner, who previously was a hotel porter. She said her screams had attracted neighbors to the scene, which resulted in the arrest of the two men.
Morning Oregonian, December 17, 1913, page 3

Last revised July 9, 2022