‘Concealed’ girl’s case caused stir a century ago

Posted Aug. 30, 2009, at 11:08 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

Late on the night of March 12, 1909, two teenage girls got off “the midnight train from Wytopitlock” at Union Station in Bangor. They asked a hackman to take them to the Good Samaritan Home, a residence for unwed mothers. The carriage driver allegedly informed them the home was “filled up with inmates, that it was too expensive a place to go and that he knew of a much better and cheaper place,” according to the Bangor Daily Commercial.

This other place, it turned out, was Harriet Foyer’s infamous roadhouse off State Street on the old Shore Road by the Penobscot River just over the Bangor line in Veazie. Foyer, also known as Aunt Hat, was the most notorious madam operating in the area in the opening years of the 20th century.

Bertha Bragdon and May Lyons were described variously by the newspapers as sisters or friends. They either had come from Mattawamkeag or from Wytopitlock, where they had been working. Bertha also was said to be from Woodstock, New Brunswick. Whether either of them was pregnant is never revealed in the coverage in Bangor’s two daily newspapers. Bertha had a brother in Hampden, identified in press reports only as Mr. Bragdon.

At the Foyer place, the girls were kept confined to the large house, and “men were allowed to come and see them,” according to Bertha. She said Foyer had threatened them and forced them to do her work. She had “obliged” Bertha to drink whiskey. Were the girls the victims of a white slavery ring?

About three weeks later, Bertha made a daring escape. One of Foyer’s male employees threw her coat and hat out of an upper-story window. Bertha asked Aunt Hat if she could go outside. Despite the existence of a brightly burning electric light bulb that Hat had switched on so she could watch the girl’s movements, Bertha bounded across the fields to freedom, arriving at her brother’s house the next day.

The sheriff’s department raided Aunt Hat’s establishment on April 13. They arrested her and seized a bottle of liquor from the coat pocket of one of her employees. No other liquor was found during an extensive search. The elderly woman was charged with running a house of ill repute and selling liquor.

In breaking the story, the Bangor Daily News made some rather odd observations. Aunt Hat’s roadhouse had been “masquerading” as the Veazie town farm. “The Foyer roadhouse has been known for the past few months as the Veazie alms house …,” said the newspaper. “However, complaints have been made within the past few weeks by Bangor clergymen to the selectmen and to County Attorney Geo. Thompson that one family alone … have been boarded there under order by the board of selectmen as State paupers. Those who were interested in the matter protested to the selectmen and to Mr. Thompson and it was stated repeatedly that the roadhouse days had gone and the place was really the Veazie town farm. So the present arrest comes as a distinct surprise.” Foyer claimed later in court to have been boarding 22 people, mostly children.

Foyer was found guilty of the liquor charge in Bangor municipal court, fined $100 and sentenced to 60 days in jail plus 60 more if she didn’t pay the fine. She appealed, denying selling any liquor since converting her establishment to the town farm, said the Bangor Daily News on April 15. During the hearing, she complained of feeling ill and asked to recline on a couch. “She … groaned at frequent intervals,” noted the Commercial.

Aunt Hat was served with a third warrant on the complaint of Mr. Bragdon “charging her with enticing and keeping Bertha Bragdon for immoral purposes.” After she pleaded not guilty, the resolution of all the charges was scheduled for the August Supreme Court term.

“White haired and gowned as usual in deep black,” Aunt Hat appeared before the grand jury to plead not guilty on Aug. 18. Six days later, however, she changed her plea to guilty to all charges. By then, the Bangor Daily News reporter described her as “feeble.”

“I will say frankly,” said County Attorney Thompson, “that in the more important case — concealing a female in a house of ill fame — the testimony was of such a character that had Mrs. Foyer pleaded not guilty conviction would have been almost impossible. On the other hand, the state had abundant and convincing testimony in the common nuisance [house of ill repute] charge.” Thompson said Aunt Hat was “an old woman now — past 72” — and suffering from “organic trouble which prison life is likely to intensify.” Therefore he requested that her sentencing be deferred until the next day so that a physician could testify.

The next day, the presiding judge relayed to the court the opinion of a physician that Foyer was suffering from “a general breakdown due to advanced age, but that this would in no way be intensified by a jail sentence. In fact, the temperate regular life of the institution might have a tendency to do her good.” On the nuisance charge, he sentenced her to pay a $400 fine in 10 days or serve four months in jail. Presumably this was on top of the liquor sentence. The other charge of holding Bertha Bragdon against her will “was placed on a separate docket.”

“Then Mrs. Foyer settled back in her seat, and her groans shattered the judicial quiet of the room. She was escorted to the corridor without undue delay by one of the deputies,” said the newspaper on Aug. 25.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column may be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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