June 24, 2018
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‘Joy trip’ led to bawdy houses

By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN

JOY TRIP STREWN WITH GREENBACKS, said the headline in the Bangor Daily News. So began the tale of the epic spree of New Brunswickers William Masterson and Charles H. Reagan in the newspapers on June 11, 1910. Bangor’s chaotic night life a century ago, when the city was as famous for its illegal bar rooms and brothels as its lumber, often exhibited characteristics of a comic opera. This one took all summer to tell.

Reagan, a logger, had just returned from upriver with $200 burning a hole in his pocket. This abundance of cash was duly noticed by his companion, Masterson, as well as by two of the Queen City’s better-known night walkers, Ethel Smith and Ruth Mills, who joined them for a tear about town.

The tale, an old one indeed, is worth retelling if only for its sociological significance, of course. As one Bangor Daily News court reporter confided salaciously, “Its several scenes transpired in numerous resorts and it delves deeply into midnight life along the ‘tenderloin.’” (The word “resort” was used ironically to mean a brothel or a place approximating one back when Victorian scruples discouraged reporters from calling things by their correct names.)

Masterson and Reagan and the two ladies started drinking at William Stacey’s place on May Street before moving on to a nearby resort run by Nan Stevens. The Misses Smith and Mills occasionally traveled together as they did on this particular evening. Ethel had gained instant notoriety in April when she delivered “a right hook to the ear” and several blows to other parts of the anatomy of a young man standing in a corridor at City Hall after he testified against her and Mills in a streetwalking case. Both women got 30 days.

As the evening progressed, the quartet hired a hack and rattled off to Billy Townsend’s notorious roadhouse out Stillwater Avenue. After celebrating there, they departed for Harriet Foyer’s house over the line in Veazie. Foyer, better known as Aunt Hat, was the most notorious madam in the area at that time. Her place on the bank of the Penobscot River had been at the center of several well-publicized scandals, including a murder investigation.

Late that evening, the party returned to Bangor and holed up in a room in an unidentified “all-night restaurant.” The next morning, Reagan, doubtlessly not in a very good mood, discovered he was missing $42. Miss Smith said she had seen Masterson remove money from his pocket.

The police arrested Masterson, but they didn’t stop there. To make certain they had plenty of witnesses, they rounded up many of the proprietors of the establishments the partiers had patronized the night before, as well as the prostitutes they met along the way. Not even the hack driver was spared.

Later, they arrested most of these witnesses on suspicion of violating various vice laws. Foyer, Townsend and his associate, Essie Spinney, and Nan Stevens and John Heffernon were charged with maintaining “nuisances.” Ruth Mills, Ethel Small, Flora Colson, Josie Taylor and Mabel Leonard were charged with streetwalking. Ethel Smith appears to have escaped the long arm of the law, possibly because she appeared as one of the prosecutor’s chief witnesses. The unlucky hack driver, meanwhile, disappeared from the story.

Two days later, Masterson was sentenced to 30 days. The others were given various sentences, but most appealed, reported the Bangor Daily News on June 13.

“When I strike a town I believe in letting the town know I’m here,” Reagan boasted after the hearing. A reporter commented, “He certainly did and incidentally gave the police an opportunity of making one of the largest cleanups in many a day.”

In August, several of the appeals came up for trials. Billy Townsend was acquitted. Ethel Smith returned to the witness stand to testify that all they did at his establishment was stay in the music room “playing little tunes on the piano.” Of course, no liquor had been served, said Ruth Mills, although, a Bangor Daily News reporter observed in the story on Aug. 18, “it appeared that each of the two gentlemen had taken along a pint so things were not altogether hopeless.”

A jury found Aunt Hat guilty. Some of the testimony indicated she had moved out of her house into a nearby cottage and had nothing to do with the house anymore. But Smith and Mills testified the group bought liquor from her.

By then, Foyer was an elderly woman. Efforts were made by Ensign Armstrong of The Salvation Army to gain clemency for this poor old exemplar of Bangor’s bawdy past. Sentencing was deferred, said the Bangor Daily News on Aug. 23.

What did Bangor’s polite set think about such conditions? A disgusted editorial writer for the Bangor Daily News had summed things up earlier, on April 13, after police rounded up another group of prostitutes: “Bangor is sweet and clean and wholesome in spite of her barrooms and other deviations from the Maine law [prohibition]. Our hotels and restaurants are famed all over New England … But seriously, is it absolutely needful to maintain a larger or smaller army of what are legally designated night walkers … for the entertainment of Bangor’s guests? … What does it profit Bangor to have the word go out to the world that species of this sort are all the year round residents of the best city in Maine? Is it not time for conservative citizens to think these matters over?”

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 wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.

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