October 21, 2018
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Tour the Devil’s Half Acre with Bangor’s infamous madam

BANGOR, Maine — A man rushed up to Monique Bouchard on Saturday night in West Market Square and demanded to know why as a single woman she was walking the streets of Bangor unaccompanied.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Bouchard, dressed as Bangor’s most notorious madam, Fan Jones, said as she left the square.

Bouchard, 40, of Old Town is leading one of the Bangor Historical Society’s walking tours this summer. The 90-minute tour of what was referred to during the 19th century as the Devil’s Half Acre begins at the Thomas A. Hill House on Union Street.

As Jones, Bouchard leads groups down to the waterfront on Railroad Street, through Pickering and West Market squares, up Hammond Street and back to Hill House. Along the way, she talks about what Bangor was like between 1845, when it is believed Jones came to the Queen City from her birthplace in Brooksville, and the turn of the century.

“Bangor then was a city of merchant and lumber barons,” she told the dozen people who took the tour Saturday. “It also was a city of tanneries, tenements, foundries, sawdust, farm animals and liquor.”

Exactly which section of the city the Devil’s Half Acre encompassed has been debated. But in 2012, Bangor Daily News columnist Wayne Reilly determined that during the time when Jones lived and worked in Bangor, the Devil’s Half Acre included the area on Front and Broad streets near the intersection of Union Street and near where the Kenduskeag Stream flows into the Penobscot River.

Maine outlawed alcohol in 1851, but the law was largely ignored.

“Bars and brothels were the great entertainment,” Jones said, for the sailors who came off the hundreds of ships that visited Bangor each year and for the workers coming out of the woods from lumber camps.

The historical society had offered the walking tour in years past but not led by a historical character, Melissa Gerety, executive director of Bangor Historical Society, said Saturday. People had requested the tour be brought back, but the idea to have Bouchard lead the tour as the famous madam came to her all at once.

“This approach came just out of the blue,” Gerety said Saturday. “Monique and I were at another event chatting, because we’ve known each other for a long time. I looked at her and I said, ‘You’re Fan Jones. Will you do this for us?’ She said, ‘Absolutely.’

“Then she started doing all the research and has really made it her own, which is fantastic,” Gerety said. “We’re grateful because I think it makes the tour what it is with all of the extra time and effort she put in to tell it from a person of the time’s perspective.”

Bouchard read diaries, the city’s official records, and newspaper accounts, and studied photographs of prostitutes who worked in Seattle in the 1800s while researching the role.

“I chose to portray Fan Jones as a businesswoman,” she said Saturday before the tour began. “She came to Bangor as working girl, but she established herself in a house with a number of women as a businesswoman, an employer and a person often brought into court. In pictures I saw, the madams were almost always impeccably dressed.”

Bouchard created an authentic costume that includes a camisole, a corset that must be laced by another person, a bustle made of bone and netting, and a long skirt, shirt and jacket. She styled her hair based on one of the few known photographs of Jones.

“Fan kept a ‘house of ill repute’ and a ‘disorderly house,’ but everything I’ve read has led me to believe that her house was actually a very orderly house of disorder because she cared for her girls,” Bouchard said. “She seemed to have a lot gumption. She bought the house she owned on Harlow Street free and clear with her own money for $4,000. She got dragged in for not paying her taxes but eventually, with the aid of others, she paid them off.”

Jones and bar owners regularly would be arrested, taken to court, fined and released. Bouchard said such fines were referred to as “the Bangor tax.”

Jones’ house was torn down in 1950. It now is the parking lot across the street from the federal building. She died of tuberculosis in 1917 and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in a plot she shares with 10 other people, three of them most likely her paramours and others, her employees.

“Fan Jones is a real person,” Bouchard said. “She’s not a caricature. I have to treat that person with respect and a little bit of reverence rather than just dressing up as an 1800s floozy.”

Bobbie White of Hermon went on Saturday’s tour because she has enjoyed the other tours offered by the historical society.

“This tour was excellent,” she said. “I definitely would suggest it to anyone that I come across.”

Walking tours of the Devil’s Half Acre will begin at 6 p.m. at the Bangor Historical Society on Aug. 15, Sept. 15 and 19. For information, call 942-1900 or visit bangorhistoricalsociety.org.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the tours will be on Sept. 15 and 29. It will be on Sept. 15 and 19.


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