Flashback: the mayor orders the closure of houses “of bad reputation” in 1912

A private meeting was held in Courtroom 4 of the Luzerne County Courthouse on Saturday January 6, 1912.

Hosted by the Mayor of Wilkes-Barre, John V. Kosek, the purpose of the meeting which involved judges, the district attorney, ministers, newspaper editors and charity workers was to find out how to abolish houses of bad repute , or brothels, in the city.

“Mayor Kosek orders the closure of the red light district,” read the headline of the Wilkes-Barre Record of January 8, 1912.

Faced with complaints from law-abiding citizens during his first year as mayor in 1911, Kosek had to react and deal with drunken men urinating on the streets and prostitutes hanging out on street corners.

So, Kosek arranged the private meeting at the courthouse.

“A detailed report of the conference has not been distributed because those interested believe that more good can be accomplished by working more and speaking less,” reported the Record.

What emerged from the private meeting was a resolution which was agreed upon by the judges and the district attorney. The resolution persuaded Kosek to use his powers as mayor, “to suppress social evil and however that evil may be encouraged.”

Basically, Kosek had the power to force the city police department to break in and shut down brothels without a search warrant, but had the backing of the judges.

“At the end of the conference, the mayor immediately went to his office at the town hall and a few hours later informed Chief ES Zoeller that every house of bad repute was to be closed at 6.30 p.m. on Saturday evening. “, reported the Record. .

“Following the meeting of the clergy, judges, the mayor and newspaper editors, Mayor Kosek issued an edict that all bad-name houses in the city are to be closed by 6.30 p.m. on Saturday evening. “said Evening. News reported January 8, 1912.

Chief Zoeller has asked police detectives to advise mistresses to close their brothels or face violations.

The first home the police targeted was Clara Marshall’s at 30 S. State St.

South State Street, which no longer exists, was located between South Washington Street and South Pennsylvania Avenue.

While the police raided the Marshall brothel, they rescued a 17-year-old girl. The discovery of the teenager led Clara Marshall to be accused of having run a bawdy-house, but also of having instigated a teenage girl into prostitution.

Clara Marshall pleaded guilty to running a brothel and was jailed for six months, the Wilkes-Barre Record reported on April 13, 1912.

“The sentence is considered by some to be severe,” reported the Record.

Prosecutors were unable to present their prostitution case against Clara Marshall as the teenager escaped from a safe home, the Evening News reported on April 15, 1912.

When rumor spread that police were targeting reputable homes after the private courthouse meeting on January 8, 1912, many mistresses began to flee the city’s brothels.

“Less than an hour after the publication of the dict, the exodus from the houses started by the women. Many went to Scranton, while others took trains from Lehigh Valley to points east, most of them going to Easton and Allentown, ”the Evening News reported.

Kosek further ordered the police to target the rooming houses.

“The mayor will also bring about the arrest of all street lawyers, young people who make billiard halls and gaming establishments their meeting places and will abolish evil slot machines,” the Evening News reported.

Other little-known homes were forcibly closed, including one on Barney and Horton streets, another on Hazle Street and one on North Main Street.

Kosek continued his crusade to close brothels during his tenure as mayor.

At the end of 1919, Chief Zoeller claimed that efforts to close brothels and gambling halls had made Wilkes-Barre safer.

“Declaring that Wilkes-Barre is the cleanest city in the United States… Chief Zoeller says that there are no bad name houses in Wilkes-Barre at the present time and that there are has no professional gambling dens. He credits Mayor Kosek for making the city clean, ”the Evening News reported on January 2, 1920.

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