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Press helps the police to clean out a 'dirty dive'

Published April 24. 2010 09:00AM


Like any good lawman - or U.S. Marine - George Hahn, Tamaqua's police chief during the first decade of the 20th century, was called on to adapt and overcome in any situation. During the spring of 1910, the chief had to deal with a variety of cases to keep peace in the town - everything from street crime to prostitution.

Dealing with street criminals was a large part of the Tamaqua chief's work load. The bums, petty thieves and vagrants were regular visitors in the local lockup. In one typical example that spring, robbers broke into the peanut and fruit stand at the corner of Broad and Nescopec streets.

The robbers got away with $1.50 in change, besides several boxes of cigars, chewing gum and candy. They also broke into the nickel (slot) machine but failed to extract any coins from it.

The robbers appeared to make a hasty getaway since they apparently dropped boxes of cigars, which were found scattered around the floor. That same night they also hit a barber shop owned by Gus Wetterau, where they were able to break into his nickel machine and steal the change.

In another incident, Hahn used his sidearm to bring two criminals to justice.

The chief was informed by William Whitehouse, who owned a box factory south of town, that two "bums" had destroyed a wagon and a shed on his property. When the chief responded to the scene in his carriage, he saw two men hiking up the railroad tracks.

Hahn gave chase, and the men scattered into the woods. After calling on them to stop, the chief drew his revolver and fired twice in their direction.

Hahn waited by the tracks to see if the pair would re-emerge. After a short time, he saw them crawling out through the brush and then arrested the pair at gunpoint. They were given a hearing before Squire Leopold and, in default of $300 bail each, were committed to the Pottsville jail to await trial.

It was not unusual for a lawman of the period to fire his gun at would-be robbery suspects. Another incident in April 1910, however, involving a house of prostitution, did put Hahn and other municipal officials on the defensive.

The Tamaqua Courier first exposed the story to the public by stating that "a new dive" had been operating for several months on Railroad Street, "in open defiance of law and decency."

Finding no opposition, the madams apparently found the town to their liking.

"Seeing they were not disturbed, they have now thrown every precaution to the winds and are today more open in their actions than any such place has ever dared to be in the large cities," a reporter stated. "Tamaqua is coming to a pretty state of affairs when girls who have been chased out of other towns in the state are received with open arms in this town, and this, too, in the very eyes of those who have the power to rule otherwise."

He said the limit was reached when "the inmates" hired a cab and traveled to Broad Street to do some shopping.

The reporter hinted that "several persons" who had the power to close the house of ill repute were "receiving their monthly fee to keep mum and now quietly wink their eyes to all requests to enforce the law."

The reporter said that the newspaper office had received a "number of complaints" from the parents of young girls who felt it unsafe to allow their daughters to walk home via (Railroad) street at night.

He stated that he hoped the police department "will throw out the dragnet and gather in the soiled doves as well as all the hoarders found in the place, as is done in all the cities, to take up their beds and walk."

William E. Hause, secretary of the police department, and Chief Hahn immediately denied any suggestions of a coverup or bribe regarding the house of prostitution. The two officials stated that the police department had received just one complaint - about two months earlier - at which time an officer visited the place and notified the ladies to obey the law and that if a second complaint was filed, they would be closed.

Hahn said that since his department received no other public complaints, the house remained open. After reviewing the new complaints registered at the newspaper office, however, the chief took immediate action by ordering the women to vacate the building.

"They (police) stated that this action would have been taken long ago had they received any complaints from the neighbors," the Courier reported.

Regarding hush money, Hahn explained that neither he nor any member of his force ever received a cent in the form of a bribe or were asked to keep mum.

As a result of the police eviction, the "inmates" of the home left town for Pottsville on the morning train. The newspaper felt it had fulfilled its role of serving the public's best interest.

"The Evening Courier's object - to clean out the dirty dive - has been accomplished and, while the task at best is an unpleasant one, yet it must be done and the Evening Courier will see to it that it does its part in keeping the town free of such festering sores in the future," the writer stated.

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