Sin City (i.e. Terre Haute)
Although my Great Depression novel primarily takes place in the Prairieton/Prairie Creek area, Terre Haute is featured in there quite a bit.
The city of Terre Haute has a colorful history. While it didn’t officially earn the nickname of Sin City until 1955, the city was well on its way to earning it by the 1920’s and 1930’s. While Indiana itself has always been part of the Bible Belt, my hometown has had its struggle with sin.
A prime example was the Red Light District…the area in town where the prostitutes lived. Terre Haute can boast that it had its very own madam. Madam Brown (originally Edith Brown, a minister’s daughter) was well-known in Terre Haute; she ran an infamous house of ill repute; her girls dressed well, had all their shots and were the cleanest members of the Oldest Profession.
When Prohibition was established, like every other city in the nation during the 1920’s and early 1930’s, Terre Haute officially went “dry.” However, there are numerous tunnels beneath the town that were used to transport illegal liquor. The tunnels still exist to this day, although they are no longer in use. Folks may not have bought liquor from a store nor could they frequent a bar, but it was not uncommon for them to have their own still and to market their product themselves.
Terre Haute was a safe haven for some bank robbers and others involved in illegal activities. I’ve heard tales of them staying at the old Terre Haute House, partying hearty. One Hoosier bank robber that has become synonymous with Robin Hood, John Dillinger was no stranger to Terre Haute. He quipped that he would never rob a bank in Terre Haute, because he would risk being railroaded by a train.
My grandparents used to talk of an African American man who was hung off the Wabash River Bridge. My aunt said she knew a man who bragged about having one of the man’s toes. Hoosiers are known for their tall tales, but after a little research, I learned that this story was true. In 1901, when teacher Ida Finklestein was murdered, George Ward was arrested and incarcerated. A lynch mob gathered, broke into the prison, beat him and hung him off the Wabash River Bridge. His body was later taken down and burned; spectators collected “mementoes” of his remains.