[Ads-l] Antedating "Red Light District" - and a possible explanation of the red light

Andy Bach afbach at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 4 17:24:57 EST 2017

_Galveston [TX] Daily News_ 4/11/1878 p 1 col 4
"The cowboys made things lively last night, firing off their six-shooters
at the Waco Tap and Red Light houses of prostitution."

"The Trampling Herd: The Story of the Cattle Range in America" seems to be
claiming the original "Red Light House" was in Dodge City and that house
and others in the same area gave the name (though not, supposedly, the
idea) "Red Light district" (along "Boot Hill") to the world.  I can't tell
from the excerpt if they're quoting some other source or not. The next
paragraph mentions the last body to be buried in Boot Hill was in 1878


On Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 3:02 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY RDECOM
AMRDEC (US) <william.d.mullins18.civ at mail.mil> wrote:

> Of possible relevance, found while searching for "red light house":
> _Galveston [TX] Daily News_ 4/11/1878 p 1 col 4
> "The cowboys made things lively last night, firing off their six-shooters
> at the Waco Tap and Red Light houses of prostitution."
> And more directly on point:
> Chicago _Inter-Ocean_ 11/22/1884 p 6 col 3
> "It is charged that Mr. Kirchoff was a frequent visitor of Mrs. Field's
> red-light house on Fourth avenue, which led to the filing of this suit"
> [article about a divorce proceeding]
> >
> > I've found several citations that antedate the earliest use I've seen
> listed elsewhere.  The "red light" appears to have been a legacy of red
> > lights used to designate oyster saloons, which were notorious dens of
> vice and prostitution.
> >
> >
> > Wikipedia places the earliest use of "red light district" in a Sandusky,
> Ohio newspaper in 1894.  It does not provide a citation, but there was
> > an article about restricting the Salvation Army's activities to the "red
> light district" on Green Street in Louisville, Kentucky in the Sandusky
> > Register, December 13, 1894, page 2.
> >
> >
> > Barry Popik's site has an earliest use in September 1896, from the
> Wheeling (West Virginia) Register, in an article about a murder-suicide in
> > the "red-light district" on Green Street of Louisville, Kentucky.
> >
> >
> > I've found several earlier examples, all related to the "red-light
> district" in Louisville.  The earliest is from August, 1893, in a story
> about two
> > murders commited by the ne'er-do-well brother of a former US Ambassador
> to Ecuador.
> >
> >
> > “Finally the funds gave out and the landlord would no longer trust them,
> so Wing took his young wife to the bordello of Madam Mertie
> > Edwards, on West Green street, the red-light district of Louisville.
> There he lived off her shame and loafed."
> >
> >
> > Cincinnati Enquirer, August 21, 1893, page 1.
> >
> >
> > The expression appears down-river in St. Louis in Novemer 1895, further
> down river in New Orleans in 1897, and then further out west in
> > Missoula, Montana, San Antonio, Texas and Perry, Oklahoma in early
> 1898.  The expression was in use in New York City by late-1898.
> >
> >
> > The two standard origin stories speculated that the red light came
> either from railroad workers hanging up their red lanterns outside the
> > brothel so they could be found in an emergency, or from "The Red Light
> Saloon" in Dodge City, Kansas.  Railroad workers did carry red
> > lanterns and there were any number of saloons called the "Red Light"
> across the entire US, including several in Kansas, but I think there is an
> > alternate explanation.
> >
> >
> > I think that the red light on brothels was an extention of red lights
> long used to designate oyster saloons.  There are references to
> > prostitution and other vices being practiced in oyster saloons as early
> as the 1820s.  There are references to "showy lamps" and "colored
> > lanterns" in front of oyster houses in the 1840s and 1850s, and frequent
> references to "red lights" of the oyster saloons in the ensuing
> > decades.
> >
> >
> > Red lights were so closely associated with oyster saloons by the mid
> 1870s that one writer wrote a piece about the supposed origin of the
> > lights:
> >
> >
> > "The reason why oyster saloons are designated by a red light is said to
> be that in ancient times oystermen had portable furnaces before
> > their booths upon which they cooked the bivalves for their customers.
> The light of these furnaces when seen at a distance in the night
> > appeared to be red, and indicated to the public that the oystermen were
> ready for business.  When these furnaces fell into disuse, and the
> > cooking was done indoors, the red light was still hung out to let the
> people know that cooked oysters could still be had."
> >
> > National Republican, October 14, 1876, page 1.
> >
> >
> > Whether or not that story is actually true with respect to the use of
> red lights at oyster houses, the widespread evidence of the use of red
> > lights at oyster saloons, and the deep and long association of oyster
> houses with prostitution, suggest that the red lights of the oyster
> > houses was the source of the practice of using red lights to designate
> brothels.
> >
> >
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org



Andy Bach,
afbach at gmail.com
608 658-1890 cell
608 261-5738 wk

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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