The Disorderly House

The Disorderly House

BALDWINSVILLE, April 1. —Chief of Police Cornelius, Deputy Sheriff John H. Russell and Special Officers Delbert Simpson and Clinton Farmer raided a house on Marble street to-night and arrested eight persons, as follows: Edward Craver and Rosanna Zimmers, who are charged with keeping a disorderly house; George Willet, Henrietta Willet, Christine Dickey, William Dennison, Christine Simmons and Charlie Zimmers, who are charged with being inmates.

 

They will be arraigned at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning before Police Justice Wright.

 

Five children ranging in age from 1 year to 11 were found in the place and were taken in charge by an agent of the S.P.C.C. of Syracuse.

The Post-Standard, Syracuse, New York, April 2, 1907

The legal definition of a disorderly house is “a place where acts prohibited by statute are habitually indulged in or permitted.” In layman’s terms, “disorderly house” is an outdated euphemism for a brothel.

An inmate of a disorderly house in early 20th century in America was someone who was poor and filled with desperation. Growing up in such a place would be a really tough row to hoe.

Christine Simmons, her shoulders slumped in resignation, her cheek bearing a small scar and her lip, a healing scab, was photographed after her 1907 arrest at a disorderly house on Marble Street in Baldwinsville, a village on the Seneca River northwest of Syracuse, New York. The raid on the house was carried out by four officers, including the police chief, so there must have been complaints about the house from people with power.

Prison bookThe legal system wasted no time in dispatching Christine to her fate — four months in prison. She and her housemate, Christine Dickey, were sent to the Onondaga County Penitentiary in Jamesville, New York, the day after their arrests, as was Edward Craver, the man who ran the house. Christine was given the option of paying a $25 fine (about $650 in 2017 dollars) to avoid going to the penitentiary, however a fine of that size was beyond her means.

Oldpen01

Onondaga County Penitentiary, circa 1937.

Christine’s mugshot photos are on a large glass negative held in a tattered sleeve bearing only her name. Recognizing that her photos had similarities to photos on other prison cards from New York state around 1900, I checked newspapers and discovered the story about Christine’s arrest at the disorderly house. I found the record of her prison sentence in the Governor’s Registers of Commitments to Prisons, 1842–1908 at Ancestry.com.

I wasn’t able locate Christine in records or newspapers after she was sent to prison in 1907. I don’t know when she was born or where or anything about her life later on. Her bleak face, captured more than a century ago in the emulsion on fragile glass is all that remains. It speaks volumes.

Note: Christine’s name is written on the back of the plate and the writing is bleeding through slightly to the front.

Featured photo: Christine Simmons, corrected digital file from a glass plate negative. Collection of the author.