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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 3, September 2017
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Janet Lynn Davis
Grimes County, Texas, USA


Happy Hollow

Sunday afternoon

Yesteryear meets the 21st century: the theme of this room and hotel. This is the first time I've ever stayed in the vibrant heart of my birth city. It's also the first time I've seen the city from such a vantage point. So I'm busily snapping photos, despite how bothered I am by the specks and smears on the other side of the window.

sloped and spired,
modern and vintage—
through this pane
more than a century
of changing skyline

Winding back the time

It's the late 1800s. An enterprising grocery store operator doubles as a driver, delivering cold beer via horse-and-cart to a thriving district known by its catchy nickname. He later purchases a prime corner lot there, one that comes with an underground spring and a two-story, tin-roofed cottage attached to a saloon. Many more "female boarding houses," as they're called, line the streets in that bawdy section of town.

Cleansing change eventually overtakes custom. With raven voices carried on the wind, they make themselves heard: local residents, women's church groups, school officials, health experts. Come around 1908 or so, the popular lady "doves" of the district are banished by ordinance to the barren branches of a "vice reservation" carved out for them in a separate part of the city. There, they are slapped with laws that render them virtually invisible. They also learn the ways of segregation, as they are sorted into houses according to race.

In the 1920s, not long before his death, the former delivery driver constructs a hotel on his prized parcel of downtown real estate. The same hotel where a barely known Clark Gable would take up temporary residence. And where Gene Autry would ride his steed down the basement stairs, to perform for crowds. The same hotel (though with a different name) where I'll rest tonight on the silkiest sheets I've ever felt.

in the old days
people filled the gullies
with trash
to level the ground . . .
soiled secrets tossed there too

sleek theaters
built on lots that once held
bordellos—
the masterful acting
behind open curtains

'inmates,'
their profession listed
in the census—
so many faceless women
white, black, and brown

Home again

From my desk chair, I stare at the digitized details in my photographic souvenirs, wary of what I might discover. But to my surprise, the scenes are hardly marred. Instead, each one seems to be covered with a faint artistic sheen. With photo-editing software, I further beautify them. No one else could possibly know the window glass was anything but clean.

simple
to crop and sharpen
these images . . .
just enough reality
to jog the memory


Author's Notes:

The unofficial red-light district known as Happy Hollow, and alternately The Hollow, may have taken root shortly after the U.S. Civil War. The name may have originated from the fact that there were seven gullies running through the city's downtown. Coincidentally, Happy Hollow also was the name of a local children's TV show that aired in the 1960s.

The entrepreneur mentioned in the story, an Italian immigrant, became known for his ability to recognize good real estate and other business opportunities in the young city.

In a census report, female residents of Happy Hollow were labeled "inmates" and their madams "lodge housekeepers." The straightforward term "prostitutes" also appears to have been used.

It has been noted that there was resistance from some of the women regarding their sudden racial segregation at The Reservation, the official vice district established in 1908–1909. Also, lady prostitutes in the state of Texas didn't necessarily respond positively to the do-gooders who would try to persuade them to change their profession. While their wages were modest, they still were higher than those of the few "respectable" professions for women at that time. It seems that if they were going to leave the profession, some of them might do so using their own methods (namely, suicide via opium or other drug overdose).

The Reservation was shut down in 1917, to "protect" soldiers as the U.S. became entrenched in World War I.

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