William Koch

William Koch describes the area of downtown that included the houses of “ill-fame” and talks about some of the dangers of being there, especially at night. He describes how the women who worked there advertised their services.

This interview comes from the UWL Oral History Program at Special Collections Murphy Library.


Location: Corner of Pearl St. and 2nd St. South

Fredricks: Do you remember where the bawdy houses – where the whorehouses were?

Koch: Yes. I’ll tell you where they were. The Burlington Depot was on Pearl Street. All the passenger trains came in there. It was southwest of that depot in that area there. That was where most of them were. They called it in my time they called it houses of ill-fame. As I remember they paid a license to operate, and they had to be examined by doctors every so often so that they wouldn’t spread disease see. And uh, there was at one time, now here’s another thing I don’t know whether I should mention it or not. There was a fellow murdered down there. They were all down there together and I guess they had had a few drinks under their belt and had a fight and one was knifed, you know stabbed with a knife and killed. It was a head of a factory here – it was his son. Their family probably is still here. Anyway, he went to prison for it. They had a trial and the town was pretty much excited about that. They got down there and were in this red-light district, they called this the red-light district too. And they got to fighting and one of them was killed.

Fredricks: So what you’re saying is it was really legalized.

Koch: Oh yeah.

Fredricks: They had to pay license?

Koch: Oh yeah, sure.

Fredricks: And there was inspection of the girls?

Koch: Sure.

Fredricks: About how many houses were there?

Koch: Oh boy, I wouldn’t know that. I kept out of that area myself. I was afraid to go in there. It was pretty rough territory. You never knew what you were going to run into down there. I walked through it several times during the daytime just to get a look at things you know, just to see how things were going, but I didn’t mess around there at night. That was a bad place to be hanging around. They might knock your block off. The way they advertised themselves, they would come downtown. If you saw a woman in those days smoking a cigarette, she was one of them. That was the way she advertised her wares. Well today, you couldn’t use that measuring stick today. My God no! But in those days that was it. Whenever – that’s the way she advertised herself. She’d go downtown and wherever you’d see her, she’d be smoking a cigarette.

Fredricks: Were they generally attractive, or, were they generally attractive girls, young girls?

Koch: Well, some of them were and some of them weren’t. Some of them were and some of them weren’t. That’s about all I can tell you about them.

This interview comes from the UWL Oral History Program at Special Collections Murphy Library.