Truth or Blarney: 1890s Judges rode around on a route to berate people in taverns and barber shops

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You might have a mistaken impression of 19th century courtrooms from films like the True Grit (2010). You might reason that if Western courtrooms looked like crowded, but sturdily constructed meeting houses, surely in the older East, the spaces were somehow more so. Not really. Big cities with big budgets were fond of constructing spaces like courtrooms; but the outskirts and byways ordinarily would not have had what we recognize as county seats in the 1890s.

In my novel, the judge rides a circuit, because that’s how it was, even within sight of D.C. Judges were required to hold court in any available space, whether the space comfortably held anything like hearings the rest of the time. And he, invariably he, might hold hearings any time of day that suited his schedule.

Like a legal Santa Claus, the judge knew his circuit and he knew who was naughty and who was less naughty.

Here’s only one of many charming examples from The Evening Star of September 1896:

jackson city va gamblers 1896

Expectorating through knot holes in the floor? Zing! That’s going into Harlot’s Last Laugh, and I’m not sorry.

I was not able to find the final disposition of the Jackson City Gamblers in the Star. It seems that the inability to serve warrants was enough to get the whole matter dropped. Jackson City was soon open for business again.

To my delight, in looking for more information on the gambling den of Alexandria, I found a blog where I could (and did!) lose an afternoon. It’s highly recommended for local history enthusiasts: Boundary Stones blog.

Jackson City was eventually leveled to make space for today’s Reagan National Airport. The official history doesn’t touch on this, however. It makes me wonder how many sin cities are entombed under our public spaces.


Further, further reading:

Undertakers, Harlots and Other Odd Bodies is out now. A free preview is available and all electronic formats are priced at a very reasonable US$3.99!!(Still $1.99 this week!!)

A print version is for sale (US$14.99) for the benefit of people who prefer paper: | | IndieBound  | BetterWorldBooks | Alibris

More ebook retailer links: Apple | Kobo | | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Scribd

Wouldn’t you rather go to court in a tavern? I know I would.




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