Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written eleven nonfiction books, two novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Springfield: The Seamy Side of the Queen City, Murder and Mayhem in Missouri, and The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: the Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nannie McCumber and Her Infamous Den

It seems that, after I publish a book or article on a particular topic, I almost invariably come up with additonal information on the topic that I wish I had found before I published the book or article so that the additional information could have been included. Witness, for example, my several posts about Bud Blunt since the publication of my Ozarks Desperadoes book, which contained a chapter about Bud. Since the book came out, I have since found quite a bit of additonal information about him.
Here's another example: Nannie McCumber is a name I ran onto in connection to prostitution while I was researching Wicked Springfield, but none of the records or newspapers I rummaged through had any specific information about her such as where she lived or anything else that might have allowed me to give at least a sketchy profile of her. Only one or two mentions of her being charged with keeping a house of ill repute during such and such a court session, with no other details. So, I don't think she is even mentioned in my book.
Recently, however, I ran across a piece about her in the Springfield Express that would have made a fairly colorful anecdote to include in the book. In July of 1885, a group of citizens living on North Jefferson Street appeared before the Springfield City Council, and one of their representatives addressed the council complaining about a woman who kept a house of prostitution in their neighborhood. Visitors to the "infamous den" had lately become so bold as to come and go at all hours and from all directions, "in the front door and out the back." The woman reportedly had gone so far as to send her twelve-year-old daughter into the streets to drum up business. The woman had been arrested several times for keeping a bawdy house but was always merely fined and turned loose to resume her sport. The citizens appealed to the council to do something to abate this nuisance in their neighborhood, and a special policeman was appointed to watch the house of Mrs. McCumber and similar houses in Springfield. The woman in question was not named by the citizen who addressed the council, but the newspaper learned that her name was Nannie McCumber.
Less than a month later, Nannie's house caught fire when a coal oil lamp exploded during the wee hours of the morning, shortly after her last client had left for the night. Nannie rushed out of the house yelling "Fire! Fire!" and the flames were quickly doused by a neighbor man and the house saved. Nannie, however, soon "took up her abode in another quarter of the city, much to the relief of the good people on North Jefferson."
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2 Comments:

Anonymous Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Fining a bawdy house and allowing it to remain open was a common practice at the time. It was essentially a tax on prostitution and madames got accustomed to paying a monthly fine.

January 24, 2013 at 1:05 AM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Yes, in Joplin a cop came around to the bawdy houses toward the end of each month and levied fines, which amounted to a de facto licensing system.

January 24, 2013 at 8:19 PM  

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