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There's some skeletons in the Gladstone closet

July 17, 2014 - Dorothy McKnight
GLADSTONE — How many times do you hear local folks who grew up in Gladstone and moved away come back later with statements such as “This is such a great place to live compared to the big city” and similar comments?

I lived my early years in New York City at a time (1940s) when the residents didn’t need triple-bolt locks on their doors and bars on their windows. In fact, I don’t even remember coming home from school and having to unlock the door of our apartment while my mother was still at work. All my brother and I had to do was to check in with the elderly lady who lived in the apartment next-door and then we occupied ourselves until my mom came home. Times have certainly changed.

Then I spent my teen years in an Army town in Oklahoma in the 1950s. Even in those days my girlfriends and I would walk around in the evening unafraid and the doors in our duplex were only locked at night.

But interestingly enough, I learned a number of years ago that Gladstone didn’t always have a squeaky-clean reputation and there was a certain segment of Gladstone society that wasn’t invited to the local church suppers. While there were “services” going on inside one of the local businesses, they had nothing to do with church.

When the Dew Drop Inn was still in operation on Delta Ave., I went in there one morning and saw a group of three “oldsters” sitting at one of the tables near the entrance. I knew they frequently gathered there — occasionally with one or two others — reminiscing about the “olden days.” They asked if I wanted to join them and I was more than happy to do so.

One of the men was Johnny Vogt, who operated the Rialto Theater in Gladstone for 49 years. Another man was Bill Swenson, whose father, Arthur Swenson, owned the Swenson Brothers Furniture Store for many years.

The third was Marie Hermanson, whose late husband, Leslie, was a police officer in Gladstone from 1936-43. I listened to their conversation with interest because they spoke of a time long before I arrived on the Gladstone scene in the early 1960s.

At one poin, Johnny looked at me and said, “Say, Dorothy. Did you ever hear about the Green House?” Of course my thoughts were a place like Wickert’s Floral or other hothouse establishment and I asked if that was what he had in mind.

The threesome were absolutely mirthful about my ignorance and were more than happy to fill me in. I learned that “hothouse” wasn’t too far from the truth but not in a way that I thought.

The Green House, to put it mildly, was a brothel, a “house of ill repute,” a “cathouse,” or whatever term people use to describe the goings on inside its doors. It was located in the area of town known as the Buckeye near where the old Buckeye School once stood. The Family Dollar is now in the same area.

Two of my “historians” knew something about the Green House first hand, even though they happened to be young children at the time, and each shared their story.

Bill told about when he was a teenager and helped his father make deliveries from the furniture store on Saturday. But it didn’t take him long to realize that whenever there was a delivery to the Green House, his dad got someone else to help him because he didn’t want his son to go inside. I remember Bill saying he was irritated at the move because he longed to be able to see what it was like in there. Plus, he wanted to brag to his friends that he had gone inside.

Marie told of a time when she was a little girl and the Green House madam was rather new in town. Marie went down to the Gladstone beach to swim and waded out a little too far and reached a drop-off and went underwater. Unable to swim, she was in fear of drowning. Suddenly, Marie said she felt a hand grab her arm and she was pulled up above the water and carried to the sandy beach where she was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by a strange woman. It was a number of years before Marie was informed that her rescuer was none other than the Green House Madam.

“I guess she was good at something else,” I remember Marie saying with a hearty laugh.

But despite these entertaining stories, I never learned what happened to that madam and when the services at the Green House came to an end.

Does anyone know? I would love to hear about it. And I promise I won’t jump to any conclusions about how that knowledge was obtained.


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