BARS, BROTHELS & BROTHERHOOD
Lecture #3in the Garden Park Village Clubhouse
W. Dee Halverson © 2012
|Garden Park Clubhouse|
|W. DEE HALVERSON|
I’ll have to admit that my sole purpose for coming up with such outlandish topics for this third historical lecture was for “shock” value. These three “B” words just rolled off my tongue and onto my computer when I sent in my ideas for the series. I figured that they would get someone’s interest level up. Well, I gather from the good attendance here tonight that it worked.
|Bingham Main Street looking up|
MY E.R. EXPERIENCE AFTER LAST LECTURE (Nurse Julie and Tom Garahana)
Tonight’s lecture is solely based upon the facts and experiences I have gathered from dozens of oral-history interviews with men and women now in their 80s who grew up in the Bingham Canyon towns, like Highland Boy, Telegraph, Copperfield, Carr Fork, Leadmine, Frogtown, Winamuck and others. Men, women and children who made up more than 25,000 residents, who lived in a tightly compacted area along the 7-mile-long Main Street from the mouth of Bingham Canyon to the top of Galena Gulch.
I came to realize that there were more people living, working and dying in
Bingham Canyon during the 1920s and 30s than were living in where I grew up in the 1950s. Even Provo, Utah Park City at the height of its silver mining boom only had a population of 10,000, less than half of that in . Bingham Canyon
story was a totally different environment, culture and tradition with very unique circumstances and experiences that are still difficult for me to fully appreciate and understand. Bingham Canyon
BARS & SALOONS
|main street Bingham|
Later, the German kneipe, the Italian sbarra, the Serbian biltiya, the cantinas and tavernas all served the same function in
. These specialized ethnic bars provided the hard-working men with a place to relax, have a drink, socialize with fellow countrymen who spoke the mother tongue. They were places of relief from the sheer monotony of six straight days of ten-hour shifts, week after week, month after month and year after year. The workers simply needed a break from their unfurnished, unheated shacks, built out of discarded dynamite boxes. Bingham Canyon
No matter which nationality or ethnic group, these institutions played a big role in everyday life in
. All served the function of a place to socialize with family and friends. A place decorated a bit like the homeland that they remembered distantly. A place that unlike their drab, shabby little bedsit, was a common parlor, living room and gathering spot for the mostly single, unmarried miners. A place they could talk about the old country, sing and dance to traditional music. A place they could have someone write a letter home for them or read a letter they had received from home. Bingham Canyon
|Balkan Bar, Highland Boy|
during Prohibition (1920-1933) it was strictly business as usual for the local saloons lining both sides of Bingham Canyon Main Street. Although they referred to themselves a “soft-drink parlors,” the bars continued to serve stiff drinks to the thirsty miners twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
The Italian, Greek and other families could never quite grasp the need for the whole country of the
to go completely “dry.” Their cultures and traditions called for wine and spirit-making to meet their family needs was as important as their ethnic cuisine. Each family’s children, together with friends and neighbors participated in stomping on the annual grape harvest and bottling wine and distilled spirits for their daily consumption. These activities went right along with their long-standing traditions of sausage-making, ricotta cheese-making and boccie ball. United States
The following article appeared in the Bingham News, October 31, 1925: “Italians in
have been making wine for their personal use since forever. But now officers of the county sheriff office have arrived with search warrants. After days of searching not a drop of wine or whiskey was found and no ‘bootleggers’ were arrested.” As soon as the deputies left town, the red wines and plum brandies flowed freely. Would you be surprised if I told you that I found myself cheering for the bootleggers? Bingham Canyon
The Volstead Act, authorizing the 18th Amendment in 1919 beginning the Prohibition era, was replaced by the 21st Amendment after the State of Utah cast the decisive vote on December 5, 1933 that legalized the consumption of alcohol again.
Why is it that this particular topic is so interesting to us? Why do we find ourselves chuckling or lowering our voices while discussing it? Why was I so delighted to find accounts and events in the lives of my interviewees that touched on the subject? At the end of my research, however, I have found there was much to revere in the lives of these scarlet women.
|Brand new car from Salt Lake|
So was the case of “Big Helen” in Bingham Canyon.
Her establishment known as the “520” (because of its house number on Main Street) was remembered by most of the twenty-plus men and women whom I interviewed for this lecture.
Tom Garahana, my E.R. nurse’s father, told me stories about how he and his brother John together with friends would throw their baseballs up against the front door of “520” until Big Helen or Dorothy would come out and give them each a dime for the movies, just to get rid of the noise.
“Everyone loved Helen because she and her girls would buy all of our raffle tickets for any benefit. The 520 provided our baseball teams with proper uniforms and better equipment for our summer tournaments,” remembered Tom. “During the winter months, my brother John and I had a steady job three times a week carrying loads of coal for the heaters in the 520 for 50-cents a load. We couldn’t help notice how warm and comfortable the entry was and how colorfully painted the interior doors were. (Later Tom was told it was because many of the clientele couldn’t read names or signs, so Helen gave them colored tags to help them find their way.)
Betty Contratto Herrick wrote a fascinating book entitled Keep on, Keeping On. It is a personal history of her childhood and young adult years in
Born in 1932, Betty Ann Contratto grew up in
. It was a most unusual place to spend a childhood. People of almost every major race and nationality in the world made up its population of nearly 25,000. Betty was the daughter of an Italian father and an English mother. She went to school with Greek, Japanese, German, Serbian, Swedish and Mexican children. Bingham Canyon
“To me the foreign languages that I heard every day, on the streets and in the homes and stores were commonplace,” recalled Betty. “I might wonder what the funny sounding words meant, but I could still communicate with all of them by friendly smiles and gestures if nothing else. I didn’t know it then, but growing up in Bingham Canyon was like growing up in Hong Kong or any other great crossroads city; for men and women from everywhere in the world mingled on its narrow street and sold their wares. Every day was interesting and exciting.”
Betty continued, “Like a pudding poured into a mould, the town of
Bingham had to fit its location—a long, winding, narrow canyon that gashed the side of a high mountain in the . The town’s single street ran up the middle of the canyon and was lined solidly on both sides with businesses, hotels, apartment houses and bars. Side by side and almost stacked on top of each other, it almost seemed that the roof of one building was the front porch for another.” Oquirrh Range
“Most of the town’s hotels, including my grandmother’s, rented rooms to sporting girls, remembered Betty. “Grandma had two. But I remember thinking how pretty they both were and how very good they were to me, especially the one called Jean. She used to invite me up to her room on the second floor, where she gave me pretty things and made a fuss over me. Grandma and Grandpa, being Italians, operated a wine press and whiskey still and often they had a new batch of home brew to serve. Their business was simply an established way of life in our town, for the miners were always thirsty.
“One of my best friends growing up was our Main Street neighbor Big Helen.
She owned the infamous “520” brothel there just a couple of doors down from us,” recalled Betty. “Helen always welcomed me with smiles and loving hugs when I was old enough to trot around town by myself. We visited and talked about everything in her big kitchen. A big, bosomy woman, Helen wore glasses and had straight bobbed hair. I didn’t know, of course, that she was a ‘madam’ and that her place was the most popular in town. But even if I had known, it wouldn’t have made any difference. She was "just dear Big Helen to me.”
“I’ll never forget her kindness one day after I was married and had two babies of my own,” said Betty. “It was a hot afternoon and I was struggling up the street from the grocery store to our house. It was quite a job, carrying Shar and the grocery sack in one arm and dragging my short-legged toddler with my other hand. About an hour later Casey, the “520’s” handyman, showed up at my door with the biggest and best baby buggy that the Bingham Mercantile carried in stock. I knew that blessed Big Helen had come to the rescue. I still visited her as often as she’d let me; and I now understood the reason she kept my visits short.
Looking back on those days now, I wonder if Big Helen didn’t keep a watchful eye on just about everything that went on in our town.”
RESEARCH ON THIS TOPIC HAS GIVEN ME A WHOLE NEW PERSPECTIVE!!
BROTHERHOOD The word itself means: 1) the quality or state of being brothers.
2) an association (like a labor union) for a particular purpose.
In the case of
, these were organized fraternal lodges, orders and societies of mostly foreign-born workers whose common ethnic backgrounds were essential in the complete absence of unions like the United Mine Workers. All labor unions were forbidden from organizing in Bingham Canyon by the Utah Copper Company and later by the Kennecott Copper Corporation from 1903 until 1944! Hard to believe!! Bingham Canyon
Greek, Italian, Scandinavian, Asian and Mexican immigrants who ventured into
Utah to work in the mines and mills in often faced a very hostile social environment. As minorities they entered the scene on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Because their physical appearance, languages and customs differed so sharply, they faced poverty and inequality. Bingham Canyon
Managers and straw bosses ruled the lives of immigrants, forcing them to trade at company stores, arbitrarily hiring and firing in alliance with unscrupulous labor agents (padrones) who would extract a cash tribute from a new immigrant in return for employment. When workers sought to better their lives by joining unions, the mine owners responded with force. During the famous
Bingham Canyon Strike of 1912, National Guard troops were dispatched to protect the interests of the mining companies. Utah
The prejudice that fueled these actions existed in abundance in
, keeping ethnic minorities at the bottom of the economic ladder. In turn, these groups found ways to deal with the hostile atmosphere and work toward basic survival. In the words of two Basque brothers, Tom and John Garahana, “We had to help ourselves.” Utah
Labeled as foreigners, aliens or non-believers, the minority groups in
clustered into separate neighborhoods. These distinct communities functioned primarily as a means of self-preservation as a way of avoiding the structure of the dominant group of white superintendents and upper management. Little Italy, Greek Town, Jap Town and Bohunk Town all flourished in Bingham Canyon in spite of the opposition. Bingham Canyon
Writing about the divisions in the copper camps of Bingham Canyon, one observer noted that with the help of the mine owners stirring things up, “The Finns dislike the Greeks, the Greeks hate the Slavonians, the Slavonians distrust the Americans and the Americans proudly flout the whole batch of ‘ignorant foreigners’ and stand on their American birthright and supremacy.”
The Greeks were by far the largest majority of workers in Bingham, but Leonidas Skliris, the head labor agent, was the dark force in their lives. His humiliating padrone system that exacted huge fees from the miners and that forced them to trade exclusively at the Pan Hellenic Grocery, was hard to overthrow. The Greek miners bitterly resented their suave, well-dressed countryman who lived in the amazing luxury of the newly built Hotel Utah on the money he coerced from them. A direct result of the 1912 strike was the immediate dismissal of Skliris and his system by Governor William Spry. The Greek strikers became better organized and formed their own organization to deal with the mine owners.
The Italians in
used their mutual aid society La Societa Di Beneficenza to provide members with health insurance, death benefits and opportunities for savings and sociality. Bingham Canyon
For several years the Serbs and Croatians of
Highland Boy waged a guerrilla war of sorts. The fighting often gave rise to blood feuds and loss of property among both groups. The mining companies showed little concern as long as the miners restricted their activities to areas outside the mines. But two events provided the common grounds for a lasting peace in Highland Boy finally—the ravages of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and later the Great Depression. Both disasters were no respecter of persons in and its cemetery is full of the victims. Bingham Canyon
The Croatian Fraternal
Union was led by John Dunoskovic and the Serbian Benevolent Society was organized by Joseph Bogdanovic (Melich). His son Mitch Melich was nearly elected governor of in 1964. Unlike the ethnic saloons within Utah these fraternal groups functioned in a formal way in order to be recognized and respected by the national organizations. Bingham Canyon
FINALLY, AFTER 41 YEARS WITHOUT OFFICIAL REPRESENTATION, THE WORKERS AT THE
BINGHAM CANYON MINE WERE ABLE TO JOIN AN AMERICAN UNION FOR THE FIRST TIME ON JUNE 30, 1944!
That was just two weeks after the D-Day landing in Normandy!
THE BINGHAM CANYON CEMETERY
This past week I have explored the Bingham Canyon Cemetery extensively and have been amazed by the story of an Eagle Scout named Brad Jencks of South Jordan who has dedicated five years of his life to improving its physical appearance and researching the lives of those buried there. What began as a typical Eagle project of 100 hours in 2004, grew exponentially as Brad organized more than 2,000 volunteers. Working with community and corporate sponsors, Brad and his troops replaced and preserved grave markers, discovered the identities of some 1,100 unknown burials, wrote a 1,500-page historical record of his findings and installed a new fence, an information center and a permanent monument honoring military veterans.
In 2009 Brad was named the top high school student in the country for his “Save Our History Project.” He was awarded several college scholarships and is currently serving as an LDS missionary in
PLEASE, TAKE A STROLL THROUGH THIS UNIQUE CEMETERY When you think about it. The people buried there braved crossing the ocean and then found their way across the
United States in search of employment at the copper mines. They helped settle the valley and build the American empire from the ground up. Utah
You will be surprised by the variety of languages and names on the headstones that have survived. You will also notice that parents buried several babies and small children due to epidemics like Typhoid Fever and Diphtheria. Young men lost their lives from miner’s lung, mining accidents and other violent deaths. In addition, you will see that some died from common diseases which are totally curable today.
It will break your heart, as it did mine, to see the hundreds of graves of men, women and children all under the age of thirty.
For me personally, it is now a tossup between burial in the
Bingham Canyon Cemetery next to PETE RUBCIC from Croatia or in the Midway town cemetery next to EUGENE LEVIGNEUR from . France
THIS HISTORICAL LECTURE SERIES IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
’S MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN—MAY THEY ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED! BINGHAM CANYON