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The Ariston Bathhouse Raid of 1903: Character, Class, and the Legal Construction of Sodomy
Unformatted Document Text:  Fitzsimmons to survey the premises. Police, in conjunction with the Society for the Prevention of Crime, collected evidence against the bathhouse patrons for several weeks. During the evening of February 21 st , into the early morning hours of the 22 nd , police witnessed numerous instances of oral and anal sex among various bathhouse patrons. Most of these acts took place on or around the cots in the cooling rooms. In particular, many acts occurred in the cooling room in the southwesterly corner of the facility. The “southwesterly cooling room,” as referenced in court documents, had seven cots arranged close to one another. Light from the adjacent parlor and from a ground glass window that looked out onto 55 th street dimly lit the room. At 1:45, a small party of police inspectors and captains entered the building and placed everyone under arrest. The officers searched the rooms of the establishment and herded the half- naked men into the parlor. One by one, police led the bathhouse patrons past a group of undercover police officers and the police selected the individuals against whom they had complaints. In all, seventy-eight men were led before the officers. Police arrested fifteen men for sodomy, six for disorderly conduct, and four for liquor law violations. Police charged the proprietor of the baths with keeping a disorderly house, a charge commonly reserved for those involved in the prostitution trade. Of the fifteen sodomy arrests, three forfeited bail and four pleaded guilty or no contest. Of the eight defendants who maintained their innocence five went to trial. All five were found guilty and sentenced to seven years and two months in prison. One man, John Rogers, pleaded guilty to nine counts of sodomy and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. While the raid itself demonstrates the extent of state surveillance of persons deemed sexually deviant, the trials of the five defendants more broadly illuminate the cultural terrain of turn-of-the-century sexuality. The arguments and questions voiced by attorneys, prosecutors, 4

Authors: Donovan, Brian.
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background image
Fitzsimmons to survey the premises. Police, in conjunction with the Society for the Prevention
of Crime, collected evidence against the bathhouse patrons for several weeks. During the
evening of February 21
st
, into the early morning hours of the 22
nd
, police witnessed numerous
instances of oral and anal sex among various bathhouse patrons. Most of these acts took place
on or around the cots in the cooling rooms. In particular, many acts occurred in the cooling room
in the southwesterly corner of the facility. The “southwesterly cooling room,” as referenced in
court documents, had seven cots arranged close to one another. Light from the adjacent parlor
and from a ground glass window that looked out onto 55
th
street dimly lit the room.
At 1:45, a small party of police inspectors and captains entered the building and placed
everyone under arrest. The officers searched the rooms of the establishment and herded the half-
naked men into the parlor. One by one, police led the bathhouse patrons past a group of
undercover police officers and the police selected the individuals against whom they had
complaints. In all, seventy-eight men were led before the officers. Police arrested fifteen men
for sodomy, six for disorderly conduct, and four for liquor law violations. Police charged the
proprietor of the baths with keeping a disorderly house, a charge commonly reserved for those
involved in the prostitution trade. Of the fifteen sodomy arrests, three forfeited bail and four
pleaded guilty or no contest. Of the eight defendants who maintained their innocence five went
to trial. All five were found guilty and sentenced to seven years and two months in prison. One
man, John Rogers, pleaded guilty to nine counts of sodomy and was sentenced to 20 years in
prison.
While the raid itself demonstrates the extent of state surveillance of persons deemed
sexually deviant, the trials of the five defendants more broadly illuminate the cultural terrain of
turn-of-the-century sexuality. The arguments and questions voiced by attorneys, prosecutors,
4


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