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Uncovering the Opium Den Scene in Washington DC in 1894

Discover the shocking reality of opium dens in Washington DC in 1894, as uncovered by The Washington Post. Learn more about the notorious 'Gypsy Joe' and 'Matinee Charley' who frequented the dens.
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This is probably a headline we wouldn’t see today. We found this in The Washington Post, printed on September 10th, 1894.

Inside of lodging house and opium den in San Francisco, 1890s (Wikipedia)
Inside of lodging house and opium den in San Francisco, 1890s (Wikipedia)

A big opium joint, which had existed for three months at 425 Tenth street northwest, was raided about 10:30 o’clock last night be Sergt. Moore and ten policemen. The raid was carefully planned, and was a complete surprise. The officers cautiously made their way to a rear room on the second floor of the building, and Sergt. Moore rapped on the door. The only response was a hurried scrambling inside. The sergeant hit the door a stiff blow with his club and then some one opened it.

Nine opium smokers were lying about the room, some of them almost completely under the influence of the subtle drug. An attempt had been made by the smokers to hide their paraphernalia, but with poor success. Six or eight alcohol lamps were burning on three large lounging tables, which were covered with matting.There were wooden head rests for about fifteen smokers. Under the tables were found a dozen pipes, and opium pills were scattered all about the room. The air was stifling, almost sickening, with the odor of burnt opium. Every window and door of the two rooms occupied by the “fiends” was closed and the heat was simply intolerable.

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The smokers, with one or two exceptions, were well dressed, and were of all ages. One ninteen-year-old boy, hollow cheeked and blear-eyed, was found. Two or three prosperous looking men of forty or forty-five years were in the lot. They were very nervous and it is said they hold good government clerkships.

A charge of keeping an opium joint was placed against one of the smokers, who gave the name Edward Williams. At the station he said he was thirty years of age, and followed the races for a livelihood. The other smokers were allowed to go, but were cautioned by Sergt. Moore that they must be present in the Police Court this morning, or attachments would be issued for them.

[On] the outside of the door of one of the rooms used by the opium fiends was a large card, upon which was printed, “Excelsior Pleasure Club, incorporated June 21st, 184.” This was the bluff by which they attempted to fool the police and others who might be suspicious at seeing so many well-dressed young men going up and down the stairway. Such a club is said to have been incorporated on the date given, and the men who made an affidavit before a notary public in getting a charter gave the names William A. Armstrong, Edward H. Martin, and Edward C. Wurdeman. A copy of type-written rules and by-laws was found hanging on the wall in one of the rooms. Of course no mention of the use of opium was made.

Sergeant Moore found in the pockets of Williams, the alleged keeper, a number of keys, which fitted chests and trunks in the rooms, and on going through them found a large number of fine opium “lay outs,” and a quantity of the drug. The police expected to find “Gypsy Joe” and “Matinee Charley,” two notorious opium fiends, but were disappointed. A place kept by Joe at Ninth and E streets was raided last winter, and in the Police Court Joe was ordered to leave town and stay away. The police have information that he is again in the city.

Gypsy Joe and Matinee Charley? We need to know more about these two!

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