September 25, 1901: Red lights of Duluth’s red light district nearly grounds steamer

On this day in Duluth in 1901 the steamer Harlem nearly beached itself against Minnesota Point because the captain mistook the red lights of Duluth’s “tenderloin” or “red light” district along St. Croix Avenue as the lights of the ship canal. The ferry Estelle warned the Harlem’s captain, who was able to veer his vessel out of danger at the last moment, just missing the canal’s newly built concrete north pier. The paper reported that three red lights could be seen from the water, one a switch light, another on a saloon at Buchanan Street and St. Croix Avenue, and the third “on a brick building occupied by some negro sirens” (“siren” was then used as a euphemism  for prostitute). At the time the South Pier Light was also red (there was no North Pier Light until 1910) , and apparently the captain thought that the saloon on Buchanan Street was the south pier of the canal. A few months earlier the steamer Sir Henry Bessemer nearly grounded for the same reason, and a few days after that the Charles Maples did beach itself because of the lights. The newspaper suggested that if “saloons and houses of ill repute use colored lights, they should be required to use green ones.” Learn more about Duluth’s notorious St. Croix Avenue District, and the notorious Madam Gaine, here.

The steamer Harlem. (Image: Great Lakes Vessel Index)

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