On this day in Duluth in 1912, the Duluth News Tribune’s headline shouted: “GIRL IN OPIUM DEN WITH NEGRO! POLICE ARREST COMELY CALUMET YOUNG WOMAN AND COMPANION AFTER BREAKING DOOR! Under Influence of Drug! Taken into Custody!” And finally, the last part of the headline, which is perhaps even more offensive to modern sensibilities: “Negro is as Repellent in Appearance as Girl is Personally Attractive.” Zenith City’s Heidi Bakk-Hansen reports that, according to the initial story in the Duluth News Tribune, the girl could be “taken for a high school girl,” and was found “in a bewildered and semi-conscious state.” She was high on opium, found in a smoke-filled room in the arms of Fred Newman, a man supposedly so “repulsive looking” that not even one of “his own class and race would choose [him] for a companion.” She, on the other hand, was “strikingly attractive … attired in a becoming red sweater coat, [and looked] out of keeping with her surroundings.” Her name was Mabel England, though she told the police her last name was Howard. She was eighteen years old. Police charged her with “improper relations with a negro in an opium den,” but the local press portrayed her as the ideal of beauty and innocence and reported she had never taken a drug until she came to Duluth. But her past was not as squeaky clean as the newspapers first reported. Read Bakk-Hansen’s entire story, which focus’s on the early 20th-century opium dens of Duluth, here.
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