July 9, 1909: Penny Arcades corrupt souls

On this day in 1909, a Duluth pastor called penny shows an “agent of evil” and claimed that in Duluth, more souls are lost through its influence in a day than the church could save in a month. The unnamed pastor had toured the “Penny Arcade” along Superior Street between First and Second Avenues West in the company of a News Tribune reporter, who printed the clergyman’s comments the next day. The arcade contained row after row of “penny-in-the-slot” machines that showed moving pictures. It wasn’t the technology that upset the preacher, it was the content of most of the films—and that boys and girls were allowed in the arcade. The reporter pointed out that after a “roughly clad woodsmen” watched a machine offering “Chorus Girls Retiring,” a fourteen-year-old boy took his place and watched the film not once but twice. Other titles the reporter considered provocative included “The Dancer,” “Ain’t It Awful, Mabel?” “Nothing Cold About Her,” and “If Ruby Only Knew There’d Be Something Doing.” The movie was described as having all sorts of vice in it: “The pictures are of a man and a woman. There are suggestive situations, glimpses of hosiery and lingerie, and abandoned postures.” The arcade also offered a mechanical piano, naughty postcards, and listening to “popular” music by way of ear-tube phonographs.

Boys swarm around peep-shows in a penny arcade at an outdoor carnival in Granville, West Virginia, September, 1938. (Image: Public Domain)