Holiday in debtor’s prison – 1930

Robert St. Estephe–Gonzo Historian–is dedicated to uncovering the forgotten past of marginalizing men. “Gonzo journalism” is characterized as tending “to favor style over fact to achieve accuracy.” Yet history – especially “social history” – is written by ideologues who distort and bury facts in order to achieve an agenda. “Gonzo” writing is seen as unorthodox and surprising. Yet, in the 21st century subjectivity, distortion and outright lying in non-fiction writing is the norm. Fraud is the new orthodoxy. Consequently, integrity is the new “transgressive.”

Welcome to the disruptive world of facts, the world of Gonzo History.


The term “alimony club,” dating from the late 19th century, was an ironic reference denoting jail, often a special section of same reserved for alimony debtors. As the early Men’s Rights movement developed in the 1920s, the term was sometimes used to describe formal anti-alimony organizations, some which opened offices and published periodicals.


Thanksgiving 1930

FULL TEXT: New York, Dec. 12 — Stocks may decline, husbands may lose their jobs and take their place on the bread line, but like the brook, alimony goes on forever. Despite repeated efforts of the famous Alimony Club, through its lawyers to protect the rights of the male, when married, the moan is still “alimony” and it looks as though it would stay there forever.

Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in the Alimony Club, known as the little Big House on West 37th Street, New York City, by 33 members – inmates. These men who are unable to pay alimony were truly thankful on the day set apart for universal thanksgiving. They have nice warm beds, plenty of good food and congenial company. They have a yard in which to play the national game. For indoor recreation, all the comforts of modern times— radio included — good time as there was much talent to entertain them.

The gay company consisted of George Walsh, the debonair, devil-may-care pianist of Broadway who held the key to Myrna Darb’s heart for so long. He is a “member” because he couldn’t pay his estranged wife, Josephine Davis, the $5,828 she claims he owes her.

This is the second time George has taken a suite in the “Hotel de Alimony.’ The first time was in 1929, but Josephine relented then and let George out.

He is not the only celebrity gracing Alimony Retreat. There is Luigi Bambosschek, a Metropolitan conductor whose wife stepped in as he was about to start a 20-weeks’ contract with the Met and compelled him to take up his residence in the Alimony “hotel.”

Rather than pay his former wife, Lililan, $3,600 back alimony, Al St. Johns, for 17 years famous as a movie comedian, went to jail in August of 1929 in Los Angeles. The judge said St. Johns could stay on the rockpile until he pays, even if it’s the rest of his natural life. So far as we know he’s still there.

To escape compulsory residence in the famous “hotel” Ned Jacobs, well-known Broadway producer, had to disappear, which made it impossible to serve him with an order to compel an increase of a bond guaranteeing that his wife’s $35 a week alimony is paid. If this bond is not executed Mr. Jacob’s wife can send him to the Alimony Club.

He has married another woman, which makes the former wife still more anxious to collect. Wives have the legal power to make love so expensive that only a very wealthy man can afford to indulge in more than one marital experience. Still there are few wives who will not soften toward their mates if they are willing to hand out a little soft soap.

A few days ago, William P. Ferguson, whose wife had sued him for divorce, found himself in jail for non-payment of alimony.

When she went to see him, Ferguson made love through the jail bars so effectively that her heart melted. She fell in love with him all over again and the divorce motion was dismissed. They are now on a second honeymoon. This is one solution of alimony evil—when the wife isn’t really a gold digger.

But unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any redress for the husband whose wife determines to profit to the full extent of the law, for him nothing remains but “membership” in the Alimony Club until financial conditions permit his meeting the demands imposed on him.

[“Alimony Club Members Give Thanks – Although Residence in “Hotel de Alimony” Is Forced by Wives Seeking Financial Balm, Arduous Love Making Through Bars Brings “Member” Freedom.” Logansport Pharos Tribune (In.), Dec. 23, 1930, p. 9]


Christmas 1930

FULL TEXT: Chicago — Alimony row in Cook county’s Bridewell, the meticulously guarded gathering place for matrimony’s bad boys, faces a bleak Christmas. In addition, its president, the small, dark, neat Jimmy Kalcerzzity, was checking out. However, Jimmie had a substitute.

Today’s arrival was Daniel S. Beebe, former president of the Vitrolite company, in for the usual six months because he was $24,800 in arrears in alimony payments. Despite his plea for holiday clemency Mrs. Etta Marker Beebe, his divorced wife, insisted that he be locked up because he had given her but $300 in the last three years.

As a president, Jimmie Kalcerzzity has no place in jail. His environment prohibited his acts from having much effect. For Mr. Kalcerzzity’s administrative duties have to do with the incorporated alimony club, an organization interested in reforming the state laws on that subject.

President Jimmie didn’t have much time to outline the progress of the club today.

“But you might stick around a while,” he said. “My wife could have me sent back right away while I’ve been penned up, my alimony kept climbing. That makes me eligible for another six months.’


Christmas in the county hoosegow is a bleak prospect for all of President Jimmie’s clubmates. Made half-bitter, half-careless by their imprisonment, they shake their heads sadly, not because of themselves, they say, but because of their children. The 40 fathers counted 100 children among them.

“I’m an engineer on the B & O ,” explained Steven Wasilewski. “I’ve got two children by my first wife, and two by my second. The four live with my second wife, and my first wife had me thrown in here because I owed her $600. I can’t pay her off when I’m not earning anything — and here I got four kids and a second wife starving.”

Julius Turowetzky, auto tire dealer, is just starting his six months. “And my wife,” said he, “never did love my three children by my first wife. She has none of her own. And because she wouldn’t care for mine like she promised, I don’t speak to her two years; and even I gave her deeds to my property. But what difference? Rosey had me locked up. Can you imagine it?”


Sign painters, carpenters, clerks, and chefs scrub floors daily, make beds and serve food. During the last year there were 525 additions to the Alimony club. Sometimes they serve out all six months, sometimes less.

Christmas in jail? Yes, and there’ll be the ordinary prison fare — and no visitors.

The prospect is almost too much for Wallie Hendricks, who is very black [“black” refers to “black mood”] and also $400 behind on his ex-wife’s upkeep.

“Christmas in jail?” he murmurs gently. “Oh, I guess I might as well get used to it. I tell you what’s wrong with this alimony business — we shouldn’t ‘a’ got married in the first place.”

[“Bleak Holiday For Bad Boys In Alimony Row – Members of Club in Cook County’s Bridewell Shake Heads Sadly Because of Hundred Children, syndicated (AP), The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wi.), Dec. 20, 1930, p. 17]


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