Outdoors

Sin & Gin

Touring Bellingham’s torrid history

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

From the perch atop Maritime Heritage Park and behind Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, it’s possible to look to Bellingham Bay and the train tracks below and imagine you’ve gone back in time a century or more. This is especially true if you’re on a “Sin & Gin” Tour with the historical hussies known as the Good Time Girls.

On the last day of March, Sara Holodnick and Marissa McGrath—the dynamic duo who have been running the guided walking tours in downtown Bellingham and historical Fairhaven since the summer of 2011—joined their support staff to lead a group tour in advance of their season opening.

The following Saturday was an auspicious one for the crew, as it marked not only the beginning of their popular weekend outings, but also drew attention to the happenings of April 1, 1910. On that day 107 years ago, the licensed and legal Red Light District near what was then the main train station on Holly Street closed down due to pressure from wealthy citizens who had protested, signed petitions and pressured local politicians to close the lucrative district.

From the vantage point above the park, one of the guides pointed out that the action was helped along by a visit from an evangelical preacher known as Billy Sunday.

“He was very famous—like if Billy Graham and Derek Jeter decided to become one person,” she quipped, noting that from the time church-going folks found out Sunday was coming (in February) to the time he showed up (in April), they were able to push through the closure.

Since one of the main focuses of the tours is to draw attention to the history of women and their role in building Bellingham, “Sin & Gin” outings also takes pains to describe not only why so many ladies were engaged in prostitution (hint: it wasn’t for the fringe benefits), but also why it didn’t stop just because it became illegal (surprise, surprise). This was also true when it came to Prohibition.

On the tour, we also heard about a wealthy madam named Myrtle Barker, a helpful police matron named Edith Fuller, promenades by various brothels’ “new girls” down Railroad Avenue, “blind pigs,” female illusionists who performed at downtown theaters, and a wealth of other titillating tidbits that likely aren’t taught to local schoolchildren.

And, since the costumed guides have also put serious time into researching and developing the tours with both education and entertainment in mind, those who join “Sin & Gin” tours—which end with a spirits tasting at Chuckanut Bay Distillery—will leave with a much better understanding of what it took to make Bellingham what it is today. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always interesting.

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Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Ferndale Farmers Market

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Foof Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Last Outrageous Women

7:00pm|Village Books

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

7-Day Dance Festival Finale

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

MBT Janis Joplin
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

South Whatcom Birding Walks

8:00am|South Whatcom Library

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Southside Rummage Sale

8:30am| Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Make It and Take it

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Little Mountain Trail 10K

10:00am|Carpenter Creek Winery

Salmon Sighting

10:00am|Thompson Creek Bridge

Pesto Perfecto

11:00am|Ferndale Library

Council of the Animals

11:00am|Boulevard Park

Trial Vineyard Open House

12:00pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Sedro-Woolley Brewfest

2:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

The Art of Living

3:00pm|Deming Library

River Walk

3:00pm| Horseshoe Bend Trailhead.

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Kulshan CLT Community Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

BowEdison Anniversary Party

5:30pm|BowEdison

Democrats Dinner

5:30pm| Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

Fall Demo Derby

6:30pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Moment

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

MBT Janis Joplin Trove
Sunday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Bellingham Bay Marathon

7:30am|Gooseberry Point

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Eat Local Month's Restaurant Week

8:00am|Whatcom County

Oyster Run Motorcycle Rally

9:00am|Anacortes

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Whatcom Chorale Benefit Concert

3:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

see our complete calendar »

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