Latest Pop-Up History uncovers city’s bawdy past

Latest Pop-Up History uncovers city’s bawdy past
Mayor J.E.T. Bowden (in the wheelchair portrayed by Matt Shuman of Mad Cowford Improv) and his delightful lady friend Rachel Stromberg have the audience cheering forthe Mayor's 1915 re-election

J.E.T. BowdenMayor J.E.T. Bowden (in the wheelchair portrayed by Matt Shuman of Mad Cowford Improv) and his delightful lady friend Rachel Stromberg have the audience cheering forthe Mayor's 1915 re-election


Second series event serves up raucous performance at Dos Gatos –

“1915 Jacksonville mayoral candidate J.E.T Bowden came back to life last month — rolling into Downtown’s Dos Gatos cocktail lounge on Sep. 19 and loudly proclaimed his support of prostitution to a more than receptive crowd of nearly 200 rowdy backers.
“…This ‘social evil’ is not such a terrible evil after all. These poor unfortunates are the greatest safety valves to our society… Let us not persecute these women to conduct their business in the secret of the night under dangerous conditions and circumstances but instead embrace a culture of merciful toleration and respect…”
The candidate was not alone. Wheelchair-bound, he relied on the kindness of one of society’s “safety valves,” a woman who remained nameless but certainly not quiet. Together their argument, if not their charms, were plenty persuasive enough to bring Bowden the election win – both on this recent night of Pop Up History Book and back in 1915.
“Bowden” was actually Matt Shuman and his lively companion was Rachel Stromberg, each from the Mad Cowford Improv players. Wearing period costumes and staging the second of the Jax Pop Up History events around “Bawdy Behavior – The Naughty History of Houston Street,” they took the covers off of one of Jacksonville’s more colorful eras.
Inviting the crowd to raise their glasses in a toast to “debauchery, treachery, booze and all manner of inequity in the name of history,” Wayne Wood, Riverside Avondale Preservation founder and one of Pop Up History’s organizers set the tone for a raucous presentation of the facts surrounding a time when bordellos flourished along Houston Street (then called Ward) in LaVilla.
J.E.T. “Just Easy Times” Bowden had been mayor of LaVilla before it was annexed and again 1899-1901 of the greater city. His tenure most notably included the time of the Great Fire that destroyed 140 acres of the city on May 3, 1901. But by 1913 conservative mayor Van Swearingen had shut down the brothels, much to the consternation of the city’s good ‘ol boys. The stage was set for Bowden’s return and he swept back into office in 1915, winning by the still biggest margin of victory in Jacksonville’s history, and reopening the bordellos.
Another Pop Up History “instigator,” Fairfax resident Mike Field, adapted Bowden’s campaign speech as the script that was used at the Dos Gatos event.
“The concept of Pop Up History is to bring together the elements of mystery, surprise, and social media to educate young people about important but unknown facts in Jacksonville’s history,” said Field, who, as with the first Pop Up commemorating the July 20, 1944 plane crash in Riverside, let the event be known via cryptic emails and postings on Facebook.
According to Field’s script, by 1916, Jacksonville boasted more than 30 movie studios and became hailed as the movie industry’s winter filming capital. But economics and local backlash to the industry’s presence took its toll, and Bowden lost his re-election bid to an anti-movie candidate. By 1920, most movie companies had fled the city to relocate to a place called “Hollywood”… and the rest is, as they say,
As for future Pop Up History events, all Field would disclose is that they will “have a silver lining and the possibility of seeing stars.” Follow Jax Pop Up History on Facebook: or at the Jacksonville Historical Society:

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

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