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Sin City

Terre Haute was once known as "Sin City" because of its brothels and gambling establishments. The "Red Light" district was finally closed for good in the late 1960's and early '70's.
Terre Haute used to have the reputation as "Sin City."

For decades, sex was easy to buy and gambling simple to find.

In fact, the last brothels downtown did not close until the late 1960's and early 70's.

In the 1920's Madame Edith Brown ran a brothel just a couple blocks north of the Vigo County Courthouse.

It was one of several in town, but hers had the city's first outdoor swimming pool.

Marylee Hagan is the Executive Director of the Vigo County Historical Society.

"The house itself was very elegant. It had oriental carpets and crystal chandeliers, the finest china and silver," says Hagan.

Brown catered to high end cliental.

Brown would sometimes have tuxedo nights and her "girls" would be in ball gowns.

The cost of the evening was $25 dollars which included dinner and "companionship.'

In today's money that's roughly 400 bucks.

More than one account portrays Brown as a good business woman

"She charged her guests more but everything was done in the best of taste," says Hagan

Madame Edith Brown's house has been torn down but what does remain is the beautiful glass canopy at the Vigo County Historical Society. It once hung over Madame Edith Brown's door."


You can also find a chandelier said to have been in Madam Brown's brothel at the Rod and Gun Club located by the Vigo/Vermillion county line.

Brown's husband, Eddie gosnell was the original owner of the club.

He happened to be a gambling kingpin and a bootlegger with ties to the Chicago mob.

Bob Johnson worked for Gosnell.

"I was his body guard for awhile after he got older. He was kinda afraid. He'd done made a lot of enemies he said," says Johnson.

77-year-old Johnson now owns the Rod and Gun Club. He worked for Gosnell until Gosnell's death in 1961.

"Well the old club always had gambling there and when we built this one they had gambling in the back end," says Johnson.

Besides offering gambling and alcohol, Gosnell also provided patrons private dining rooms so men could bring their mistresses to dinner without embarrassing their wives.

Others could eat discreetly as well.

"I think some of the underworld characters did probably dine at the Rod and Gun club," says Hagan.

The private rooms have outside entrances. A switch inside the room turns on a light at the restaurant's bar indicating service is needed.

While illicit activities had gone on for decades in Terre Haute, the city gained national attention for them in the 60's.

There were articles in various magazines like the "Saturday Evening Post," "The Spectator" and "Stag"..

They described the red light district and the gambling.

Although, the director of the historical society says in the end, Terre Haute was probably no better or no worse than many other cities.

"They all had their red light districts ours just got a little bit of notoriety the others did not," says Hagan.

But it was that "little bit of notoriety" which led religious and civic groups, as well as, the then president of Indiana State University to put more pressure on local officials to finally shut down the brothels and gambling rooms.


Both Madame Brown and Eddie Gosnell were in their 80's when they died. They never had any children, although Eddie did raise his nephew.

As for the Rod and Gun Club, it's now a steak house. You can still eat in the private rooms, but there's no longer gambling.
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