How A Wad Of Chewing Gum Sealed Boss Cox’s Gambling Den

Today, Dead Man’s Corner is a park located across Central Avenue from the Convention Center, a gentle, grass-covered slope overlooking the I-75 interchanges west of downtown.
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Boss Cox got his start behind the bar of the saloon at Dead Man’s Corner and its management passed to a series of trusted minions who paid for the privilege by sending a slice of the action to Cox.

Illustration Courtesy The Cincinnati Post, October 31, 1911

The intersection of Longworth Street and Central Avenue was the gateway to Cincinnati’s red-light district and the center of power for the notorious Eighteenth Ward. This was where George Barnsdale Cox, known as “Boss” Cox, got his start, running a saloon on the southwest corner.

So notorious was Longworth Street, which ran between Fifth and Sixth streets until it was all demolished in the name of urban renewal, that the city renamed the street west of Central Avenue in an effort to preserve property values on the respectable eastern end. Good luck with that! The southwest corner of “Carlisle” and Central retained its old nickname: Dead Man’s Corner.

When his power required a move from the barroom to a corporate office downtown, Cox picked a trusted lieutenant, Lew Kraft, to take over Dead Man’s Corner. Kraft’s gambling operations moved into tonier quarters at a ritzy hotel, so another henchman took over, and so on.

By 1911, however, the Cox machine had started to sputter. The Boss himself was in court on the perjury charges that would force his resignation later that year. His underbosses were preoccupied elsewhere: “Rud” Hynicka with his vaudeville theaters in New York and Garry Herrmann with the Cincinnati Reds. Dead Man’s Corner was now managed by a small-time gambler named Edward Vincent, who was undone by a Syrian immigrant and a wad of chewing gum.

Cincinnati Police Lieutenant James Slattery’s ingenious use of chewing gum was intended to keep gamblers out, not in, but the trick inspired a Cincinnati Post cartoonist’s imagination.

Cartoon Courtesy The Cincinnati Post, May 10, 1911

Boss Cox liked gambling because it brought him lots of money. He let betting parlors and bucket shops operate all over the city as long as he got a slice of the take. City law back then allowed gambling dens to operate unless five citizens filed formal complaints. Gamblers hired enough muscle that finding five complainants was darn near impossible.

Despite the reluctance of neighbors to complain about the gambling activity, Vincent needed to create diversions to conceal his illicit activities from the police, who had posted sentries around Dead Man’s Corner. Although Vincent’s gambling operation occupied the second floor of his saloon, no one entered through the barroom. Instead, Vincent opened a small restaurant on the side of his building, with an alternate stairway to the second floor. If police attention got too hot, he had some of the losers sit in the restaurant to make it appear like people actually ate there.

Why Sahid Doumit ended up in Vincent’s gambling joint is a mystery. He was an apparently honest immigrant from Syria and ran a small shop down on Third Street. One night, Doumit told the court [Cincinnati Post 28 April 1911], he found himself upstairs with a fellow Syrian:

We did not play but merely looked on. Soon a man came up to us and asked if we wouldn’t treat. I ordered several pint bottles of beer for which I was charged 25 cents apiece. I had been there about two hours when I felt three stinging blows on my shoulder. I turned around and asked who struck me. I was then seized by three men, bent backward, struck in the mouth and face, and while two of them held me a third went through my pockets. The 50 men in the room saw it all, but no one came up to help me.

The ruffians stole $40 and Doumit’s gold watch. Doumit shouted for the police, but was roughed up and locked in a side room until morning, when he was released with threats to keep quiet. To enforce the threats, some of the gamblers began loitering around Doumit’s shop, occasionally popping in to repeat their threats.

Doumit went to the police anyway and swore out warrants. The cops raided Dead Man’s Corner and found an elaborate set up, with false doors, wayward staircases, warning lights triggered by switches in the saloon and restaurant, and a troop of barmaids and waitresses whose only duty was to keep an eye out for cops.

Chief William H. Jackson ordered the second floor of Vincent’s saloon barricaded. This required some improvisation, since barricade material was nowhere to be found. Luckily, Chief Jackson had issued an order prohibiting police to smoke while on duty, and Lieutenant James Slattery had found an alternative, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer [7 May 1911]:

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Slattery, of Central Station, sealed up the door, and for want of better material at hand used ordinary chewing gum. The thumb lines of Lieutenant Slattery’s hands were impressed on each wad, and will probably be better for sealing purposes than any other procurable.

Apparently, the chewing gum did the trick. Ed Vincent moved his saloon to the northern reaches of John Street. Cox retired to live out his remaining days in his Clifton mansion. Dead Man’s Corner became just another dive bar, though murders as late as 1935 kept the nickname in play. No word on whatever became of Mr. Doumit.

Today, Dead Man’s Corner is a park located across Central Avenue from the Convention Center, a gentle, grass-covered slope overlooking the I-75 interchanges west of downtown.

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