If you’re from Bangor then you have probably heard tell of The Devil’s Half Acre. If you’re not from Bangor, or if you never bothered to read any of Bangor’s salacious history, then you may have missed that The Devil’s Half Acre once packed in a dense 142 illegal saloons and brothels during the height of Prohibition. One of the most infamous characters to emerge from this gritty backdrop was Fan Jones, a highly profitable madam from Bangor.
Sounds like a titillating story, doesn’t it? Well, lucky for you, you can read all about Fan Jones and her bawdy history on Narratively where Downeast, Maine writer, Crystal Ponti has crafted one helluva essay about Fan, Bangor, and some shocking details about where Prohibition got its start. The essay titled, Step Inside Madam Jone’s Bawdy Blue House of 19th Century Pleasure is filled with jaw-dropping details that you will want to share with your friends. Like this:
“In 1851 Maine became the first state to ban the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, distinguishing it as the birthplace of Prohibition. The legislation, known across the nation as “the Maine law,” was groundbreaking and controversial. Not everyone followed the rules.”
I reached out to Ponti to find out a little bit about how she found Jones and decided to write about her. Here is what she had to say.
HOUSEWIFE PLUS: What compelled you to want to write about Fan Jones? I mean, her history is super colorful, but these days most folks don’t know about her!
CRYSTAL PONTI: I’m a Maine native and I had never heard of Fan Jones. I was familiar with Devil’s Half Acre, but the infamous Madam was left out of my history lessons. I learned about her life and legacy while researching the roots of prohibition. I’m a feminist at heart, a little bit of a rebel, so she spoke to me. Maybe not her line of work, but her courage to defy societal norms and become a successful woman in a man’s world.
HOUSEWIFE PLUS: Do you think there is an appetite for readers on a national lever to learn and read about Maine?
CRYSTAL PONTI: Absolutely. No matter where you’re from, you’ve most likely heard of Maine. But most people immediately think of lobsters and the Atlantic Ocean. Maine is so much more. We are home to Nobel Prize winners, time-honored poets, sites of infamous battles, Stephen King and Patrick Dempsey! I want to uncover the stories that really represent the rich history and diversity of Maine. Beyond clam shacks and pine trees.
HOUSEWIFE PLUS: Are there any other interesting tidbits of Maine’s past that you are looking at right now that we can look forward to?
CRYSTAL PONTI: I am currently working on a piece about the Flying Santas which originated in Maine. It’s an amazing program that honors lighthouse families and Coast Guard personnel. After that, I hope to work on two pieces: one about the Red Paint People of Maine and a second on how Maine is quite possibly the birthplace of the modern-day donut. Ironically, my grandparents owned the 3D Donut Shop in Auburn in the 60s. Decades later, my father opened McCann’s Donut & Sandwich Shoppe in Auburn right down the road from the original location. It seems only fitting that I chase down the origins.
I’m sure I can safely speak for my audience when I say that we are all looking forward to reading more from Crystal Ponti very soon.
** If you are interested in joining Monique Bouchard for her amazing Bangor Historical Society walking tour, you can learn about Fan Jones’s colorful past in person. Click here for details.
Crystal Ponti is a freelance writer and award-winning blogger from the Augusta area. She is also a mom (of five!) and marathon multitasker. Give her a whoopie pie and she’ll smile, but lobster is off the table. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Salon, VICE, Paste Magazine, Narratively, Eater, The Kitchn, Mental Floss, Parent.co, Scary Mommy, YourTango, Club Mid, The Huffington Post, and others. Fun fact: she once unknowingly worked out with Sean Penn at a small gym in Brunswick, Maine. He was a quiet gentleman. She may have given him sass.