Gambling, Prostitution and Collusion! Oh my!

Men swinging sledge hammer at slot machine.
Pass the Word is a collaborative project with over 100 participating repositories located throughout Kentucky.  This week’s Pass the Word Challenge Post is submitted by Northern Kentucky University’s Special Collections and Archives, a Pass the Word’s participating repository.

Do stories of organized crime, corrupt officials, or backroom gambling captivate you? Have you toured “guns, gambling, and girls” sites in Newport, Kentucky and want to learn more about this part of the town’s history?

Oral history interviews explore collective and individual memories of historical events and people. Stories shared between generations and within communities often take on new meaning over time. The Attack on Organized Crime in Northern Kentucky in the 1950s and 1960s is an oral history collection from Eva G. Farris Special Collections, Northern Kentucky University that examines how individuals remember organized crime and reform in Newport. Its interviews shed light on citizens’ discontent with the city’s culture in the mid-twentieth century and the reform actions they took. This period is commonly referred to as the “Newport Clean-up” in northern Kentucky. Stories from the interviewees describe how Newport’s economy changed from one with illegal activities such as gambling, prostitution, and organized crime to a legal, industry-based economy.

Each interview offers a unique perspective on Newport’s identification with organized crime and the reform movement. The interviewees were all involved in different aspects of the clean-up. For example, an interview with Jack Cook talks about the process of citizens forming the Committee of 500. George Ratterman tells the story of running for political office and being criminally set-up by rivals. In his interview, Judge A.J. Jolly discusses his interactions with various criminal figures and reform supporters.

Oral history interviews about the Committee of 500 and organized crime in Northern Kentucky can be found on Pass the Word, Kentucky’s online, oral history discovery tool, and in the H. Lew Wallace Newport History Collection.  Listen to the interviews or read their transcripts in the Archives Research Room located in room 106, Steely Library on the campus of Northern Kentucky University. The Archives Research Room is open this summer to the public Monday-Thursday, 1-4:30 p.m.  For additional hours, visit our website.  Contact Anne Ryckbost ( for further collection and access information.

If you’re looking for other intriguing stories on organized crime and the Newport Clean-up, check out the Crime in Northern Kentucky Oral History Project on Pass the Word. The collection, housed at the Kentucky Historical Society, contains fifteen interviews about the history of organized crime in Northern Kentucky and the Committee of 500.

Challenge: The challenge this week is to list the candidates in the 1961 Campbell  County  Sheriff’s  election. Find an interview with the person who won this election on Pass the Word  and include the person’s name as part of your response. 


Committee of 500 Gallery

Gallery images courtesy of the Wallace Newport History Collection, Eva G. Farris Special Collections, W. Frank Steely Library.

[gdl_gallery title=”Gallery-PTWCommitteeof500″ width=”205″ height=”210″ ]
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