With the loss of factory jobs has come a sharp decline in population. The 2000 census reported 31,000 people living in Alton, a nearly 40 percent decline from the 50,000 who inhabited the city in the 1960s.

Today, Alton is perhaps best known for Fast Eddie's Bon-Air, a sprawling roadhouse that lures day-trippers from St. Louis and beyond with its 99-cent hamburgers and 29-cent shrimp.

Trivia buffs may also recognize Alton as the hometown of Robert Wadlow, whose overactive pituitary gland made him the tallest man ever to walk the earth. When he died in 1940, the 22-year-old Wadlow stood a stupefying 8 feet 11 inches tall. He weighed 439 pounds and wore size 37 shoes.

Alton is also known as the venue for the seventh and final debate on October 15, 1858, between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. It was here, too, that an angry pro-slavery mob in 1837 shot and killed abolitionist publisher Elijah Lovejoy. Nearly a century later, Alton would give birth to James Earl Ray, the assassin of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The impoverished Ray grew up in a ramshackle home on Alton's Ninth Street and began his life of crime soon after dropping out of school at the age of fifteen. In 1967, Ray escaped from a Missouri prison, and while on the lam many people believe he returned to his hometown to rob the Bank of Alton.

The unknown robbers got away with $27,000, and the day after the heist — July 14, 1967 — Ray journeyed to East St. Louis where he paid cash for a used Plymouth. Nine months later, in April 1968, Ray resurfaced as the chief suspect in King's murder in Memphis.

"I was working as an Alton police detective on the day J. Edgar Hoover fingered him as the killer," recalls Mayor Sandidge. "Our telephone lines just lit up. We had people calling from all over the world wanting to know more about Ray and his ties to Alton."

While Ray remains Alton's most infamous outlaw, the city's ties to crime can be traced almost as far back as the city's founding. In 1833 Illinois opened its first state prison on the riverbank in Alton. The limestone structure was later used to house Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Thousands of rebel soldiers would die in the notoriously unsanitary prison, mostly as a result of smallpox.

In the 1920s Alton took on a reputation as a haven for the infamous Birger and Shelton Brothers gangs. The outfits worked together managing slot machines and running bootlegged liquor in southern Illinois before launching a violent war against each other.

In 1928 ringleader Charlie Birger was the last person to be publicly hanged in Illinois when he went to the gallows for ordering a mob hit. The Shelton Brothers posse, once described by the Saturday Evening Post as "America's Bloodiest Gang," disbanded around the same time key members of its organization went to prison for robbery.

Later, in the 1970s and '80s, Alton became a dumping ground for government snitches in the witness protection program. "They used to put them up at the old Ramada Inn while they searched for permanent housing," recalls Sandidge. "And you know, half those government witnesses are former criminals themselves. One time back in the early 1980s, three of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted were either discovered in Alton or last seen here. You got to wonder: What's the attraction?"


Ghost Town
While riding shotgun in Don Huber's rusty 1993 Buick station wagon, it's easy to get a sense of Alton's rich and animated past. Huber holds elected office as Alton's township supervisor, but the crusty raconteur is perhaps better known as the city's chief historian and organizer of the annual Halloween-night parade. The festival is said to be the oldest Halloween celebration in the country.

"The German heritage societies started it back in 1916 as an attempt to keep kids from tearing shit up on Halloween night. You know, tipping over outhouses and stuff like that," Huber says, as he steers his 1993 Buick along part of the parade's two-mile route. "Now it's probably the biggest event in town. This year we had 90 different entries."

Farther along the riverfront, Huber points to a vacant patch of land that once housed the Illinois Glass Works. "It employed 3,400 people when it closed in 1984," says Huber, who calls the plant's closing "the beginning of the end" for Alton industry. "Every family in town had someone who worked for the glass factory. It used to be that you couldn't even buy a can of beer in this town. Everything was in a bottle, and if you dared to show up to a party with a six-pack of canned beer, they'd make you pour it out."

It's not that Alton has always been economically depressed. High up on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River lies the Fairmount neighborhood, a gated community dating to the early 1900s, back when Alton was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation. It's in sprawling Fairmount that Alton's factory owners and industry titans built their estates.

Pulling up in front of the largest property in Fairmount, Huber stops his car to relay how the 13,000-square-foot mansion was once the playground of the late John Olin, whose ammunition company continues to employ generations of Altonites. These days the Olin estate is home to alleged huckster J. Lloyd "Coach" Tomer, whose YTB International, Inc. Internet travel company has been called a "gigantic pyramid scheme" by the California attorney general.

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15 comments
Roswell2012
Roswell2012

Nothing wrong with a little T&A as long as the ladies aren't being harassed or forced to reveal anything they don't want to. Sounds like they don't have a problem with it and even enjoy the attention and extra tips they get from flashing. The people with the seriously conservative viewpoints that are bothered by it need to stop trying to force their views on other people. That shit really pissed me off. If you don't want to see it, don't go there, plain and simple.

givemedirections
givemedirections

I totally agree with Number 6. If they dont want to show them, they dont have to. Its a good thing when they do. If people dont like it they should go to a differant night club, go to Tonys with its pretend to be upidity crowd. They all just want to sleep with each other. Praise to all those barmaids.hope they make as much money as they can, as I do to anyone that is willing to work and not take from the system

Steve Evans
Steve Evans

Flashing Boobies for Tips in Alton has been a custom for many years. In the 80's there was a VERY chesty Bar Maid at the Pub Room who would undo buttons on her vest. When the Tips were rollin in, she took the vest off. When the tips slowed down, she put the vest back on. It took a considerable amount of $ in the jar to get the vest off a second time. Quite a racket!

Gump
Gump

This is for Kellee Baker, the girl in the "Alton Confidential" picture. You need to get a job bartending in Alton! You could make some good money and you would raise the quality of barmaid to the next level! HubaHuba!

Alby
Alby

Hehehehe. This article cracks me up! I am a fairly new transplant to Alton, and this hits the nail right on the head. The naked bar tenders should be the last issue the city fathers should worry about. Lack of jobs and industry, an aging housing stock, slumlords, rampant drug and crime problems, and diminishing city revenues are all major problems that need to be tackled first. The casino was merely a crutch for so many years; never really improving Alton; just helping it squeak by. Alton has it's bright spots and some good people, but if something isn't done to change the demographics, it will be a magnet for criminals and bums. Alton is a true case of urban decay. Many of the decent people who want to live a clean life have fled for greener pastures. Free the BOOBIES and fix whats really wrong with Alton!

Bradfordshort
Bradfordshort

I live in Alton and have heard people complaining about this article. Especially some of the politcals and wanna be big shots. When I was done with the article I was in total agreement with it. The people over here can bitch all they want. But they are bitching about the truth. If the people of Alton don't like what the article says then change it. The writer had the town drunk driving him around trying to show how great Alton is.

troy
troy

Yep,thats my old hometown.The police play cops and robbers.Its a joke.Alton has a huge drug problem.Everything is cheap.Including the value or quality of life.The prostitutes,drugs,felons,lingerie shops,payday loans,pawn shops,gambling.I have a son to raise.I moved and never looked back.Even the cops dont have to live there.Wake up somebody!!

Ben There
Ben There

No, Jamie instigated Jamie's nudity. Sweet girl, but she was one of those girls that liked to show off. The only reason she was arrested was because she kept walking outside naked, and someone would call the po-po.

above the law
above the law

I only wish the author of this story would have interviewed Jamie the Alton Barmaid who was fired for nudity. He could have asked her who the main instigator was to her nudity and this story would be as big as the Blago story.

Ben There
Ben There

Sorry MK, but you're wrong about most of what you wrote. Nobody barks at them, especially the owners. Most of the time, nothing gets shown until the owner leaves. If they don't want to show anything, they just say no. Not that bigga deal. And on a good day, they make a LOT more than a few measly bucks. They don't generally stay very long anyway. It's just place to make a few bucks til they find something better. I remember one that worked in one for a couple of years while she finished law school and never showed anybody anything. Didn't have to. Now she's an attorney, a damned fine lookin one. Helluva debater too.OTOH, there are/were those who were quite narcissistic about their exhibitionism, and just loved the attention.Some didn't even care if they didn't get any money. They just like to show off.But don't EVEN come off like it's some kind of sex slave thing. Because it's not.

MK
MK

As if the majority of these women are doing this on their own volition. If the men weren't there demanding it, they wouldn't do it. If they didn't get barked at, bar owners encouraging it, etc., it wouldn't happen. Even in this article, it states how the women were reluctant to show anything. I'm sure some women are all about it, but the majority..no way. Bar owners and managers know it's why people come to those bars and enjoy the profits. The women are making a few measly dollars. Don't blame the women, blame the bar owners for not just allowing this, but for encouraging it and profiting from it.

Ben There
Ben There

I've been a patron in those Alton bars for years, and yes, I've seen a fair amount of nudity. Sure, as a man, I sometimes enjoy a nice set of boobies with my beer. Most make me smile, some have made me have to force a smile. One line I remember from some drunk dude was, "Damn! Looks like golf balls hanging in a sock"! Of course the bartender didn't appreciate that very much. But what kills me, is the fact that some people actually go to these places, knowing full well what goes on there, just so they can see it, develope their self rightious better than thou attitudes, then go snitching to the authorities. Busybodies with apparently nothing to look forward to all day, so they decide to go ruin someone elses day. And with all of the murderers, crackheads and car thieves running around Alton, the police aren't really interested in fighting the evil threat to society that bare mammory glands cause. Funny how America is so backward that way. You can go to any European or Carribean beach and see the same exact thing, and nobody complains, nobody gets hurt.Personally, I can live without bare boobies. Seen 'em before. Big deal. Bags of fat. Whoopteedoo. But over the years, I've noticed a trend.Used to be, the only girls who worked in these places were former strippers from the east side. Battle hardened drug addicted hooker types that no one else would employ. It was hard to feel sorry for them. But nowadays I'm seeing something different. I'm seeing young single mothers, freshly divorced, who normally wouldn't be caught dead in these types of places. I'm seeing young single women who don't make near as much money on their day jobs, so they have to moonlight just to feed their kids. or some have been laid off from minimum wage jobs.And I do feel kind of sorry for them. I listen to their stories of abuse from their ex-husbands, or being laid off from "regular" jobs, and can easily see that they've been dealt a crappy hand.So next time you look down your naked nose at someone's naked breasts, and decide to rescue the world from the evil society collapsing scourge of bare boobies, ask yourself, "Self, will I make the world a better place by snitching on a woman who's just trying to live a life and feed her kids, who isn't trying to murder you, sell drugs to your kids, or sell you a senate seat?

Travis
Travis

I am an Alton area native. I went to the Pub Room about a week before the shit went down in September. After viewing a horrible excuse for a vagina(I'd like to call it a birth canal) from the skanky bar maid, she got pissed and called me uppity when I requested to not drink from their glasses. This article needed t be written. Alton has many short comings, and many natives (like myself) find humor in them. The city is beautiful in it's own right, and has many great establishments that are trying to better the city (i.e. Spirits Lounge, Gentelins on Broadway, Bossanova, etc., etc.). Also, the Grafton scene is great for wine and dining. Why not mention that? Kudos to Chad for making the venutre out to check out the Dive Bar scene (which is one of a kind). I encourage people to check out the historic the riverfront district (state st., etc.) and the many hidden treasure Alton has to offer. It is photographer's dream. Plus a lot of great music and art has came from the "city" of Alton. i.e. Camp Climax For Girls, Judge Nothing, Yorktown Heroes, uns of Navarone, Back of Dave, etc.

P.S. The Alton Telegraph is horrible!

Aaron Goodrich
Aaron Goodrich

I am a former son of Alton, born and raised. I now live in Portland Oregon, which has at last count 92 full nude bars. Alton could do much worse. I also used to work in the Mineral Springs Hotel and will testify that the place is haunted as f#@$!

John Olson
John Olson

Dennis Grubaugh is the epitome of a yellow journalism, and why you offer him another platform is beyond me! He is glad to tarnish the innocent on page 1 of the Telegraph, while child molesters are relegated to the back of the paper.

I'm not sure why there's an issue about women showing their tits anyway? Besides dive bars, there are plenty of churches you hypocrites can frequent.

While I do live in Alton, I am not a fan of the city. I also realize that cigarette smoking and amusement devices can be found all over the area and not just at the Pub Room. And for Mr. Garrison to hone in on bars in Alton is beyond me. NTM, the poker machines come with the blessings of Springfield.

So I raise my glass to the Marlboro Man. PAULA SIMS, SHOW ME YOUR TITS!

 
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