Q: When and how did the term “red light” become associated with prostitution?
E.H., of O’Fallon
A: At first glance, it does seem an odd choice considering that such a sign is, figuratively speaking, actually a green light for those seeking services from the world’s so-called oldest profession. But a bit of research will tell you that some argue there’s been a tie between red and prostitutes since Old Testament times.
Haven’t heard the story? Well, open your Bible to where Joshua is preparing to fight the battle of Jericho. Camped in the Jordan Valley, Joshua sends two spies into Jericho to probe the city’s military strength. They find shelter in the house of Rahab, a prostitute who eventually will be praised by New Testament writers.
“I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us,” she tells the spies. “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.”
The spies assure her that their army will spare Rahab’s family, so Rahab hides them under bundles of flax. Then, as they escape, they tell her that she and her family will be safe during the coming invasion if she hangs a scarlet cord out a window of her house. As a result, some now claim that this red cord became the basis for the red lights to lure those looking for brothels.
It’s a nice tale, but the idea that pimps and prostitutes would know this somewhat obscure story about a minor biblical character seems a bit suspect to me. It also seems odd that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known print reference to “red-light district” did not appear until an 1894 article in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register. In it, author Paul Wellman suggests that it originated in Dodge City, Kan., which had a well-known area of prostitution district that included the Red Light House saloon. While not proven, it may have gone a long way to popularize the term.
Still other popular lore credits trainmen. When they weren’t working on the railroad, they would go into town for extracurricular activities during a long, lonely trip out West. Because trains might continue on their way at any moment, these railroaders would take along their red lanterns as a sort of old-fashioned pager so they could be easily found. As you might guess, the lanterns were often found burning outside or in the windows of bordellos, again producing the red-prostitute connection.
Some say the color was chosen for its sensuality. During World War I, for example, brothels in Belgium and France reportedly used blue lights to indicate brothels for officers and red for lower ranks.
By the way, if you missed it last year, I wrote that General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker is largely off the hook for his name producing the popular synonym for prostitute. Years before President Lincoln gave him the hook after the Battle of Chancellorsville, the use of “hooker” has been traced to at least 1845 in North Carolina. Some say it may go back to sailors looking for company as they sailed from Britain to the Hook of Holland, where the sweet, painted ladies took their minds off their long days at sea. Others say it simply reflected the idea that prostitutes would link arms with (i.e., hook) their johns as they marched off for an hour of recreation.
Q: Where did Mike Columbo go on KMOV-TV?
N.W., of Fairview Heights
A: I normally watch KTVI/Fox2, so recently I was stunned when I had to switch to channels 4 and 5 for a day or two and found that I hardly recognized a single reporter.
At it turns out, Columbo has joined a long list of defectors. You may remember when Jasmine Huda left KMOV last September to become an anchor at KTVI. Now Columbo has joined his former colleague.
Those who watch Channel 2 haven’t seen him yet because of the standard no-compete clause in his contract. Generally, if you move to another St. Louis station, you’re not allowed to appear for six months. So although he left in mid-April, he likely won’t be on camera until just before Halloween, although the 2004 Vianney High School grad already is working behind the scenes. He has told various interviewers that KTVI offered better advancement opportunities.
While I have a chance, let me catch you up on a few other former familiar St. Louis TV personalities:
RIP, Patrick Emory: Known for his dashing good looks when he joined KMOV in 1973, former anchorman Patrick Emory died of natural causes June 5 at his home in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 73.
Forty years ago, he helped usher in the move locally to young, attractive anchors when Walter Cronkite was still king of the network nightly news. In just two years, he was on his way to L.A. but wound up butting heads with station execs there who called him “a pretty-boy news reader.” His career, which included a stint at CNN in 1981, brought him back to St. Louis for work at KSDK from 1976-1979 and KDNL from 1998-2000. He is survived by two sons and two grandchildren.
In the driver’s seat: If you’re planning to visit Glacier National Park in Montana this summer, you might want to ask for former KSDK reporter Mike Owens to be your shuttle bus driver.
After leaving Channel 5, Owens started a law practice. This year, he decided to take the summer off to enjoy the beautiful outdoors by driving a bus. The husband of St. Louis Alderman and declared mayoral candidate Lyda Krewson, Owens probably has taken a major salary cut temporarily, but for $12.75 a day he gets three meals and all the pleasures of a dorm room.
Pieces of April: After being fired from KTVI last November over a dispute with another colleague, April Simpson recently wrote on her Facebook page that she remains convinced the best is still ahead of her.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she writes. “I may not understand it, but it does. I’ve been using this time to get myself together. I had brain surgery, two rounds of radiation, and both of my hips replaced in the past five years. My body and mind needed a break. Believe me, good things are coming. Thank you so much for continuing to support me through this difficult, but blessed time in my life.”
When and where was the first recorded labor strike in history?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Hugh Jackson may be able to vanquish supervillains as Wolverine, but he was no match for CBS, which killed his musical comedy-drama series, “Viva Laughlin,” after two episodes in 2007.