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  • Writer's pictureWalter Kowalski

Galveston’s Sin City: Dark Tourism at its Best!

Many people come to Galveston seeking more information about the original Sin City. They want to know more about what life was like years ago, and how the city has changed since then. When it came to prostitution, Galveston was prime territory for many years. This part of Galveston’s history is the basis for many aspects of the ghost tours in the area. While the wild parties and fun times may have been enjoyable to many back then, it leads to intense stories of murder, treachery, and revenge today.

Molly Water's House, Courtesy of Rosenberg Library

Learning About Galveston: The Line

Within the city, many people went about their normal, everyday lives, thinking nothing about what happened after dark. However, in the area known in Galveston as, The Line, nightlife was all they cared about. Once the sun set and the moon shone, this five-block part of Postoffice Street changed. Suddenly, the streets were crawling with gamblers, prostitutes, and the members of the mafia. In this part of the city, you followed the rules, or else. These rules could change at a moment’s notice, and if you weren’t aware of the changes, the consequences wouldn’t be any less swift for you.

When it came to the ladies of the night, Galveston had its fair share. They would often find themselves in a state of depression, hoping for a life of love and riches, only to find themselves on the brink of suicide. This is how life was on The Line of Galveston for 70 years, and only came to a visual halt during the 1950s. After that, the prostitutes were a bit more secretive about their practices.

The Maceo Family

Originally from Italy, the Maceo Family was one of the major contributors to the original Sin City. They came looking for a prosperous place to call home. Upon first arrival, the family changed how Galveston ran. By sharing their wealth and protecting the citizens of the city, the Maceo Family became local heroes. They were not always known for being kind, however. Some of their dealings were quite dark, which is explored in more depth during the Historic Galveston Ghost Tours we provide. The Maceo’s were part of all of Galveston’s vices - prostitution, alcohol consumption, gambling, murder, and all general types of illegal activity.

Two brothers were the main part of the Maceo Family that the community knew well. Salvatore, more commonly called Sam, and Rosario, who most people called Rose. They were powerful influencers in the area, but when push came to shove, they went back to their Sicilian roots and found comfort in their syndicate of power.

One of the main reasons the brothers were able to influence so many during this time is because they owned a vast amount of properties around Galveston - restaurants, saloons, and casinos. To this end, they were able to smuggle in nearly anything that a man of power could want, including alcohol during Prohibition. While the brothers did not originally intend to bootleg, the more influence they were able to gain from alcohol, the deeper into bootlegging they became. It got to the point where the Maceo’s controlled nearly every aspect of Galveston’s economy.

Sam Maceo, right, visits with Frank Sinatra, second from right, Anthony Fertitta, left, and Jimmy Van Heusen at the Shamrock Hotel in this undated photograph, Courtesy of Houston Chronicle Photo Library

The History of Gambling, Galveston-Style

Much of Galveston’s gambling history surrounds the Maceo Family as well. They came to the city in approximately 1910, planning to work as barbers. However, they soon found themselves with an opportunity to make much more money hiding liquor during Prohibition. As they climbed the ladder, they went from hiding alcohol, to supplying it to people all around the city. This put them in control of their future, which involved opening up several businesses. Some of which were dance halls, while others were saloons. Each business served as a front for their black-market business of selling liquor. Many of their businesses also served as ideal locations for gambling.

Underground gambling came to life when the Maceo Family began to open up casinos. They started off small with one location called Chop Suey, but made it big once they opened the famous Balinese Room. When it comes to gambling, Galveston had many options to choose from, but for many years, the Balinese Room was the best place for those seeking out high-stakes gambling.

How History Affects the Dark Tourism of Sin City

Much of the dark tourism in Galveston takes place due to the terrible instances that happened during this portion of history. People died regularly, and many spirits were left behind to wander the quiet streets of Galveston at night. People often notice sounds, feelings, and other occurrences during strolls around the area, especially during the nighttime hours.

When walking down Postoffice Street, many people can feel the girls still around. Many young women lost their lives during this part of Galveston’s wicked history. One of the best ways to honor them is to speak about their lives and deaths, during the Historic Galveston Ghost Tours. We offer both traditional ghost tours that speak about this area's history, as well as red light ghost tours which speak more to the history of the risqué side of the city.

Book Your Sin City Ghost Tour Today!

Courtesy of Rosenberg Library

When you want to explore the dark tours around the area, turn to us here at Historic Galveston Ghost Tours. If you’re interested in Galveston’s rich history and what made the city what it is today, we are the experts. We start off exploring the events that shaped the island, such as The Great 1900 Storm that wiped out a huge portion of the city, all the way to the mid-twentieth century when the mafia lost much of their power.

Find out more about what shaped this area by joining us on one of our tours around this amazing island. The more you learn about the city, the deeper your appreciation will become for everything that has gone on here during its history.

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