How Newport, Kentucky, Lost the Title of ‘Sin City’

When I was a youngster in Kentucky, I occasionally heard references to Newport as a "bad place," but didn't learn the details because the town was pretty far away. As an adult I visited the aquarium in Newport, and found it's a perfectly normal town. But it once held the title of "Sin City." It started with the Civil War and a lucrative prostitution trade. During Prohibition, it became a mecca for bootleg liquor, controlled by organized crime. Afterward, Newport was known for its casinos, strip clubs, and brothels. As the 1960s dawned, a citizens group, the Committee of 500, formed to find ways to clean up the town, and they stumbled into a spectacular scandal that did just that. Their plan was to elect a new sheriff, and they chose a clean-cut, all-American former NFL player from nearby Cincinnati named George Ratterman.

As a footballer, Ratterman cut an almost cartoonish figure of the handsome, corn-fed American hero, so he made a perfect law-and-order candidate for Newport sheriff. According to a 1999 article in the now defunct Cincinnati Post, by 1961, Ratterman was the married father of eight children, working both as a part-time sports commentator and in financial planning. He announced his campaign for sheriff of Newport in April of 1961, saying, “I am told that if I run for sheriff, I will be the victim of all sorts of personal slanderous attacks. But I say to our opponents, let the attacks start now, if they must. Let the battle be joined now.”

Just over a month later, he woke up in bed next to a stripper.  

The investigation that followed made national news, prompted Robert Kennedy to send in federal investigators, and revealed Newport's organized criminal masterminds to be working on a Three Stooges level. Read the rest of the story at Atlas Obscura.


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My grandfather grew up in a small town in Mississippi. He was offered a job in Vicksburg, but was warned by an elderly relative that the town was terribly sinful place. You could buy whiskey there! And there was even gambling on the river! No decent young man should go to such a Sodom and Gamorrah.

So he moved to New York City instead.
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