A Night at the Ariston Baths tells the story of Theodore and Martin and how they were swept up in the first known large scale raid of a gay gathering.
On Saturday night, February 21, 1903 in New York City, six cops went undercover (as much undercover as one can be while wearing a towel) at the Ariston Turkish and Russian Baths, one of the most upscale bathhouses in Manhattan. Reports had made their way to New York City police of immoral activities taking place between male patrons of the Ariston Baths.
Starting at about 9 pm that night, those six cops one by one made their way to the bathhouse and spent their evening wandering and watching, looking for illegal activity. At 1:45 AM a raid was carried out on the premises, sweeping up more than 80 men in the process.
When I first learned about this event and the men involved, not to mention how their lives were changed that night, I have tried to learn everything I could find on the subject. For years I have investigated and researched every lead, tracking down as much information as possible so that these men are not lost to history.
In my view, this raid in 1903 was just the first in a long series of police raids on gatherings of gay men in New York City that went on for decades until one night in June of 1969, something happened and those who had been easy targets, decided that enough was enough. No more. When the police tried to raid the Stonewall Inn in the early summer of 1969, rather than let it happen, that night the patrons fought back, sending the police into hiding and changing the course of history.
To tell this story I created a gay character by the name of Theodore McCall, a tall, gangly young man in rural Western Pennsylvania. When everything in his life is turned on its head on New Year’s Eve, 1902, Theodore decides this is a sign to do something completely out of character.
The next morning he hops on a train to make the day-long journey to New York City to join his friend, Martin Fuller, who had moved there two years earlier. Martin helps him get a job and then sets out to introduce Theodore to the vibrant gay life that existed in New York City at the turn of the century, just out of sight of most people.
Unfortunately, Martin’s introduction of Theodore to gay life in New York gets them both swept up in the Ariston raid. But this is just the start of our story, a story that spans more than 60 years. I hope you’ll join me for this walk through history and love.