Brothels in Babylon

Or Warren County... ‘Wickedest Man in the World’ sets up shop in the county for nine months

Library of Congress photo A photo of Triumph Hill which shows precisely what brought characters like Hogan to Warren County.

Warren County is a pretty conservative place.

But there was once a town in the county where six of its first eight businesses were brothels.

Welcome to Babylon, ladies and gentlemen.

Flashback to the 1860s.

Just a few years before, Edwin Drake became the first man to successfully drill for oil near Titusville.

It didn’t take long for the oil to boom in the region.

One of the locations where oil boomed first were the hills around Tidioute.

Move toward the end of the decade – 1869 – and “the wickedest man in the world” came to town.

This is the story of probably the most morally bankrupt era in Warren County’s history, highlighted by “the wickedest man in the world.”

Arch Bristow’s Old Time Tales of Warren County says that Benedict Hagan was born in Wurtemberg, Germany.

“But he had it in for the Irish so he called himself ‘Ben Hogan’ and most of the world who knew his game, and it was not a small world, believed him to be straight from the Emerald Isle,” Bristow wrote. “He was, undoubtedly, the most infamous character in the early day of oil.”

Bristow writes that the Hagan family came to the states in 1852 when Ben was 11 and that by the age of 17 he wound up in prison for burglary.

When he got out of prison, the real work began.

He was first as a spy for both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War and “was credited with killing half a dozen men in the way of business, indulged in the game of bounty jumping.”

Bounties were often provided to potential soldiers to encourage enlistment. But many made an art form out of enlisting under a name, collecting the cash and then going AWOL, just to repeat the process under a different name.

“He was sentenced to death for crimes against the government and President Lincoln demonstrated that the wisest and best of men make bad blunders by issuing Ben a pardon,” Bristow wrote.

Hogan’s own quasi-autobiography (he didn’t write it but he oversaw it’s writing) unsurprisingly takes a softer tone.

“Ben Hogan is no saint – but it may be well to add that this volume is not undertaken with a view to promulgating an immoral lesson,” his biography stated. “Yet, though the hero shall not prove a saint, and though the record of his life may contain some shadows, it is believed that nothing in the pages which willow will be found to offend good taste. Saints, as a general rule, do not make first-rate material for the biographer.”

Hogan first came to the region at the infamous Pithole, in between Titusville and Tionesta.

According to the Drake Well Museum, the first well was struck there in 1865.

The population quickly grew to upwards of 20,000 people.

Bristow tells the story of Hogan at Pithole.

“Ben was, beyond any doubt, one of the worst rascale unhung. Pithole, named for a hole in the earth which emitted heat and gasses has so often been said to have equaled in outlawry and wildness any of the mushroom towns of the California gold rush. This, however, was a mistake, Pithole, in Venango County, was worse than anything in California.”

Bristow clearly wasn’t a fan of Hogan, referring to him as “His Satanic Majesty” that “had arrived in Pithole with a full executive staff, perhaps his Majesty had come up out of the famous pit hole which many believed led straight to the infernal region. At any rate, Satan was there, in full command, his lieutenants included highwaymen, gamblers, confidence men, brothel proprietors had recently reported to headquarters.