Friday, February 15, 2008

Sin In The Second City By Karen Abbott

Subtitled: "Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul" a story about the Everleigh sisters and their famous brothel on South Dearborn Street in Chicago. This book was well researched and a treat for some one who lived in the suburbs and worked in Chicago for many years. The streets, the colorful names of the Ward Aldermen; Bathhouse John Coughlin, and Hinki Dink Kenna who kept the political machines running smoothly (and profitably by collecting from the businesses), the mayors and ambitious district and states attorneys, The renowned business men: Marshall Field, the Armours, Daniel Burnam (Chicago Exposition fame), Al Capone, the Chicago Stockyard, the newspaper owners all played their part in early Chicago history.
Minna and Ada Everleigh did their best to run an exceptional and clean "sporting house"; when they moved to Chicago, the business was fraught with hazzards - disease was rampant, clients were drugged and robbed, and often they were beat up. The girls who ,for the most part, were innocents who came to town looking for work or were brought to town by panderers, were usually sold to the houses for anywhere from twenty-five dollars to two hundred dollars. They were treated badly, underpaid, and under clothed, in virtual slavery, they used drugs and either died from disease or just over work. The levee area of the First Ward had it’s cruel Madams and Masters who ran Ten dollar houses , five dollar houses and fifty cent houses down to the twenty-five cent houses where some girls had as many as fifty clients in a night.
The Everleigh place was a palace with fine furnishings, art work, a golden piano that was sometimes played by Scott Joplin and exceptional food and drink served in a magnificent bar. Clients were screened and most would spend at least five hundred dollars a night at the establishment on drink, food and companionship. The girls were all carefully interviewed, dressed in fine clothing and operated under strict rules; no drugs. no rolling clients, no drunkenness, refinement and pleasure was the byword. Minna and Ada paid their girls very well and the girls were free to go but very few did. While they were in business they paid protection, made the right kind of friends and became known world wide.
They made a fortune but it could not last. The church and the ministers did their very best to shut down the businesses with prayer meetings and midnight vigils and parades and for a while the "ward healers" protected the businesses but the very idea of where the girls that worked in those places might have came from and how they became "trapped in the vile business" through the vehicle of "white slavery" became a nation wide cry that ambitious Chicago attorneys and politicians took up and began to put real pressure on the businesses. James Mann, a US Congressman, sponsored the White Slave Traffic Act better known as the Mann Act which was ignored at first but later became significant. The first part of the book was very interesting and the battles with the ministers was also fun but over two thirds of the book was devoted to building the case against White Slavery and the various legal maneuvers that went on; I tired of that and went on to find out the final fate of the sisters and the others that lived and worked on South Dearborn Street.

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