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Ada Simms was born February 15, 1864, and died in Charlottesville, Virginia on January 5, 1960. Minna Simms was born in Greene County on July 13, 1866 and died in New York City on September 16, 1948.
The Everleigh Club Illustrated, 2131-2133 Dearborn Street, Chicago, 1911
The Everleigh Club, while not an extremely imposing edifice without, is a most sumptuous place within 2131 Dearborn Street, Chicago, has long been famed for its luxurious furnishings, famous paintings and statuary, and its elaborate and artistic decorations. “The New Annex,” 2133 Dearborn Street, formerly opened November 1, 1902, has added prestige to the club, and won admiration and praise from all visitors. With double front entrances, the twin buildings within are so constructed as to seem as one. Steam heat throughout, with electric fans in summer; one never feels the winter’s chill or summer’s heat in this luxurious resort. Fortunate indeed, with all the comforts of life surrounding them, are the members of the Everleigh Club. This little booklet will convey but a faint idea of the magnificence of the club and its appointments.
Entrance Halls to the Everleigh Club.
Grand ballroom of the Everleigh Club
Room in the Everleigh Club that resembled a Pullman Dining Car.
Everleigh Club Oriental Music Room
Everleigh Club Japanese Throne Room
Red Bedroom of the Everleigh Club
Blue Bedroom of the Everleigh Club
Rose Parlor Room of the Everleigh Club
Rose Room of the Everleigh Club
One of the Dining Rooms of the Everleigh Club
Bathing Room of the Everleigh Club
The following article was the first of a series of three that was written by Charles Washburn, but not credited. Mr. Washburn’s book, “Come Into My Parlor” was published in 1936 and the articles contains verbatim sections from the book.1
Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1936
The truth, then, is that Chicago has known three notorious periods of lawlessness.
In each instance the “scourge inexorable and the touring hour” called us to penance. In each instance it was the “last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.”
In each instance it was the publication of NEWS!
It was NEWS that drove out prohibition and Capone.
It was NEWS that drove out the labor rackets, the kidnappers, and the Dillingers.
It was the news, pounding pitilessly, that forced the Scarlet Sisters Everleigh so boldly into the limelight that only extinction could be the result. While these symbols of the noisome, wicked, blaring, and public shame lighted up the horizon of the red-light district, those who lived by their light could see nothing else. They could not see that in the shadows were forming the battalions of “human experience for the benefit of the public.”
It was years before the battalions could be fused into the scourge inexorable. But they were fused, and with that fusing came the obliteration of the wry, unwholesome, wretched, and smelly neighborhood which for years had stood as the Twenty-second street red-light district.
- The Everleigh sisters.
Dillinger and Touhy.
Three symbols of impudence toward the law. Three symbols burned into bold relief by publicity. Three struggles for public decency. Three battles won.
The first of the trilogy is the sorry epic of the Everleighs. It begins in the shaded and careless era of American life when all cities tolerated the woman of the street as a necessary and accepted evil. In her soiled train came hordes of macquereaus and thieves and grafters and white slavers and panders and pimps to strut in open immunity and mock the Sabbath dignity of respectable people.
Chicago always has reacted singularly to the witty and tongue-in-cheek symbolism. The World’s Fair of ’93 was a massive, gorgeous setting for the greatest industrial exhibit probably ever conceived. And yet it was symbolized after a droll fashion by Little Egypt, a flashy and writhing female who performed her dances in the Midway Plaisance. So Little Egypt and the Midway became the fair.
The World’s Fair of ’33 was a bewildering development in the modern style. And yet the Streets of Paris and Sally Rand, the fan dancer, became the jovial trademark of the spectacle.
The Everleigh sisters stamped the red-light era.
Capone stamped prohibition.
Touhy and Dillinger stamped the rackets and kidnaping and bank robbery and swift murder.
When the discouraging lawlessness of the prohibition period was at its height it was not at all uncommon for good citizens to complain of the sensational publicity attending the bloody exploits of the hoodlums. Letters came to the editors in swift succession urging an end of all printed things about the bootleggers, the killers, the grafters, and the bribers.
There was that same flinching during the period of the Scarlet Sisters. If we kept still about it no one could know about t. But the newspapers didn’t keep still. The printed page kept dinning away at the red lights. Hardly a day passed that did not see the exposure of some astonishing iniquity. Whether in the old west side levee, in the Twenty-second street quarter, in South Chicago, or in North Clark street, each and every screaming evasion of the law got its crash of publicity.
It was publicity that made the Everleigh sisters. Because they were remarkable for their mode of dress and life, because they affected a certain distinction in manners, because they courted the patronage of the select, they shrewdly built up a capital of advertising. The Everleigh club was known in almost every slumbering hamlet. The out-of-town buyer could return to his home town with a salacious little morsel for his cronies. The city man slipped in and out and hoped he wouldn’t get caught.
But the publicity which the Scarlet Sisters so shrewdly originated also built the bonfire. Its heat did not drive them out alone. It also drove out the whole wretched industry. And when the tawdry drama was unraveled it wasn’t so romantic after all. The palatial quarters of the Everleigh club when put under the hard scrutiny of an investigation turned out to be a common enough three-story brick adapted to the sluttish propensities of a pair of painted-up trollops. The gorgeous furnishings faded into the weary dejection of of garish mid-Victorian. When the glittering sisters moved out under the impetus of a police escort a squalid brood of neighborhood ragtag and bobtail moved in and sniffed nothing aristocratic about it.
Ada and Minna Everleigh. These were the sisters. Today they are living remotely in New York. The usual romantic rumor says they have the income from more than a million dollars they took from their bordel in the old Twenty-second street district. Until recently their financial concerns were managed by a placid underofficer in a Chicago bank. That bank has since been wound up in mergers. The fortune of the Scarlet Sisters may have suffered, but perhaps not enough to interfere with the comfort of their declining years. At least there is speculation on what a couple of old women think about when at threescore and ten there is nothing in the future and the past has gone sour.
Everleigh was an assumed name. It had a kind of first family smack about it. Their real name never came to the surface, since no one took the trouble to make a point of it. Whatever it was, it was left in Texas, whence they hailed. There is a report their father had been a resident of Mexico, but the Scarlet Sisters didn’t dwell much on family connections which passed under other names. There was also a report that they had a brother with eleven children and a sister who died respectfully married.
The Everleigh sisters made their own way. In their teens they became attached to small repertoire companies and thus were able to present their misty and interesting background of the stage. But they were not important as actresses. They were above the average in height, not particularly good looking. They were brunettes. Minna loved to quote poetry Ada affected a cool and dignified mien.
This disposition toward literature by Minna perhaps contributed more than any other factor to the downfall of the club. It was Minna who prepared an elaborate brochure, suitably illustrated, presenting a description of the club’s interior. This booklet told about the Persian room, the Turkish room, the hall of a thousand mirrors, and the Japanese and other rooms in such a way as to arouse the anger of the most temperate citizen. At the age of forty the Scarlet Sisters were to find out the true value of publicity.
When the pair deserted the stage to take up the management of resorts they took with them a certain poise and a correct manner of speaking that were great assets. And when they purchased the Everleigh club from Lizzie Allen (Ellen Williams), who already made a quarter of a million dollars out of the location, and decided to make it the grandest of all bagnios, they put the old professional training to good use.
They trained their girl “boarders” in deportment. They taught them how to walk, how to appear modest, how to char men of the world. They insisted on low, gentle voices.
Prices were high. Liquors at the club commanded several times the value they had in a saloon. The patrons paid willingly.
The Everleigh club was held by the Everleigh sisters to be unique, and they strove mightily to hold its reputation for sybaritic comfort high, that the patrons might keep it long in memory.
Nor was the Chicago that did not visit the club allowed to overlook the Scarlet Sisters. When Ada and Minna left their stone mansion to take the air they went in their own carriage, drawn by two splendid horses. There was a coachman. And sitting with the sisters, always, was as handsome a girl as they could pick from their 25 or 30 “boarders.”
If the sisters halted at their bank (they always had large sums on deposit) the handsome young woman would remain in the carriage, that all men might comment on the excellent taste in beauty that distinguished the Everleigh club.
That was a flouting of the respectable world. And if the Scarlet Sisters Everleigh were symbols of the gilt that can be spread over sin, they were no less symbols of the crude audacity that the underworld could display when it grew too powerful.
Like this pair, the whole south side levee flouted the opinions of decent citizens. Because it was protected it scorned concealment. Once a year there was a great social gathering, called the First Ward ball, in the Coliseum. Attending it were the owners of more than a hundred vice resorts, their corps of sirens, the young bloods of the city, and older men careless of their reputations.
“The admission was only a dollar,” recalled a middle-aged man who went to several of these balls, “but each resort keeper decorated a box and served drinks free to all his recognized patrons. There was rivalry to see which house could make the best showing.”
Such challenges from the Everleigh sisters and the promoters of the ball, disseminated widely in the news of the day, at last awakened the good citizens of Chicago. With the full realization that the underworld would advance yet further unless curbed, these advocates of morality determined that such things had to cease. How they fought and at length triumphed—this is our story.
It is difficult for men and women less than 35 years old (let us say) to visualize the status of the red-light district. It was not an evil peculiar to Chicago. Virtually every American city of any size had its vice segregated in a specific territory or territories.
That status grew out of a generally accepted notion that prostitution, if not a necessary evil, was an ineradicable oner. Some of the best people argued, and sincerely, that it was impossible to stamp out commercial vice, the best solution was to localize it and place it where it could be regulated by policemen.
Respectable women, it was held, were safer from rape and other crimes if open prostitution was maintained and ordered as an outlet for the lusts of men.
This begged the question on some important aspects, particularly the plight of the women who were inmates of the segregated districts. Nevertheless, it was the accepted view. In fact, well into the 20th century most American cities prided themselves on being “wide open,” which meant the possession of a vice district with some elements of magnificence that was a lusty center of garishly lighted life.
Our views have shifted. No respectable citizen dares to suggest the rebirth of such districts as the old levee. The general view nowadays is that the restricted district was a phase of American life that has been outgrown; that cities as they came to maturity saw more clearly the nature of the evil and, accordingly, wiped it out.
Historically, prostitution in Chicago followed the evolutionary course that any great industry might have followed. It began in a scattered, individual way with women practicing the oldest of professions and keeping the rewards for themselves. It flourished because it grew with the city.
Free handed men, coming into the new center with carloads of cattle and hogs, shiploads of grain and lumber, collected the rewards of their labor and demanded wild flings at elementary pleasures. Drink and women were their desires.
Demand created supply—concentrated. Saloons began to gather women for the convenience of the traffic in lust. Through the 1860s and ’70s and ’80s the city’s prostitution industry passed through an intermediary stage. Rows of saloons grew up on certain streets, each with its vice resort upstairs or around the corner.
It was a system so subversive of good order, so inconvenient to the police, that segregation was suggested. Even that had its evolution, too intricate to be dealt with in this article. It is enough to say that after 1903 all the open and recognmized resorts were concentrated in four districts.
One was on the west side, one on the near north side, one in South Chicago, and the fourth on the south side. The last one was the real levee, the most populous and the wealthiest, and the Everleigh club was its center and its symbol.
Roughly that levee was bounded by 22d street on the south, 18th street on the north, Wabash avenue on the east, and Clark street on the west. In it were 119 houses with a total of 686 women inmates, all registered with the police. The three smaller districts had 73 houses and 326 inmates. The police asserted that there were only 1,012 women in the city known as prostitutes. A citizens’ group estimated the number at 5,000!
The map on the first page of this section (above) shows the extent of the south side district and depicts many of the more widely known resorts.
One of the largest of the places was Freilberg’s dance hall at 18 East 22d street (right), conducted by Isaac Gitelson, alias Ike Bloom, a political fixer and an autocrat in matters of underworld business. Girls picked up their customers in the dance hall and took them to the Marlborough hotel, which was above another resort, Buxbaum’s, at 22d and State streets.
On the east side of Armour avenue (now Federal street) and north of 21st street was George Little’s. (They had male madams, too.) Little early won the title “Czar of the Levee,” but he quarreled with Ike Bloom was known as “King of the South Side.”
Next to Little’s was Jakie Adler’s Silver Dollar. Adler also owned a share of the Marlborough hotel at one time. On the opposite side of the street from Little and Adler were novelties, Chinese and Japanese resorts. At 1833 Armour avenue was Frankie Wright’s ironically named house, the Library.
South of 19th street, on Armour avenue, stood Bed Bug Row, a collection of brothels inhabited by Negro girls. At 2014 South Dearborn street was Vic Shaw’s.
At 2127 South Dearborn street, adjacent to the Everleigh club, was Georgie Spencer’s—Georgie, who had retired with a fortune and gone to California to live out her days.
Any lively night the scene along the levee’s streets would have had its resemblance to a tawdry orgy. Noise blared from the pianos. The red lights gleamed. Men, young and middle aged, reeled from saloon to bawdy house. Girls led their customers from the dance halls to the ever ready hotels.
The situation called for stern action by decent men and women.
It was characteristic of Chicago, and perhaps of all America, that the movement to eradicate the red-light district was started and carried through by private citizens. The political powers sat on the sidelines and said it was no use trying or—if they were corrupt—were openly hostile.
After the 1905 clergymen constantly preached a crusade against tolerated vice. A veteran police captain (Captain Francis O’Neill, retired in 1905), now retired, recalled recently how the Everleigh sisters bore the brunt of the attack.
“The ministers thundered at them,” he declared. “Those Scarlet Sisters got more mention than the other 4,998 women of ill fame in the whole city.”
On Oct. 18, 1909, the English evangelist, Gipsy Smith, made a dramatic sally against the south side levee. He led a parade through it.
His cohorts assembled at the old 7th Regiment armory, and the number was variously estimated from 2,000 to 12,000.
“A man who visits the red-light district at night has no right to associate with decent people in the daylight,” shouted the evangelist. “No! Not even if he sits on the throne of a millionaire!”
His words fired his audience. Then, singing, the thousands moved off 22d street. A Salvation Army band blared at the head of the column. The theme song of the march was “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?”
Many of those in line were so younf they knew of commercialized vice only by hearsay twice removed. But about them must have been real fervor.
No piano played. No women left the houses. Every window was shuttered, every door closed. Not a red light gleamed. To Evangelist Smith’s young crusaders it must have seemed that vice was a deadly dull trade.
Still, they had to come for a purpose and they carried it out. They knelt in the street in front of the Everleigh club, that stately stone pile on which Lizzie llen had lavished $125,000 long before it was sold to the Scarlet Sisters, and they prayed. They samg more hymns. And then they went away.
Along with Gipsy Smith’s earnest marchers had come another throng. If he had 6,000, at an estimate, the scoffers and idlers who went along just to see his show numbered five, six, perhaps eight times as many. Prayers and laughter, hymns and mockery, psalms and sneers were mingled in that sordid haven of harlotry. Religion in the red light district was funny.
It did seem so at the time. For, fifteen minutes after the marchers had gone away, the levee was a different place. It was its real self. Doors swung open, lights gleamed, music resounded.
The night turned itself into the busiest one, by all odds, that the district had ever known. Old timers commented on the number of very youthful men who seemed to be making their first contact with vice on the grand scale. The smug mongrels who kept the bordels were delighted.
“We were certainly glad to get all that business,” declared one madam, who was quoted the following morning:
- I was sorry to see so many nice young me coming down here for the first time.
Perhaps she was ironic. But Gipsy Smith had a clearer vision—or at least made a better guess—about the results.
- My experiment was worthwhile, Great good has been done.
Many observers were inclined to look upon the marchers as an assembly of cranks attacking a fortified stronghold with feather dusters.
The observers were wrong, The march was a manifestation of an awakening civic conscience. The Scarlett Sisters Everleigh had only two more years to reap their harvest, The red-light district, as such, was to be crushed forever three years later by State’s Attorney John E. W. Wayman.
There may even be a fillip of interst to the item that, the night of Gipsy Smith’s bold foray, the police raided a few vice dens on the west side and carted their inmates in patrol wagons to jail. That was the old and futile, tongue-in-the-cheek manner of handling vice.
Chicago Tribune, October 19, 1909
On Jan. 31, 1910, there was a meeting of the Church federation, representing 600 congregations of the city, in the Central Y.M.C.A. building. The purpose of the meeting was a discussion of “the social evil problem.”
It was discussed. Among those present was the Very Rev. Walter T. Sumner, dean of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. Dean Sumner read a paper and then he presented a resolution, which was unanimously adopted. It read:
- Resolved, that the mayor of Chicago be asked to appoint a commission made up of men and women who command the respect and confidence of the public at large, this commission to investigate thoroughly the conditions as they exist. With this knowledge obtained, let it map out such a course as, in its judgement, will bring about some relief from the frightful conditions which surround us.
Taking this report as a basis, let us enlist the support of every civic, protective, philanthropic, social, commercial, and religious body in the city to carry out the plans suggested.
If the present administration feels that it cannot subscribe to such a plan, make the report the basis of a pledge from the political parties at the next election and make it the basis for an election issue.
But first get the plan. The city press will be back of any sane movement to improve present conditions. The church certainly is. Wocial settlements have been agitating and endeavoring to reach some decision. The general public is in a mood to listen to such conclusions as such a commission would reach.
Mayor Fred A. Busse on March 5, 1910, appointed thirty persons to act on what was designated a vice commission. Dean Sumner was made temporary chairman. Exactly four months later the city council passed an ordinance, giving the commission official status and appropriating $5,000 for its expenses during the year 1910.
Dean Sumner became permanent chairman, United States District Attorney Edward A. Sims was made secretary, and George J. Kneeland was chosen executive in charge of investigations. The commission opened offices on July 15 and went to work.
Detectives went into nearly every house of prostitution in the city, into practically every flat used for immoral practices. They laid bare the evil of segregated vice in all its ugly aspects. They showed how the saloon had prostitution for it handmaiden, how girls were lured into lives of shame and exploited by vicious employers.
When the commission, on April 5, 1911, presented its report to Mayor Busse, it required a book of 399 pages to hold the information. That book was so stinging in detail, despite its coldly scientific tone, that the United States government barred t from the mails.
Although the report decreed the fate of the levee and the three smaller red-light districts, the resort keepers laughed it off. They were rather proud when they read that the proceeds of their traffic were so great that the profits ran to $15,699,499 a year.
Rentals of property and profits to keepers and inmates ran to $8,476,689, said the report. Sales of liquor in disorderly saloons reached a total of $4,307,000, and i houses and flats to $2,915,760.
Kneeland and his assistant investigators even estimated the value of a young woman engaged in the business of prostitution. She could earn, they said, at least $21,300 annually and capitalized at 20 times earnings, j=her worth asa chattel was $26,000. On the same basis of figuring, a girl working in a store would be worth only $6,000.
The madams showed the girls that bit of statistical work to prove how well off they were.
Chicago’s levee roared on.
In the Everleigh club a young millionaire gave a gala party. He “bought out the house” for a group of friends. The evening cost him $1,400 and gave Ada Everleigh his I.O.U. for the amount. Ada, the business woman of the Scarlet Sisters, accepted it.
A few days later the millionaire sent an agent to the house with $1,400 in currency. This agent was astranger to the sisters. When he proposed to redeem the I.O.U. they sweetly informed him there was no I.O.U. and that the millionaire had never even been in the club. The millionaire had to redeem his own informal note.
That was one of the merits of the Scarlet Sisters—they protected the indiscretions of their clients.
About this time Ada granted an interview in which she told how she recruited the young women who decorated her household. She asserted:
- I talk with each applicant myself. She must have worked somewhere else before coming here. We do not like amateurs. Inexperienced girls and young widows are too prone to accept offers of marriage and leave.
To get in a girl must have a good face and figure, must be in perfect health, must understand what it is to act like a lady. If she is addicted to drugs, or to drink, or we do not want her. There is no difficulty in keeping the club filled.
It is easy to picture the Scarket Sisters Everleigh, after such a speech, taking up the report of the vice commission and reading a certain passage:
- The [X523}, at [X524], [X524a] Dearborn street. This is probably the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country. The list received from the general superintendent of police Aug. 126, 1910, did not give the address of this house, nor of 11 other similar places on the street.
Those code numbers meant the Everleigh club at 2133-33 South Dearborn street, The Scarket Sisters must have smiled over the knowledge that they were so wll protected the chief of police did not care to mention them.
But the fact that the Everleigh club was masked behind cabalistic code numbers did not save them.
The following article was the second of a series of three that was written by Charles Washburn, but not credited. Mr. Washburn’s book, “Come Into My Parlor” was published in 1936 and the article contains verbatim sections from the book.
Chicago Tribune, January 26, 1936
COMMERCIALIZED vice became a Chicago problem in the 1850’s. In at least one instance it was dealt with vigorously.
On April 20, 1857, a deputy sherif accompanied by thirty policemen, descended upon a district known as The Sands. The showing of force was overwhelming and the inhabitants, who had the reputation of being belligerent, were awed. They offered no resistance.
The Sands, was, in the worst sense, a red-light section. Violent men of all sorts consorted there with prostitutes.
A Tribune story of the time asserted:
- A large number of persons, mostly strangers in the city, have been enticed into the dens there and robbed and there is but little doubt that a number of murders have been committed by the desperate characters who have made these dens their homes. The most beastly sensuality and the darkest crimes have had their homes in The Sands, so famous in Chicago police annals.
The police detail summarily ordered the occupants of five of the houses—which were shacks of rough boards—into the streets, or rather the sandy paths. Then the detail chopped these structures to the ground.
Next the police proceed to render the same treatment to four other shacks. By this time (late afternoon) a huge crowd had gathered. Current accounts show that this mob had a merry time. It procured buckets of water and poured them on the unfortunate women inmates who were forced out. The sense of humor in early Chicago was not delicate.
Someone—there is a dispute as to who was responsible—set fire to six more of The Sands’ buildings. They burned to the ground. It was averred that the inmates out of spite, set the fires; others declared the police did it. At any rate, with fifteen of its buildings ruined and the inmates scattered over the city, the district as such was abolished.
The Sands itself had a history then. It stood north of the river on the lake front. Lake Michigan had hurled its sands there to make land. Because of the informal manner of its manufacture, there were numerous battles for title. Most of the settlers who built the vice dens claimed squatters’ rights. No one seemed to have settled the legal rights in the matter.
It was in 1857 that William B. Ogden, the wealthiest citizen of the rapidly expanding city, purchased the rights of some claimants to the land and ordered trespassers off. The squatters defied him. He persisted in his plans and purchased the rights of such as would sell reasonably. For those who declined offers he figured out the more drastic action.
Long John Wentworth was then mayor. He agreed with Mr. Ogden that The Sands constituted a challenge to good order, and he furnished the policemen for the sensational raid. The deputy sherif, of course, carried a court order for the demolition. He was accompanied to the scene of his task by Mr. Ogden’s real estate agent.
In those days, and for decades afterward, dealing with the prostitution evil as a civic problem followed a pattern of expediency. The business was tolerated. The rule was that, since it could not be abolished, its practitioners must remain far enough in the background that good citizens could, if they chose, fail to notice them. Wickedness was not to be flaunted.
So long as the industry remained in the background the police were the judges of its rights and of its morals. This loose rule prevailed until the red-light had its final quietus about 1912.
It was not to be expected that the looting, the mobbing, and the burning of The Sands would reform the women or drive to work the men they supported. They simply moved to other places, other houses. Chicago still had to contend with them.
The Sands was one vice section. There were others. One was in what we now know as the loop!
Along Wells street was a row of resorts. They became so notorious that the legitimate business men, to get rid of the implications, had the name changed to 5th avenue. Later, when the houses had been driven far away, the name Wells street was restored.
In Civil war times the so-called Conley’s Patch at Adams and Franklin streets was the haunt of Negro prostitutes bossed by a gigantic black woman called the “Bengal Tigress,” who always was ready to battle with the police when her place was raided.
At 219 Monroe street was Lou Harper’s house, the most lavishly furnished then of the city’s vice dens, and as such the forerunner of the Everleigh club. Men of wealth went to this place for their indiscretions.
Chicago’s Levee District at Night
Harper’s Weekly January 22, 1898
Roger Plant’s terrible “Under the Willows” stood at Wells and Monroe streets, a combined saloon and bagnio. On the window shades in gilt letters was the suggestive message, “Why Not?” It was a famous advertising slogan.2
The streets of the downtown section at the end of the war were the hunting grounds of women solicitors. The Tribune estimated that there were 2,000 of these “chippies” constantly plying their trade in the business district—among them many “war widows.”
Their living arrangements were as interesting as they were peculiar. A great many four-story office buildings had been built by the city’s enterprisers, but they had no elevators, and business men were averse to climbing three flights of stairs. The idle top floors were rented to women of the streets. An odd commentary on life in that day.
From Lou Harper’s place was graduated before 1870 Carrie Watson. She had as her “man” one Al Smith, a saloonkeeper, and he furnished the money with which she built a house that eclipsed Lou Harper’s. It was burned in the great fire of 1871, but Madame Watson built another and grander one at 441 South Clark street.”
This woman bridged a historical gap from the Civil war up to the turn of the century. During the World’s Fair of 1893 her establishment achieved greta notoriety. It was ten years later when she was forced to move by edict of Mayor Carter H. Harrison.
“I moved against her,” he wrote in his book, “Stormy Years,” which was recently published, “from a wish to protect the passengers in the Clark street cars, compelled to use this transportation to get down-town from Englewood and the stockyards.”
It required forty years for the public and the city’s administrations to reach the point where Carrie Watson could be told to move from the immediate vicinity of the loop.
Her Clark street house had five parlors and a billiard room. There is even a legend that there was a bowling alley in the basement. Certainly great quantities of wine were sold in this resort at high prices, and this, with her other activities, built up a large fortune for Carrie.
In her more mature years she had a “man” whose name was Christopher Columbus Crabb, whom former Mayor Harrison described as “an imposing looking rooster.” This Crabb, an alert business man where his own interests were involved, died last year at the age of 85.3
When Carrie Watson died Crabb became the consort of Lizzie Allen, she who built the Everleigh club at a cost of $125,000 long before it was sold to the Scarlet Sisters.
After this sale the precious couple became the center of a furor of public enmity. They obtained a permit to build a twenty-room residence at Arlington Place and Lincoln Park West, then, as now, a center of respectability. The authorities could not prevent the building, but they solemnly warned Crabb and Lizzie Allen that the place would be permanently closed if they ever used it for disorderly purposes.
The house was built, but was never put to illegal uses. Lizzie Allen died in 1896, and it was discovered that she had left her estate of $300,0004 to Crabb. Contemporary accounts indicate that it was he who sold, or leased for a long term, to the Everleigh sisters the property that housed the Everleigh club. He vainly thrust himself forward as its protector at the time of the fight to close the resort.
Crabb, Carrie Watson, Lizzie Allen, the Everleigh sisters (Ada and Minna were the names) were unable to resist the recurrent ambition of the red-light to push its sins forward into the clear light of day. This craving for show, for attention, was one of the causes of the eventual downfall of the open trade which they battened.
Carrie Watson, for instance, owned four horses and a carriage. She paid more personal property taxes than many millionaires. Her magnificence was a matter of comment in a book issued in 1891.
This work was entitled “Chicago’s Dark Places.” It had a subtitle: “Investigations by a Corps of Specially Appointed Commissioners, Edited and Arranged by the Chief Commissioner.” The people with whom it dealt, like the author, were anonymous, but there is little doubt that Carrie Watson was the subject of the following dissertation:
- There are several keepers of houses of prostitution in Chicago who have accumulated wealth. Their commercial instincts are developed to an extraordinary degree, but how fearful the character of their merchandise! They buy the bodies and souls of young girls and sell them again for gain…
One if the most wealthy of the class in Chicago boasts her philanthropy and charity. She meets at the petty contributions of Christian women to worthy objects and proudly calls attention to her own donations.
Like Ahab’s Jezebel, she can well afford to buy up vineyards and give them away to others when she traffics human souls and makes wealth out iof the vices of men.
South Dearborn Street looking north from 22nd Street. The Everleigh Club is at near right.
It is not to be wondered at that Chicago from 1857 to 1894 had little time to give to a solution to a problem of prostitution. The city suffered its greatest disaster in the fire of 1871 and had to be rehabilitated. Its population was increasing by great leaps; between 1880 and 1890 it gained 500,000 and topped the million mark.
Thousands of problems arose out of the influx of new citizens of all types. The police were over worked, and vice regulation had been thrust as a task upon them. They tried to hold the trade in check, but it cannot be said that they succeeded.
Prostitution was allied with the saloon business, with dance halls, and with politics. Even the opium dens shared profits with it. It has been stated that there was but one opium joint in the city before 1871, but that Chinese brought the pipe with them and that there were 500 smoking resorts in 1885.
Houses of ill fame by the hundreds were known as the haunts of violent men, unsafe for their patrons. There grew up a particular category of places in which thievery and robbery were carried on iun connection with vice.
Such brothels were known as “panel houses” and were specially arranged to facilitate the robbery of the men who entered them. In the rooms to which the men were led were doors with trick locks, easily opened from the outside. It was the habit of thieves to slip in quietly while the patron slept and to steal his money.
Detective Clinton R. Woodlridge, a picturesque thief catcher of the olden days, has estimated that iun 1891, 1892, and 1893 patrons of the “panel houses” lost $500,000 annually through such trickery.
Let it not be understood that no effort was made to ameliorate the conditions that surrounded the vice industry. Earnest men and women strove with might and main to save the boys and girls who fell into the temptations held alluringly before them. The author of “Chicago’s Dark Places” may be cited as an example. He inveighed against the prosperous and powerful men who patronized the joints that were regarded as splendid. He was bitter against procurers. And he painted the dreariest scenes of vice with disgusting reality.
The commissioner who investigated the south side district, beginning at Harrison street, told of finding forty-five disorderly houses in a small area.
“And they are not wretched houses,” he added, “speaking of destitution and want. O, no; the visitors generally come in carriages, and I have counted fourteen in this one block waiting for the ‘lords and masters of creation’ who had gone into the ‘snare of the fowler’ within.”
The seamier aspects of vice were found on the west side, where there was a notorious district known as the Black Hole; on the south side beyond Polk street, where stood Hell’s Half Acre and Coon Hollow. There was even a small district on the near north side. In general it could be said that all the river wards had their open vice districts and that they continued to have them well past 1900.
“On the west side there are places where it is impossible for a man to walk at night without being solicited,” wrote the compiler, “and in passing through in the daytime there are ten chances to one that if he gazes in the direction of the house windows gayky dressed and gaudily painted sirens will seek to lure him to destruction. Some of the girls are white and some are black, but all alike, alas! have the same black purpose of heart.”
Without qualification this booklet asserted that there were men who made their livelihood scouting at the railroad stations and enticing fresh young country girls, just arrived in the city, to horrible dens by false promises of good jobs in pleasant surroundings.
“We have many instances where girls have been thus entrapped,” it was asserted, “and when once in the house, were forcibly detained under lock and key until one of three things occurred—escape, submission, or death.”
Such a picture might be dismissed as overdrawn if it were not that the police records of the time bear them out. The various stations received numerous requests seeking missing girls in the bordellos and too often found them there, unable or unwilling to leave.
Thirty-six years passed from the episode of The Sands to the advent of the World’s Fair of 1893. Prostitution lived, grew, and prospered. The fair itself was a boon to the business; never before had the city held so many visitors with money and sportive inclinations.
Chicago was wide open in the most unpleasant sense of the term—perhaps this was because its citizens, in addition to being busy, were too close to see the situation from a proper point of view.
Map from W. T. Stead’s “If Christ Came to Chicago,”
William T. Stead5 jolted them out of their complacency.
Stead was an Englishman who had been editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. He had the investigative temperament. It is something of a mystery why he should have come so far from home to start a crusade against vice; London might have furnished him an ample field for his talents.
But come he did, about the end of the fair. After looking rather thoroughly into conditions he did two things—he called a meeting of Chicago’s best citizens, and he wrote a book which he called “If Christ Came to Chicago.”
It was a startling work. At its front was a map of the Nineteenth precinct of the First ward, bounded by Harrison street, Polk street, Clark street, and Dearborn street. In this precinct, as shown on the map, were in 37 brothels, 46 saloons, and 11 pawnshops. The nerve center of the district was Custom House place (Federal street).
Along the west side of this place between Harrison and Polk streets were twenty-two disorderly resorts. On the east side were five. Around the corner on Harrison street were two more.
Stead posed, and answered a question:
- If Christ came to Chicago what would be do with the Nineteenth precinct of the First ward? One thing is certain—he would not pass by in the other side like the high priest or the Levite.
Stead interviewed a number of resort owners. He visited Carrie Watson’s and spoke of the magnificence and of the carriages at the door awaiting their owners, the patrons. Also he went to see and talk with Vina Fields, colored, whose house was at 138-40 Custom House place.
All the girls in the Fields house were colored, but the patrons were white men; colored men were not allowed to enter. The proprietress told Stead that during the World’s Fair she had had sixty “boarders.” At the close of the exposition this number was cut to thirty or forty.
After writing that Vina Fields was “a very interesting woman,” Stead continued:
- The rules and regulations of the Fields house, which are printed and posted in every room, enforce decorum and decency with pains and penalties which could hardly be more strict if they were drawn up for the regulation of a Sunday school.
Stead discovered that Madame Hastings, whose resort was at 128 Custom House place, paid the policemen on the beat $2.50 a week each, with free drinks and free meals whenever they demanded such handouts.
- The routine of the day at Madame Hastings’ was monotonous enough. In the morning just before 12 the colored girl served cocktails to each of the women before they got up. After they dress they took another refresher, usually in the…
Then the day’s work began. The girls sat in couples at the windows, each keeping watch in the opposite direction. If a man passed they would rap at the window and beckon him to come in.
Policemen did not permit this type of soliciting, and the girls were frequently arrested.
Stead made a list of all the houses in Custom House place and adjoining streets. It showed that houses from 197 to 228 Plymouth court were owned by a railroad company, or at least that the taxes were paid by the company.
“If Christ Came to Chicago”
W. T. Stead
“If Christ Came to Chicago!” did not have a very wide circulation in Chicago, and only a few copies of it are available today. It is difficult to estimate the influence that Stead had in stirring up sentiment for the eradication of red-light districts. The underworld regarded him as a harmless crank. Because he was an outlander, the good citizens doubtless resented his suggesting courses of action to them.
For his time he was radical on a number of questions, including church unions. Seemingly without accomplishing much, after writing his book he went back to London, where he wrote voluminously almost until his death in 1912. It was a full twenty years after his visit before Chicago’s good citizens got around to their stern, purposeful demand that the last red-light districts be wiped out in their entirety.
In his book he asserted that the Civic Federation of Chicago, incorporated in 1894, was the outgrowth of the meeting he called while he was investigating vice here. This organization has always been active in promoting civic welfare.
Lyman J. Gage, later secretary of the treasury, was the first president of the federation, Mrs. Potter Palmer was first vice president and R. M. Easley secretary. Among the others were Jane Addams, Franklin MacVeagh, and Emil J. Hirsch.
The Custom House district began to fade in the late years of the nineteenth century. Legitimate business was finding the loop constricted and was pushing in on the segregated houses. The space was needed, and the madames had to pack and move out.
Finally, about 1903, there was a final hegira district was made free of prostitution in openly recognized resorts. The inmates and the bosses of them merely moved into the south side levee, which lay between 18th and 22d streets, Clark street and Wabash avenue.
Minna Everleigh (left) and Ada of the Everleigh Social Club
With its accessions from the blocks further north, the levee became one of the largest and most notorious segregated districts on earth and a byword for vice. And there arose the Everleigh club, operated by the Scarlet Sisters. It outshone the gilded splendor of Carrie Watson. The owners dared to advertise it over the country as, next to the stockyards, Chicago’s greatest attraction.
Their fame was their downfall. The advertisements of their resorts angered Mayor Harrison and in 1911 he thrust them forth. It was not long afterward that the whole district was closed by State’s Attorney John E. W. Wayman. Where stood the Everleigh club in the levee’s heyday is now only a board fence and a vacant lot. Vic Shaw’s resort, a little less expensive than the Everleigh club, was made into a tenement for colored people.
It was a titanic effort of the better elements of the citizenship that brought about this stern clamping down on the levee’s great and its lowly alike.
In a previous article was related the story of how a group of citizens in 1910 petitioned Mayor Fred A Busse to appoint a commission to study Chicago’s vice and to make recommendations for its better regulation. The mayor appointed a commission of thirty, the council furnished an appropriation of $5,000, and a widespread investigation was begun.
Mayor Busse went out of office just at the time the report of the vice commission, headed by Dean Walter T. Sumner of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, was ready for the authorities. Mayor Harrison succeeded him, and with pressure being exerted for the cleanup indicated by the report, directed his first shaft at the Scarlet Sisters Everleigh.
The following article was the third of a series of three that was written by Charles Washburn, but not credited. Mr. Washburn’s book, “Come Into My Parlor” was published in 1936 and the article contains verbatim sections from the book.
Chicago Tribune, February 2, 1936
IN 1910 CHICAGO was a vice-ridden city.
Three restricted districts, with 418 houses or flats and a total of 1,584 inmates, flaunted their red sins before the public, advertised them with lurid literature, banging pianos, and bright illumination.
The figures were those of the police. They not only tolerated the traffic in prostitution with the consent of the political higher ups; they regulated it by their own informally made rules and kept books on it.
But there is another side to this picture of depravity approved. In MArch of 1910 Mayor Fred A. Busse, obeying a demand of 600 churchmen, appointed a vice commission of thirty members. Its instructions were to investigate the “social evil” in all its aspects and make recommendations for alleviation of the conditions.
The real mission of the vice commission was to discover the truth about prostitution in Chicago and broadcast it to the decent citizens of Chicago. Because it accomplished its task more fully than its sponsors and members had hoped it would, segregated districts were soon to be utterly abolished.
At the time the Scarlet Sisters Everleigh were at the height of their arrogant power. They symbolized vice, gilded and bedizened. No house of courtesans in the world was so richly furnished, so well advertised, so continuously patronized by men of wealth and slight morals as their Everleigh club at 2133-33 South Dearborn street.
That house of evil dominated the south side levee, which extended from Wabash avenue to Clark street. It was immune from interference. So well was it protects politically that the police did not dare even to carry it on their lists. It seemed at the time to be above the law.
Simplified drawing of the 1936 Chicago Tribune Map
The Scarlet Sisters, Ada and Minna, were supremely notorious.
In the same way Al Capone nearly twenty years later grew into a figure symbolical of all prohibition lawlessness. Like Capone and the Everleighs, John Dillinger and the Touhy mob became representatives of the post-prohibition era of kidnaping and bank robbery.
All are gone to death or complete retirement. They had to go when the NEWS of their misdeeds, of their flouting of the law and of all standards of decency, reached the public.
The truth aroused giant forces of respectable opinion that overwhelmed them all.
Ada and Minna Everleigh thrust themselves forward. They courted attention.
We may recall a drama season at the Great Northern theater sponsored by the Chicago Theater society. Among the society members were Hamlin Garland, Arthur Bissel, and Arthur T. Aldis. The plays were by Pinero, Ibsen, Moliére; the players included Effie Shannon, Herbert Kelcey, and Donald Robertson.
The best of Chicago society attended. And so did the Scarlet Sisters.
A gentleman who remembered the season asserted:
- They were not subscribers in their own names, but they had season tickets. They sat in the best seats in the house. There was much craning of necks and whispering as theyr barged down the aisle to them.
Tall, spare women in the forties at the time, the sisters were not garishly dressed. They were in quiet colors. But something set them apart. I should say that they reminded me then of once genteel persons who had lost their money and slipped into obscurity, then regained it and strove for a social come-back. Somehow they appeared outmoded, in dress as in morals.
Similarly, they thrust forward their terrible resort. They had engraved a booklet describing its glitter and its luxuries:
- With double front entrances, the twin buildings within are so constructed as to seem as one. Steam heat throughout, with electric fans in summer; one never feels the winter’s chill or summer’s heat in this luxurious resort. Fortunate indeed, with all the comforts of life surrounding them, are the members of the Everleigh Club.
More than a score of pictures decorated this booklet. One showed the Japanese throne room, with an elevated dais on which rested a carved chair. Over it hung a canopy of silk, Pictures in the room were in the Nipponese tradition. It was a harlot’s dream of what a Japanese palace might look like inside.
The ballroom floor was in a special wood mosaic pattern. The copper parlor had walls that looked in the picture like hammered brass. In the silver parlor, against a background of lace and velvet, stood a silver statue of a mounted horsemen.
Everything in the gold parlor was encrusted with something that looked like gold. The blue parlor suite had a collegiate appearance; on the sofa were leather pillows decorated with Gibson girl pictures.
The dining room and the breakfast room featured statuettes on the mantels, snowy napery, and banks of flowers on the tables. The Pullman car buffet was a reproduction in mahogany of a rail dining car, with an arched ceiling and small tables.
Most of the pictures carried an air of tawdry magnificence. But the beds were of bras, nad in almost every vista the photographer had included a spittoon.
Other times, other customs! But any way you looked at it, the Everleigh club was as spaciously fine as such a resort could be. The rooms even had little fountains that squirted perfume. The aroma was not sufficient to remove the moral stench from the nostrils of a decent Chicago.
Members of Commission—Father E. A. Kelly, Graham Taylor, Dr. W. A. Evans, President Abram W. Harris, Judge Harry Olson, David Blaustein, Edward M. Skinner, Dean W. T. Sumner, Dr. Anna Dwyer, Julius Rosenwald, Mrs. Ellen M. Henrotin, John L. Whitman, Dr. W. L. Baum, Dr. William Healey, Judge M. W. Pinckney, Dr. Louis E. Schmidt, W. W. Hallam, Alex. Robertson, Herbert L. Willett, the Rev. James F. Callaghan, Bishop C. T. Shaffer, the Rev. Albert Evers, the Rev. Abram Hirschberg, the Rev. J. G. Kirscher, Prof. W. L. Thomas, P. J. O’Keefe, Louis O. Koltz, Edwin W. Sims.—Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1910.
The vice commission, appointed by Mayor Busse, had as its chairman Dean Walter T. Sumner of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul. Among its members were Julius Rosenwald, the Rev. Frank W. Gunsaulus; Prof. Graham Taylor, head of Chicago Commons; Chief Justice Harry Olson of the Municipal court, and Dr. W. A. Evans, who for many years was health editor of The Tribune. United States District Attorney Edwin W. Sims was chosen secretary of the body.
In July, 1910, the city council granted the commission $5,000 for its work. Later another $5,000 was appropriated. George J. Kneeland was engaged as chief investigator, and the work of investigation started in mid-July.
Few inquiries into modern urban conditions have been so searching. The commissioners held 98 special meetings. They interviewed prominent citizens, representatives of reform organizations, police officers and patrolmen, keepers of resorts, and women of the streets.
The method of investigation was scientific. Facts were placed in the record just as they were. No names were mentioned, but code numbers denominating persons and places were keyed. The commission, which insisted that it was not a prosecuting agency, kept the key—to prove, the chairman said, that the instances quoted were actual truth, not guesses.
The facts made a startling array. They proved conclusively to the commissioners that segregation of vice was illogical and useless.
Madam Vic Shaw
To begin with, it did not segregate. Instead it collected lurid resorts like the Everleigh club and Vic Shaw’s in one area.
At no time did the police admit that there were more than 1,880 women engaged in the business of prostitution. The commission’s investigators discovered that there were twice as many resorts as the police knew officially. They added, from positive knowledge, 1,314 women. They estimated conservatively that not fewer than 5,000 were engaged in the business.
This figure did not include clandestine prostitution. Of this the commission knew, and professed to know, nothing. But it did know, and it proved, that the recognized districts—the south side levee and smaller ones on the west side and in South Chicago—did not contain half the city’s vice resorts. Quoting from the final report:
- New houses, especially in flat buildings, are being established in residential districts to an alarming extent. In fact, there are more houses of this character in these sections than in the so-called restricted districts.
There are quite a number of massage parlors, manicure establishments, and Turkish baths, especially in the downtown district, which are in reality nothing but houses of prostitution of the most revolting and insidious type.
Assignation hotels are scattered all over the city, especially in the downtown district and on the north and west sides. Prostitutes in saloons and on the streets use these cheap places.
One investigator discovered that three excursion boats plying on the lake—one with a capaity of 5,000 passengers—were little better than floating brothels. Dance halls, amusement parks, and saloons in all parts of the city were pointed out specifically as places where solicitation went on openly and with the consent of the management.
Thus was destroyed the fable that if vice were permitted to flourish in small bits of favorable soil it would spread no farther. The commission showed the red-light districts rather as noxious parent plants scattering their seed on the four winds and waters of Lake Michigan.
Among other things the commission discovered:
- 1. Tolerated prostitution was an immensely profitable enterprise.
2. It was closely allied to the liquor business.
3. It recruited its women from underpaid callings and exploited them in many shameful ways.
4. Standing behind the poor human flesh that was the stock in trade were not only the pander and the politician but also ‘ostensibly respectable men and women, openly renting property for exorbitant sums.’
The rule, it was found, that “the madame takes half.” In the Everleigh club that meant immense sums of money.
- Testimony from a keeper and inmates shows that her girls earn from $100 to $400 a week, and in one or two cases even $500 a week. This keeper has 24 boarders.
So stated the report, and it was obvious the haunt of the Scarlet Sisters was meant. Independent estimates have indicated that their income from the resort was at least $100,000 annually.
The commission estimated the profits (not the gross intake) of the known houses of prostitution at $15,000,000 a year, including the returns from the sale of drinks on the premises. It was discovered that beer costing 4 cents a bottle retailed at 25 cents, 50 cents, or $1 a bottle, depending in the “class” of the establishment.
Champagne and other wines sold in resorts at 400 per cent profit, and the sale was pushed in the higher priced places. Women soliciting in saloons were paid commissions on the drinks purchased by their “gentleman friends.”
The vice commission found that there was constant recruiting of fresh girls. Those engaged in the traffic average only 23½ years old and came principally from the ranks of domestics, waitresses, department store clerks and sales women. Why was this?
Answering, the commission said:
- It has been established after exhaustive study that it is impossible for a working girl in any large city to live on less than $8 a week; yet employers in department stores say they pay on an average $6 to $7 a week.
At the outset, of course, the girl could not know how thoroughly she would be exploited. Said the commission report:
- An inmate of (X48) avenue said the kimono she had on could be purchased over the counter for $3, She had paid $15 for it to a man sho came to the house. Of this amount the madame received $9 and the salesman $6. She further stated that the madame receives a rakeoff on everything the girls purchase. The never kick on any bills . .
Dolly, an inmate of (X49) avenue, recently paid the keeper of the house $110 for a hat which he had bought for $40. Another inmate paid this same man $65 for a dress he had purchased for $35.
Four druggists on the south side, the commission discovered, sent their clerks to immoral houses to solicit sales of morphine and cocaine. A quotation:
- In (X124) avenue practically every girl in the house uses cocaime or morphine, which were introduced by a prostitute named Sadie, who originally purchased the drugs at (X127) drug store and now caters to their trade.
The report bitterly assailed property owners who were hypocrites.
- Several wealthy and prominent business men, whose advice is sought in matters pertaining to the civic welfare and development of Chicago, are leasing their houses at (X164a) street and (X164b) avenue for this business. One of these men has six houses un a part of the district where disgusting violations of law and police rules occur,
On the south side 15 of 22 real estate agents were willing to rent properties for resort use. On the north side the ratio was 10 out of 12; in the loop, 8 out of 11; on the west side, 8 out of 11.
It was made plain that the red-light district was debauching children, There were nearly 300 in the south side levee district who were brought daily into contact withe scenes that would make an adult blush. Further, messenger boys, delivery boys, and newsboys went freely into the dens of vice and became friendly with the inmates.
The report continued:
- That there must be constant repression of this curse on human society is the conclusion of this commission after months of exhaustive study and investigation—a study which has included the academic with the practical; moral ideals with human weaknesses; honesty of administration with corruption; the possible with the impossible . . .
We believe that Chicago has a public conscience which when aroused cannot be easily stifled—a conscience built upon moral and ethical teachings of the purest American tyoe, which when aroused to the truth will instantly rebel against the social evil in all its phases. . .
We may enact laws; we may appoint commissions; we may abuse civic administrations for their handling of the problem; but the problem will remain as long as the public conscience is dead to the issue or is indifferent to its solution. The law is only so powerful as the public opinion which supports it.
The vice commissioners were intellectually honest men. They declared that they considered segregation as a solution and had discarded it solely because as a method it was wholly ineffective.
Their sensational report was presented to Mayor Busse on April 5, 1911, shortly before he went out of office to be succeeded by Mayor Carter H. Harrison. The mayor handed it over to the city council, which treated it with respect—and reserve. Nothing so forthright had been expected.
A resolution was passed ordering the report placed on file. The vice commission was empowered to remain in existence until June 1, 1911, and to print and distribute copies of its report, provided this would cost the city nothing.
That matter might have been the end of the matter had politics had the say. The commission had done a brilliant thing when it laid the problem of vice squarely in the hands of public opinion. The filed-away report was not forgotten by those outside the pale of politics.
A great force had been mobilized.
The year 1911 went into its summer time. Ada Everleigh of the Scarlet Sisters drove in a carriage, with a parasol shielding her from the sun, to her downtown bank and padded her already fat account. Minna Everleigh talked of the memoirs she planned to write and called a prominent literary man to ask him for an honest criticism of Sir Walter Scott. She was fond of quoting Scott in a parrotlike manner.
Also she improved the advertising brochure of the Everleigh by urging that outsiders see both the stockyards and the club while visiting Chicago—they were “our greatest attractions.”
The levee roared on.
But the greater forces were gathering. The ammunition of the vice commission was being considered by militantly decent men. There was the Committee of Fifteen. The vice commission had held to the point that it was an investigative body and that prosecution and execution were outside its scope. The Committee of Fifteen, composed of men with similar backgrounds (sometimes the membership overlapped) was formed with a different idea.
Its members contributed their own funds, and they had no compunction in presenting evidence they gathered to grand juries when elected officials were slow in coöperating with them. Under the leadership of Clifford W. Barnes, its chairman, this committee cried for the action recommended by the vice commission. Other organizations, other individuals, particularly the clergy, joined in the cry.
The truth, once told about vice, was not to be squelched.
Suddenly, On Oct. 24, Mayor Harrison moved decisively.
He ordered the Everleigh club be closed.
Admittedly Mayor Harrison had no puritan attitude. He has related that he believed prostitution was a necessary evil in the state of civilization prevailing during his last administration. But, he added, he had seen Everleigh club’s advertising and would not stand for vice flaunted so boldly by the Scarlet Sisters, to the four corners of the earth.
The closing order was written in longhand and transmitted to Chief of Police John McWeeny. He could not believe it. He asked the mayor if he really meant it. The mayor said he did.
“It must be a joke,” they whispered. “That’ll be the last joint to go, not the first one.”
The whisperers were wrong. The order was delayed in execution, but it stood. The Scarlet Sisters Everleigh club was through. Shortly before midnight Minna Everleigh confirmed the news.
She told a reporter:
- Yes, the mayor’s order is square. I called Capt. Harding of the 22d street station and he told me so. It is all right. I don’t worry. You get everything in a lifetime. What the mayor says goes, and I’m not sore about it, either. I was never a knocker, and the police can’t change my disposition. I’ll close this shop and walk out with a smile.
There were loud sounds of revelry in the club. She continued, waving toward the ballroom a hand that literally coruscated with diamonds:
- Nobody here is worrying. If the ship sinks, we’re going down with a cheer and a good drink under our belts, anyway.
At 1 a.m. on Oct. 25 a detail of policemen arrived, drove out the patrons, and granted the inmates a few hours to pack up and follow. The Everleigh club was closed. Forever and ever.
After vainly attempting to reëstablish themselves in a suburb, the Scarlet Sisters left. Now and then some one heard of them. During the period of the armistice it was asserted they were conducting a resort at Nice, on the shores of the Mediterranean. At last reports they were living in the eat, under another name, on the income from the fortune they took from their Chicago bagnio.
“The action taken against the Everleigh club should be a hint to the rest of the houses on the levee to move out,” said Mayor Harrison.
But only a few other resorts in the city were forcibly shut. The red-light barons did not care for hints, nor observe them. Among the barons were Ike Bloom, manager of the most notorious of the dance halls, Frieberg’s, on 22d street; Roy Jones, consort of Vic Shaw, whose house was nearest in glitter to the Everleigh club; Jim Colosimo, who was later slain in a gang war mystery.
All hung on, hoping to weather the storm. They took comfort from the fact that 35 out of 36 police lieutenants, summoned before the civil service commission about this time, declared they knew of no open vice in their districts. (News stories referred to these officers as “the 35 blind men”).
The public, however, was not to be trifled with, If the Everleighs had had to go the others could all be made to follow. The public rwalized this, and as the political elements sank again into a static condition the vigor of private citizens increased.
They fought, and their fight came to a climax in the fall of 1912.
In the little town of West Hammond, near the Indiana line, resided a comely young woman, Virgina Brooks, of a dramatic and a somewhat fanatic temperament. By organizing the women of her community, handling each an ax, and promising to lead a chopping-down expedition against the local red-light district, she had driven some forty combined saloon-brothels into semi-respectability.
With this fame behind her, Miss Brokks came into Chicago. She and others among the crusaders against vice remembered the Gipsy Smith parade through the red-light district in 1909. It had been laughed at and deplored by substantial people, but it had been a real factor in forwarding the campaign against open resorts.
Miss Brooks and the Chicago Civic Welfare gave another parade on Sept. 28, 1912. More than 5,000 persons took part in it. In a torrential rain they marched bravely north in Michigan avenue from 16th street to Washington street, west to State street, and sounth to Jackson boulevard, where they disbanded.
Mayor Harrison, who was expected to review the procession, found it too inclement a day for reviews.
Leading the march were a band and a detachment of mounted policemen. Next came a delegation of clergymen on foot, singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Boy Scouts, colored Boy Scouts, and Campfire Girls followed.
All sorts of vice were condemned by the paraders. Lucy Pahe Gatson, a well known reformer, had a float depicting the evils of cigaret smoking. Another float displayed a blond youth in tights, representing the ancient god Thor, bearing a banner that Norwegians would smite saloons with Thor’s hammer.
Students of Garrett Biblical institute abnd Moody Bible institute marched with umbrellas to shield them from the downpour. Two hundred girls from the Baptist Missionary Training school were in line. There were also Catholic Temperance society boys, Epworth leaguers, and children representing W.C.T.U.
Miss Brooks, the principal speaker, discussed State’s Attorney John E. W. Wayman.
- He should be driven from his office in disgrace.
She criticized the official conduct of Mayor Harrison and his chief of police, John McWeeny, vehemently and picturesquely.
The next day was Sunday, and five minute prayers for the eradication of the red-light sections were offered in hundreds of churches.
State’s Attorney Wayman, already denied renomination for his office by the Republican party, and wavering between the rooted idea that there was no better solution than segregation and the insistent demand that he take action, was angered. He issued a statement:
- There is an apparent effort to lay the blame for Chicago’s vice at my door. Nobody is going to say I protected the social evil.
From the courts he procured warrants for 135 resort keepers, 100 of them residing in the south side levee. These were given to the district police stations to be served. The service was poor. Only 20 warrants were served; the police reported the other persons named had disappeared.
The state’s attorney, having chosen a new course, was angry at the police. He took back the unserved warrants and obtained 40 more; the whole batch was turned over to his own force of detectives. He ordered grimly:
- Raid every place you find open.
There followed such spectacular raiding as Chicago had never seen before. Patrol wagons, jammed to the roofs, took keepers and inmates from house after house to the police stations, dumped them, and returned to the levee for more. Pull, immunity, were gone.
The state’s attorney trumpeted:
- Every disorderly house in Chicago will be closed by tomorrow and stay closed until Dec. 2, when I go out of office.
In the rear of the raiders went mobs of men and youths, who looted some of the closed resorts. “Wayman’s parade” took rank with Gipsy Smith’s earlier one as an attarction for the curious and the disorderly.
The city .police stayed aloof and Chief McWeeny announced solemnly that his men were not participating in the raids. Mayor Harrison made the mild suggestion that a referendum be held to determine whether the people wanted segregated districts. Nobody paid much attention.
Mr. Wayman raided again on Oct. 5. And suddenly the police front changed. The commander of the Chicago avenue district went out on his own cleanup and shut 25 vice dens.
On Sunday, Oct. 6, there were prayers in the churches for Mr. Wayman, who had hooted just a week earlier at praying.
That night the south side levee and the smaller ones were all dark, Their end had come, Their women scattered. The open and recognized, tolerated, police-regulated, segregation district was gone from Chicago. A single smashing blow struck by one public servant, who came at last to understand that the public was really aroused, accomplished the task.
The red-light was never revived, although many efforts were made in that direction.
How many respectable citizens today can think of the address of a vice resort? Very few. In 1910 there was scarcely one who could not remember that there was a place called the Everleigh club in South Dearborn street,
Ada (left) and Minna Simms (Everleigh)
Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1924
What was once the center of Chicago’s night life in the notorious 22d street red light district, the “Everleigh club,” conducted by the Everleigh sisters at 2131-33 South Dearborn street, now a shabby rooming house, was sold yesterday. Charles Izenstark bought it from Christopher Columbus Crabb. Mr. Izenstark operates several radio shops.
The exact price was not disclosed as Mr. Izenstark also bought a four-story building at 17-19 East Congress street, paying attention $90,000 for the two properties. It is understood, however, the Everleigh club was put in at about $18,000. The former “club” consists of two connecting residences om a 50×140 lot. Charles P. Schwartz was attorney for all parties and Michael Flicht & Co. were brokers.
LEFT: The Everleigh Club at 2131 South Dearborn in 1911.
RIGHT: The Everleigh Club just before demolition in July 1933.
Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1933
A wrecking crew equipped for work, and heedless of the fact that they were wiping out one of the most lurid chapters in Chicago’s history, yesterday invaded the once resplendent Everleigh club at 2131 South Dearborn street. Within a short time, the building that was once an aristocratic home, and later the center of the city’s night life, will be a heap of brick and plaster, to be carted away in trucks because it isn’t worth the taxes paid on it these days.
Where the men overalls worked yesterday, laughter was loud, the music was louder, and joy reigned unconfined, in the era when the Everleigh sisters , Minnie and Ada, ran their notorious resort. It was one of the most opulent of establishments, and the cellar and the cuisine were equally famous with the grande dame airs of the sisters and the elegance of their public appearances, usually amid a bevy of girls. Most noted masculine visitors in Chicago at that time visited the place.
When the club was closed by order of Mayor
Carter Harrison in 1911, after many efforts on the part of the church people of Chicago, the Everleigh sisters went to New York, where they still live.
Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1953
THEY WERE SHY, yet proud, those two bright-eyed spinsters who took their morning walls alone West 70th street in New York almost every pleasant day for nearly 40 years. Only a few or the oldest neighbors could remember when they arrived, followed by vans Jaded with paintings, statuary books, and an amazing gold-leafed piano, to settle in an old mansion not far from Central Park.
The sisters—they said their names were Ada and Minna Lester and they mentioned something about their former plantation home in the south—kept quietly to themselves, rarely had visitors at first. They were interested in art and poetry, and after a few years they invited in a neighbor or two for afternoon tea and to read from Browning or Kipling, their favorites. In time, the Lester poetry circle grew and had regular weekly meetings.
Dowagers in the neighborhood waited impatiently for their opportunity to join the select little group that gathered at the Lesters. The talk was gay, cultured, and refined. The little cakes the Lester servants brought were always perfect. The silver service and cut glass seemingly
were the inheritance of an aristocratic past.
A newcomer to the circle might have been surprised by the somewhat bizarre furnishings in the discreet old house. There were enormous, gold-framed paintings of nudes on the walls, nude statuary in the corridor and drawing room, racy books among the sedate volumes in the library, and. of course, that blazing gold-leafed piano.
But shortly the newcomer would learn the story the Lester Sisters at one time confided to their neighbors. Their grandfather, they said, struck gold in California in 1849. This undoubtedly explained the prevalence of gold leaf around the apartment, as well as the thick oriental rugs and the exquisite silver. It also explained the nudes, Grandpa, it seemed, had acquired them and the sisters, for sentimental reasons, couldn’t bear to part with them.
So the sisters serenely read poetry amid their garish surroundings. Now and then a guest was invited to play the gold piano. The Lesters spoke often of having weekly musicians, is addition to their poetry circle, but never quite got around to it. An afternoon of verse reading seemed to bring excitement into their drab lives.
Once a year, on July 5, Minna’s birthday, there was a somewhat gayer party in the Lester house. The servants were dismissed and the neighbors were not invited. It was a very party. I was the only guest. I was invited because I had known Ada and Minnie before their New York poetry circle days. They were southern belles, all right—from Chicago’s wicked south side red-light district from a by-gone era. It wasn’t their grandfather who found gold. The plum and comely Lester sisters found it themselves, by opening and operating in Chicago the most elaborate, notorious, and successful brothel the world has ever known—the internationally famous Everleigh club.
As a newspaper reporter covering police beats, I came to know them then. The Lesters, that was their right name, called themselves the Everleigh sisters when they arrived in Chicago from Omaha and parts west in 1899. On the night of Feb. 1, 1900, they opened their club, at 2131-2133 S. Dearborn st., in the heart of Chicago’s south side district.
The furnishings included the oriental rugs, the paintings, books, and gold-leafed piano which later graced the West 70th street apartment in New York. The inmates were in evening gowns. All were schooled in the arts of conversation and correct deportment by Ada and Minnie.
The Everleigh club was enormously successful. Overnight it multiplied Chicago’s reputation as a wide-open town. Wealthy customers came from all over America and from Europe to partake of the southern style dinners in the Everleigh club dining rooms, to gamble, to dance in the gilded ballroom, to meet the charmers Ada and Minnie had assembled. They never complained when Ada and Mina added $50 to their already costly bill.
The Everleigh club roared on until 1911, when Mayor Carter Harrison Jr. closed it in a campaign against the vice district. Minna was 33 at the time; Ada was a year or two older. The sisters could have resumed business a few months later, bit they had made a fortune and they chose retirement. It was not until 1930 that they asked me in to talk about the old days in Chicago.
Gossips would have had a wonderful time at those July 5 soirees in New York. Therte was much champagne and much talk. Minna mostly did the talking, while Ada, the meek one, listened. They spoke of the raids, the customers, their girls who had married well. They revived old scandals.
There was the angry wife who shot and killed her husband when she found him aboard a train with an Everleigh lorelei, and the butler who shot his master outside the door of the famous club. Minna recalled the time when the victim of a murder in a rival house was “planted” in the club to give the impression that the Everleigh sisters or their girls were the killers. Ada remembered the time Lucy Page Gaston of the Anti-Cigarette league invaded the club to warn the girls they’s go to hell if they didn’t stop smoking cigarets.
I’ll always remember that first birthday celebration 23 years ago. Minna greeted me at the door. She was wearing jewels worth $100,000.
“If you’re all decked out to impress me you can take them off,” I said.
“I just want you to know I still have them,” she replied.
There’s a moral in that, I suppose. Form a poetry circle and keep your nest egg. Even the 1929 hadn’t depleted the Everleigh fortune.
Minna, smoking a perfumed cigaret, took me on a tour of the apartment. There is the leaving room was the gold-leafed piano, one which Al Capone later had duplicated. “We fired our favorite professor (brothel pianist) because he let a lighted cigaret burn the keyboard,” sighed Ada, who followed us. “Isn’t it beautiful? If you only knew how much we love it!”
I looked around. “How come your poetry circle doesn’t suspect?” I asked. “All this gold leaf . . . those nudes on the walls. Don’t they ask questions?”
Minna smiled. “Can we help it if an ancestor was a gold miner and we inherited these priceless antiques? What the hell, I don’t smoke when the circle meets. They don’t suspect a thing.”
We went to the library, filled with leather bound volumes. “One of our guests at the club liked books and we bought them for him,” Minna said. “He came there just to read.”
Everywhere there were reminders of the Everleigh club. The statue of Daphne turning into a tree as Apollo tried to kiss her was as prominent in the West 70th street library as it had been in the hallway on South Dearborn street; the rococco furniture; the rosewood stairway, almost exactly duplicating the stairway which led to the boudoirs in the Everleigh club, except that was of mahogany.
Back in the living room, Minna poured champagne. We talked about Chicago. Both Ada and Minna had been married before 1900, but they didn’t care to discuss that part of their lives. Minna once referred to her husband—as a “brute.” Ada, I think, never stopped being in love with a man who married her and left her, never to return.
On July 5, 1t was in 1935, the sisters showed me mearly $200,000 in IOUs that wealthy patrons failed to settle when the police closed their club. Just imagine what a person skilled in blackmail could have done with that list! One of the debtors, I recall, was a famous actor, now dead, who thought that his equally famed partner had squared the bill. There were other well known names. I persuaded the sisters to let me nurn the list. They greed to forgive and forget.
There were 18 of these annual get togethers. The procedure was always the same: and inspection tour of the premises, dinner, wine, and talk of Chicago. In 1949 we skipped the party because Minna was ill.
As Minna lay dying in the PArk West hospital in New York, I was at her bedside. She seemed like my own grandmother and yet she was only about 15 years older than I.
She asked over and over again:
- We never hurt anybody, did we?” she asked over and over again. “We never robbed widows and we made no false representations, did we? Any crimes they attributed to us were the outcries of jealousy. We tried to get along honestly. Our business was unholy but everybody accepted it. What of it?
She thanked me for the theater tickets, which I had sent for openings of Broadway plays; she hoped she’d meet in heaven some of the theatrical people she had admired so much.
Her body was whisked out of town.
1 From the dust jacket of Come Into My Parlor. “Charles Washburn was born in Chicago and began going to school of life at the age of 14 as a copy-boy on The Chicago Tribune. He took a respite from newspaper work in 1910 to conduct a circuit of nickelodeons, first of the cinema houses. In 1912 he returned to The Chicago Tribune as a reporter. After the war he became a broadway publicist and for 12 years has been George M. Cohan’s press agent. Currently (1936) he also represents George Abbott and Phil Dunning.” Note that Mr. Washburn was personal friends with the Everleigh sisters which resulted in omitting some details of their lives.
2 Roger Plant’s resort at the northeast corner of Wells and Monroe was one of the wickedest vice resorts in the country in the 1860s. The police called it the “Barracks” but Roger called it “Under the Willow” because of a lone willow tree on the corner. There were about 60 rooms in the shacks that made up Roger’s resort, and in them was practiced virtually every sort of vice and criminality known to man. There was a saloon, three brothels, and dens where young girls were broken in by a dozen men and then sold to bordello’s. It was believed that a tunnel ran from the brothel under Wells Street to the vice dens by the Chicago River. This tunnel, which would have been the result of several subterranean rooms that were built when the city raised its level by 14 feet and the term “underground” became coined as organized crime activity. One of the tenants here was Sammy Caldwell, a burglar who was said to have been the first to gag and bind his victims with plaster and tape.
3 Christopher Columbus Crabb died in January, 1935, was a retired sewing machine salesman and his estate was valued at $50,000.
4 The actual sum of Lizzie Allen’s estate was $1,000,000, willed to Mr. Christopher C. Crab, Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1904.
5 John T. Stead was one of the 1,517 persons who lost their lives on the steamship Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 15th, 1912.