Step Into The Perfumed Parlors Of The Everleigh Club, The Most Famous Brothel In American History And The Catalyst For A Culture War That Rocked The Nation Operating In Chicago S Notorious Levee District At The Dawn Of The Last Century, The Club S Proprietors, Two Aristocratic Sisters Named Minna And Ada Everleigh, Welcomed Moguls And Actors, Senators And Athletes, Foreign Dignitaries And Literary Icons, Into Their Stately Double Mansion, Where Thirty Stunning Everleigh Butterflies Awaited Their Arrival Courtesans Named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, And Brick Top Devoured Raw Meat To The Delight Of Prince Henry Of Prussia And Recited Poetry For Theodore Dreiser Whereas Lesser Madams Pocketed Most Of A Harlot S Earnings And Kept A Whipper On Staff To Mete Out Discipline, The Everleighs Made Sure Their Girls Dined On Gourmet Food, Were Examined By An Honest Physician, And Even Tutored In The Literature Of BalzacNot Everyone Appreciated The Sisters Attempts To Elevate The Industry Rival Levee Madams Hatched Numerous Schemes To Ruin The Everleighs, Including An Attempt To Frame Them For The Death Of Department Store Heir Marshall Field, Jr But The Sisters Most Daunting Foes Were The Progressive Era Reformers, Who Sent The Entire Country Into A Frenzy With Lurid Tales Of White Slavery The Allegedly Rampant Practice Of Kidnapping Young Girls And Forcing Them Into Brothels This Furor Shaped America S Sexual Culture And Had Repercussions All The Way To The White House, Including The Formation Of The Federal Bureau Of InvestigationWith A Cast Of Characters That Includes Jack Johnson, John Barry, John D Rockefeller, Jr William Howard Taft, Hinky Dink Kenna, And Al Capone, Sin In The Second City Is Karen Abbott S Colorful, Nuanced Portrait Of The Iconic Everleigh Sisters, Their World Famous Club, And The Perennial Clash Between Our Nation S Hedonistic Impulses And Puritanical Roots Culminating In A Dramatic Last Stand Between Brothel Keepers And Crusading Reformers, Sin In The Second City Offers A Vivid Snapshot Of America S Journey From Victorian Era Propriety To Twentieth Century Modernity I read the author s Liar, Temptress, Soldier,Spy and really enjoyed the historical profiles So when I saw this at a book sale I snapped it up A decadent exploration of the seedy side of 1890s Chicago, Sin in the Second City delves in to the Mann Act, white slavery reformers and the puerile highlights of life in a den of inequity The Everleigh sisters ran the most popular men s club in the country, spending 100,000 in protection money to the city to keep their racket going They had the prettiest girls, the bubbliest champagne, the shiniest diamonds But it couldn t last And what exactly was their story 2017 Lenten nonfiction Buddy Reading Challenge book 39 I want to stress that this is a work of nonfiction every character I describe lived and breathed, if not necessarily thrived, on the Levee s mean streets, writes author Karen Abbott in her introduction.What immediately bothered me about the book, though, was the extent to which Karen Abbott took liberties to fictionalize her non fiction, adding window dressing and drapery to an already rich tapestry of research material.Take this section, for instance It s going to be difficult, at first, I know, Minna continued She walked slowly up and down the line, a commander instructing her troops, arms folded, heels clacking I found this style irritating and distracting It made me doubt Abbott s usage of her sources What were her sources anyway I would have liked to hear about them and not just stuffed in the back in the bibliography What source material is she relying upon How credible is it THAT ASIDE, I thought the actual story Abbott had to tell about the history of Chicago s vice district was interesting if a little disjointed There seemed to be so many different angles to the story, and the author seemed to dab a little in all of them, without going into much depth There was a little about the reform movement, a little about the way Big Jim Ike Bloom Hinky Dink Kenna greased the wheels of law enforcement, a little about the schemings of Vic Shaw, a little about the Everleigh sisters themselves Abbott gave a little of everything, but kept me wanting to know about everything, too. In the winter of 1899, a train clattered toward Chicago, fat coils of smoke whipping the sky Minna and Ada Everleigh sat together in a Pullman Palace car, sipping wine served by porters in white jackets and gloves The air inside the car hung heavy and whisper quiet, but the sisters were restless, giddy with plans they would build upon what they had learned as madams in Omaha, Nebraska, and create the finest brothel in history Man, who doesn t love a good old timey hooker story Karen Abbott s story of the Everleigh sisters rise and fall in the vice district of early 20th century Chicago is engrossing, well researched, and fun Minna and Ada Everleigh not their real names, of course came to Chicago with plans to start the best brothel in Chicago, and they were unique in that respect because they wanted to run a house where girls would want to work Other brothels of the time got their girls by kidnapping, drugs, and rape, but the Everleigh sisters were different The Everleigh sisters vowed never to deal with pimps, desperate parents selling off children, panders, and white slavers If you treated girls well, they would come begging for admittance A prospective Everleigh courtesan must prove she s eighteen in order to earn an interview, understand exactly what the job entailed, and know she s free to leave anytime, for any reason, without penalty Starting on this basis, the Everleigh sisters bought a house in Chicago s infamous Levee district, and soon created the most exclusive, beautiful, and famous brothel in Chicago They entertained politicians, gangsters, playboys, and princes they even, at one point, admitted a famous African American boxer into the Everleigh Club, an act which was socially forbidden at the time the girls all found the boxer delightful, and there was no trouble Clients came to see the Moorish Room, featuring the obligatory Turkish corner, complete with overstuffed couches and rich, sweeping draperies and the Japanese Parlor, with its ornately carved teakwood chair resting upon a dais, a gold sold canopy hovering above The Tribune noted that the Japanese Parlor was a harlot s dream of what a Japanese palace might look like inside In the Egyptian Room, a full sized effigy of Cleopatra kept a solemn eye on the proceedings The Chinese Room, entirely different from the ambiguously named Oriental Room, offered packages of tiny firecrackers and a huge brass beaker in which to shoot them where else but at the Everleigh Club could a man indulge his adult and childish impulses Running the brothel wasn t easy, though In addition to bribing the authorities and dealing with the competing madams trying to put them out of business, the Everleigh sisters also had to deal with the anti prostitution reformers who flocked to the city Around the time the Everleigh Club was taking off, newspapers were starting to feature stories of innocent girls trapped by the white slave trade because obviously it s only sad when it happens to white virgins young girls would be taken to dance halls, plied with liquor, and then drugged by their escorts They would wake up in a brothel, having been raped multiple times, and were told that they would have to work there from now on Reformers caught onto these stories and set about destroying the vice district in Chicago and ironically, they focused their attentions on the one brothel in the city that had nothing to do with the white slave trade the Everleigh Club.Abbott s book focuses mostly on the reformers and the efforts of the Everleigh sisters to keep their club open along with several other key Levee players , and this is to the detriment of the book I wanted to book to be about the Everleigh Club and have the reformers be a subplot, but often it s the other way around We get brief little anecdotes about the prostitutes and what went on behind closed doors at the Club like one client who enjoyed tossing gold coins at his favorite girl, the deal being that she could keep whatever she caught in her snatch , but they re few and far between as we spend too much time with the reformers Also, Abbott s glasses are a little bit too rose tinted when she s discussing the issue of prostitution in the early 20th century She treats the stories of drugged girls being violated by professional rapists which has to be one of the Top Five Most Horrifying Job Titles with a little too much unconcern, as if we re supposed to believe that those things don t happen nowadays First off, old timey rapists are still rapists, and stories of kidnapping and sexual slavery aren t improved by the fact that they re sepia toned so I don t view it as a good thing that the New York Times Book Review blurb called this book a lush love letter to the underworld Second, while I understand that the purpose of Abbott s book isn t to educate her readers on modern sex trafficking, it would have been nice if there was some acknowledgement that the horrifying practices she describes are still going on today, and didn t disappear along with the Jazz Age All in a all, a fun romp through Chicago s seedy history and a cool glimpse into the underworld and its people It s History Lite, but it s well written, well researched, good unclean fun. In Sin in the Second City Karen Abbott tells us in her subtitle that the book is ultimately about the Battle for America s Soul Pretty heady I suppose that the battle still persists to this day, so I shouldn t have expected a victor in the book itself, yet was left feeling unsatisfied at not even having a side to root for Abbott seemingly couldn t decide if she was writing a slice of life about Chicago s vice district at the turn of the century, a profile of two successful sisters running a posh brothel, or a narrative history of the battle between reformers and vice lords Elements of all three different books come to the fore at different times in the relatively scant 300 pages of text, with no one tack prevailing I never felt that I had a satisfying level of detail about the Levee the infamous vice district or a real grasp of the tale of Ada and Minna Everleigh the sister proprietors of the infamous Everleigh Club OR a clear cut understanding of the major players and sequence of events in the battle between the reform movement and the criminal element Ultimately, Abbott gives a muddled portrait of a bunch of people at the turn of the century who, while colorful enough, aren t well enough detailed to be compelling, or motivated well enough to be understandable, dropped into a sequence of events that seems dramatic but is utterly without stakes or importance.This leads to the primary question I had with the book who are we, the readers, supposed to root for if anyone , and or who does Abbott seem to prefer in this mini epic Battle I am also not so simple a reader as to require a good guy and a bad guy in the stories I read, but some person or people I could care about on than a cursory level would have been sufficient Seemingly, the Everleigh sisters, in trying to raise their whorehouse to a higher standard and cater to a exclusive, monied clientele, are our heroes, as it were But we know precious little about them, partially because they presumably by necessity obfuscate so much information about their lives, and partly because there are so many other outsize characters in the book that Abbott doesn t have the time to invest them with anything other than the most limited amount of depth The other characters in the Levee are mostly abominable vicious pimps and madams, forcing their whores into disgusting and vile acts, while meting out healthy portions of abuse and disease Nobody to sympathize with there Abbott then treats the reformers of the time with disdain, portraying them as timorous moralizers, pedantic grandstanders, superficial busybodies I suppose there is something postmodern in the idea that there are no heroes in this story, but one still gets the feeling that Abbott sides with the vice district, somehow wishing that prostitution, segregated from the mainstream of society, could entirely be elevated to the classy level of the Everleigh Club and allowed to continue on Certainly the reform minded crusaders religious and political are not shown as heroic janitors of a social filth Yet Chicago s vice district IS clearly a rats nest of illness and misery with the possible exception of the dubious accomplishments of the Everleigh Club in partially raising the brothel to a not totally disgusting and horrendous level.In this book, it would seem a shame that the Everleigh Club was shuttered by an apprehensive and capricious mayor It may be that it is meant to be a shame simply because of the changing of the times the passing of an epoch But I had a hard time working up a great deal of emotional nostalgia for the closing of Chicago s fanciest whorehouse out of a pack of awful whorehouses Is this the sort of changing of the times that we should lament The end of the good times We aren t even to the Roaring 20s yet Were these times really so good in the first place Abbott is at pains to downplay much of the basis for the moral fervor over white slavery She seems largely to dismiss the idea advocated by the reformers that credulous women from out of town were lured off train platforms into houses of ill repute by moustache twirling villains Instead, she indicates that many of these women chose the life for themselves I both have a hard time believing this, and have a hard time accepting it as a mitigating factor in the brutal turn of the century sex industry Is it proto feminism A woman s right to do with her body as she pleases Based on some of the nasty anecdotes in the book, one would imagine it was anything but Is she really advocating for women to be allowed to be publicly whipped in SM style displays for male titillation Such were some of the entertainments at the less classy brothels Does anyone really think women were willingly and rationally choosing this for themselves Yet Abbott s authorial loyalties do seem to lie with her unruly, anti heroic whores and madams Obviously, I just don t get it The book was interesting enough as a sketch of a wonderfully alien time and place, all taking place here in the city where I live and the streets where I walk But beyond the curiosity factor, I did not find much of any substance certainly nothing that would indicate this book was about the battle for America s very soul I would have appreciated Abbott tipping her hand why, aside from the vaguest modern day resonances of religious people legislating morality, were the reformers so lame in her eyes Conversely, Abbott would have been well served to detach herself and give us sympathetic characters on both sides of the battle a compassionate reformer with the best interests of women and society at heart, clashing with a big hearted madam just trying to make a living, to show the democratic conundrum between freedom and immorality But the battle is inconsistently pitched, from an authorial perspective, and ultimately relegates the book into muddled, if interesting, purposelessness. It s hard to believe that there was a time in American history where many of the major cities not only had open brothels but whole districts devoted to them Prostitution was a business, and a flourishing one at that One brothel in particular, the Everleigh Club in Chicago during the turn of the century, is the fascinating subject of Karen Abbot s book, Sin in the Second City The Everleigh sisters, Minna and Ada, were the famous madams of this brothel It was so well known and popular that there was a waiting list of prostitutes hoping to become one of the Everleigh girls Cultivating strong political relationships with many figures in local and federal government, enforcing strict rules and regulations for both the working girls and patrons of their establishment, and ensuring a safe and healthy work environment for their girls, the Everleigh sisters were clearly progressive thinkers and advocates for better working conditions for the ladies in the world s oldest profession Besides proper health care, the Everleigh sisters also believed in education for their girls Legitimizing the brothel was not to be, however, due to a reform movement that swept the nation at the time Started primarily by ministers, politicians, and temperance minded housewives, this movement began as a fear driven attempt to eradicate the white slave trade , which many saw as an epidemic of our nation s young women being kidnapped, raped, and forced to live out the rest of their short lives as prostitutes Several famous books and even a genre of white slave trade motion pictures added fuel to an already out of control conflagration of misinformation and utter nonsense According to scientific studies, the average life expectancy of a white slave a ruined young lady forced into prostitution was only five years These young women either died from untreated venereal disease, suicide, or murder Of course, it s telling that tied into this white slavery craze was a deep rooted racism and anti immigrant sentiment, as it was well known that most white slavers were Italians or Jews Brothel after brothel were shut down in highly publicized raids, but relatively untouched was the charismatic and soft spoken Everleigh sisters, who lived to be in their 80s and cultivated deep friendships with such famous literary figures as Theodore Dreiser and Irving Wallace Abbot s book is as entertaining as it is scandalous, with a cast of colorful characters, including Vic Shaw, the loud mouthed big bosomed madam that hated the Everleigh sisters so much that she tried to frame them for murder twice Big Jim Colossimo, a spaghetti loving gangster who may or may not have been executed by his own bodyguard, a young Alphonse Capone the Reverand Ernest Bell, a devout minister who almost single handedly led the crusade against the evil brothel owners of Chicago and a slew of others with names like Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin Sin in the Second City is a fun little foray into the red light district of American history. Oh I wanted this book to be so much than it was The story of the Everleigh sisters, along with Bathhouse John and Hinky Dick, is such a colorful one in the City of Chicago Yet this book makes it almost not quite boring Too much jumping around in time and storylines It just didn t come together If the data is so limited, this story could easily have been fictionalized and made really, really readable and exciting Just because something is fiction does not mean it doesn t contain the truth. I absolutely loved this book I found it in my local library by chance and I m glad I did I love historical books about Chicago Sin in the Second City has much in common with Devil in the White City as it takes place roughly during the same time period in Chicago around 1900 Although the subject matter may turn some people off, I loved learning about the history of prostitution in Chicago It was surprising to discover that this is a true story Maybe it is naive of me but I kept having to check if this stuff was for real while reading the book The Everleigh sisters were true entrepreneurs to have created the pre eminent brothel in the U.S Even so, I couldn t help but be shocked by the so called respectable men who frequented such placesfrom the scions of the wealthy Chicagoans like Marshall Field Jr to politicians and even princes And of course, the stories of murders, robberies, drinking, and other illicit activities were interesting After reading this book, I feel like I have an understanding of what life was like in the vice district in Chicago The author cleverly set the book amidst the reform movement that ushered out the brothels and other dens of iniquity There were so many funny, interesting, and depressing moments in this book It s hard not to fall in love with the Everleigh sisters They did try to put a touch of class to the prostitution industry They certainly stood above the white slavers and pimps who took advantage of young rural and foreign girls coming to Chicago That s not saying much but at least they were one touch of respectability in an otherwise despicable place So if you have ever lived in Chicago or have any interest in Chicago history, you ll love this story But even if you don t have a connection Chicago, this book is a great opportunity to learn about the underbelly of American life in the early 1900 s. As a general rule of thumb, I like all books about Chicago history because there s really no way to go wrong with tales about our city So I d been wanting to read this book since it was released, and finally, my most excellent book club the Literary Brats got down to it.So I also think you d really have to screw up to write a bad book about Chicago history This book is about professional screwing and Karen Abbott is some screwball kinda writer How difficult is it to write a great book about shenanigans in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century and the whoring high life Corruption, vice, horse manure, tawdry sex, lots of mirrors this should be a book that writes itself I was expecting sordid tales about what went on in the brothels of the Levee District at least in the Everleigh Club, which the book centres on , concrete histories about the Everleigh sisters who owned the brothel or at least, Abbott s opinion on what may have been their rightful biography , life histories of the prominent harlots at the club and detailed descriptions of services tendered.What you end up getting are cursory chaptered details on the above, with too much emphasis on the puritanical fight to eradicate the Levee District and vice in Chicago Sure, that is part of the neighbourhood s history, but we know how that story ends but why don t we know about Suzy Poon Tang, the exotic courtesan from China who arrived in Chicago via Singapore Why aren t we offered an opinion on whether or not Abbott believes the Everleigh sisters were prostitutes themselves before they made their fortune Why is the most extraordinary sexual favour in the book a millionaire patron who enjoys tossing gold coins onto a harlot s pundendum Truly, reading this book is like having sex without orgasm as someone pounds a bible on your head.To make matters worse, Abbott lifts many passages and facts from a subjective biography of the Everleigh sisters, Come to My Parlor And, she has no ties to Chicago apart from the fact that a great great grandmother moved here from Eastern Europe and was never heard of again The book launch party was in New York, for god s sakes I felt like the book was a chick lit version of a history book, and for book clubs who met in cute Bohemian cafes sipping chai teas and noshing on cupcakes, not book clubs who meet online and like pizza Still, I enjoyed the moments of Chicago life in the 1900s and loved the descriptions of the city then we were some kind of piece of work I appreciate new trivia, such as the term lay coming from the Everleigh moniker I also found it extremely fascinating that 100 years later, us and our world has changed so much, but the basest of human nature remains unchanged and just as repulsive But please, can someone just tell me about Suzy Poon Tang Abbott s book is an entertaining enough read, and has plenty of interesting tidbits of Chicago history, but is nothing spectacular It s interesting to me how open prostitution was in the not so distant past, and one has to wonder if the current condition is an improvement I was walking on Lower Wacker the other day, and there were some miserable looking hookers It was dark and dank and depressing Considering our apparent inability to abolish the oldest profession, I wonder is the false glamour described in this book preferable to forcing the whole industry underground Unfortunately, I found it impossible to identify with or sympathize with any of the leading characters herein The religious people are too religious, the gangsters and politicians too loosely described the description of pre Capone gangster Big Jim Colosimo barreling forward with a pot full of his red ink pasta sauce being the most endearing descrption of a major player , and the madams too cold Does anybody else think that there should be six possible stars, so that three could be It s okay Because this book is not than half good, but it s not half bad, either I dedicate this review to Hippie Sara, who demanded that I write reviews and stop filling up her inbox with updates concerning the frequent reorganizations of my book shelves After this review, I shall and remember to uncheck the add to update feed box.
Sin in the Second City Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America s Soul,
- 356 pages
- Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul
- Karen Abbott
- 08 March 2019 Karen Abbott