Category Archives: Chicago

Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul, by Karen Abbott

2007.  Who couldn’t be drawn to a lurid title above a photo of a madam with a come hither look reclining on a lounge chair in black lace nighty and high heels?  In early Chicago no less.

Yes, the most famous bordello in the country operated for about twelve years prior to WWI on the Levee, a district in The First Ward on South Dearborn Street. Run by the Everleigh (dba) sisters, The Everleigh Club famously treated its ladies and its clients like stars, unlike the other clubs which were mere clip joints where beatings, thefts, and drug-taking ran rampant.

Chicago’s best and brightest and most-moneyed could count on the sisters to keep mum, and the sisters could count on Chicago politicians for protection as long as the money kept flowing along this chain. Everyone made out, and more, until the “White Slavery” movement developed enough support both in Springfield and in Washington. First though the sisters made a name and a fortune.  Even Kaiser Wilhelm’s brother took his entourage to The Everleigh for an evening and launched the national craze of drinking champagne from a harlot’s, er a lady’s, slipper.

Marshall Field, Jr, met an ignominious end at The Everleigh. And many more stories beside. Ever hear of Suzy Poon Tang?

It’s a joy to one who loves Chicago to get a glimpse into this aspect of the past thanks to Abbott’s diligent research. Thanks to the sisters’ photo shoot to promote The Club we get a peek into the sumptuous interior of a building razed in the thirties. And thanks to the diaries and correspendence of the sisters and their clients, plus the high profile campaign by the anti-sex, anti-white-slavery, anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-pandering brigades which all saw in the Levee district a target for their anger, Abbott had plenty of material to draw from. (Not to demean her impressive research.)

In the parlance of the day, one went out to “get Everleighed” before the expression was shortened.

The campaigners didn’t stamp out prostitution, smoking, or alcohol. But they did run the sisters out of town and close down the Levee. Watching closely was a guy by the name of Capone.