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June 15, 2016

Minna and Ada Simms Everleigh (Lester) Lived In Warrensburg, MO - Later Became Madams of the Most Famous Brothel in America, in Chicago

Chicago’s Everleigh Club is the most famous brothel in USA history. It was located in the notorious Levee district (Chicago, IL).
Sisters Minna (1866-1948) & Ada (1864-1960) Everleigh ran the “club”. They hosted senators, foreign dignitaries, literary icons, actors (big surprise there!), business moguls, and on and on. Prince Henry of Prussia, Theodore Dreiser, Diamond Jim Brady, and other celebrities of renown went to the Everleigh Club. The department store heir, Marshall Field Jr., was even shot there.
The Everleigh “butterflies” were expected to be well read and were even tutored in Balzac. Other requirements …
… look good in an evening gown
…be polite
…be there of their own free will (they wanted nothing to do with parents selling their children, white slavers, etc.)
… be at least 18 years old
… visit their doctor (that they kept on retainer) at least 1x/month
… no drugs/alcohol
Such women included the legendary Suzy Poon Tang, one of the club’s most popular girls and big draws. Hailing from China, Poon Tang was infamously good at satisfying the clientele, so much so that her name would later become synonymous with the now sullied term of “gonna get me some poontang.” Needless to say, her name and the term still maintains a more dignified connotation than that of a “Rusty Venture.”
The Everleigh Club might be the only brothel in American history that enhanced, rather than diminished, a man’s reputation. Clients reportedly boasted, “I’m going to get Everleighed” tonight, which helped to popularize the phrase “get laid.” A man wouldn’t want to be seen at the “lower” houses, however.
The early history of the sisters is wrapped up in the War Between the States. The fortune of their family reflected what was happening financially to families all across the south.
Harold Woodward wrote, “a grim reality of poverty & decay … Once-fertile fields were covered with scrub oaks and stunted pines, the landscape dotted with decayed fences, half-starved cattle, ramshackle houses and the remnants of crumbling mansions.”
The sisters’ grandparents died. Their dad had to stop practicing law and farm the land. Agricultural prices were low. Taxes & interest were high. Income was scarce. Their father’s brother had stolen most of the family money secretly and moved to Missouri.
Their mother and little sister died when Ada was 12 & Minna was 10. Baby brother George was given to an aunt to raise. The sisters began to detach themselves from life. The family moved to Madison County (VA) where their neighbors were former Virginia governor & confederate general (with 5 children). Visits to his mansion reminded them of everything they lost.
Lula, another sister, died and the family moved from Virginia to Warrensburg, Missouri, where their father had relatives. They grew up believing daddy was the only man that mattered … why marry?
Minna & Ada did marry, but needed to flee for their lives because of physical abuse.
The sisters concluded from their experiences that men were greedy, brutal, spend thrifts, and not to be trusted. A niece, Evelyn Diment, would later write to Irving Wallace in 1989 about her great aunts,
“They were struggling because they were at the end of the Civil War and there were very few ways to make money. Their plantation was lost because they couldn’t pay taxes. They began as prostitutes and they became madams. Their father put them in the business, and then these women made a marvelous success out of it … Southern families have a way of keeping things very quiet. And if anyone knew anything, they kept their mouth shut.”
The sisters provided for their family in the only way they knew how. They changed their last name. Their grandmother signed all correspondence with “Everly Yours” and the name of their new club was established: Everleigh.
Everleigh Club Admission: $10
Bottle of Champagne : $12
Dinner: $50
At a time when the average wage per week was $6, those visiting the Everleigh Club found they were spending anywhere from $200-$1500 per visit. If a patron only spent $50, they were asked not to return.
Was it right? …. NO
Do I approve of it? … NO 
Can I understand it? … YES!
The business management skills and acumen of the sisters is undebatable.
Yes, they did much better than other “wayward” women of the Victorian era whether they were located in Chicago, Philly, NYC, Washington DC, major European cities, etc.
Even though their “business” prospered beyond what they dreamed, they do represent an important aspect of the Victorian Era.
(Left)The Everleigh Club at 2131 South Dearborn.
(Right)The Everleigh Club just before demolition in July 1933.
The Everleigh sisters Minna and Ada—the madams of the Everleigh Club—carried out very different duties in the operation of the club. Ada, the soft-spoken sister, mainly focused on handling all the business transactions, which included handling the books and allocating finances. She did not only take care of the logistics the club required but she also was responsible for hiring new girls. On the other hand, Minna, the outgoing sister, was responsible for carrying out lessons to teach the new girls charm and culture. Her sass lent her the ability to effortlessly interact with guests. Often Minna was seen socializing with guests near the parlors or welcoming them with a friendly greeting into the club. Any duty that required personal interactions was handled by Minna.
The Everleigh "Pullman Room" Designed to Look like a Pullman Train car, Chicago, 1909
Ada and Minna Simms Lester were two very young women with a very fortunate career. In the early 1900's their stardom took off through their flourishing establishment called the Everleigh Club. Their creation was nothing less than luxurious with its spectacular furnishings and upscale requirements; they provided only the best for their customers. With that being said, it is safe to conclude that the Everleigh Club was an extravagant attraction for this time period. Prior to relocating to Chicago, the Everleigh sisters toured brothels in many cities, trying to find a location which had "plenty of wealthy men but no superior houses." They were directed to Chicago by Cleo Maitland, a madam in Washington, D.C., who suggested they contact Effie Hankins in Chicago. Prior to relocating to Chicago, the Everleigh sisters toured brothels in many cities, trying to find a location which had "plenty of wealthy men but no superior houses." 
After buying Hankins's brothel at 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street, they fired all the women and completely redecorated the entire building with the most luxurious appointments available. Silk curtains, damask easy chairs, oriental rugs, mahogany tables, gold rimmed china and silver dinner ware, and perfumed fountains in every room. A $15,000 gold-leafed piano (the price is the equivalent of $369,205 in 2007) stood in the Music Room, mirrored ceilings, a library filled with finely bound volumes, an art gallery featuring nudes in gold frames -- no expense was spared. While the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson thought the $57 gold spittoons in his café were worth boasting about, the patrons of the Everleigh Club were obliged to expectorate in $650 gold cuspidors. The Everleigh Club was described by Chicago's Vice Commission as "the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country.Prior to relocating to Chicago, the Everleigh sisters toured brothels in many cities, trying to find a location which had "plenty of wealthy men but no superior houses."
After buying Hankins's brothel at 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street, they fired all the women and completely redecorated the entire building with the most luxurious appointments available. Silk curtains, damask easy chairs, oriental rugs, mahogany tables, gold rimmed china and silver dinner ware, and perfumed fountains in every room. A $15,000 gold-leafed piano (the price is the equivalent of $369,205 in 2007) stood in the Music Room, mirrored ceilings, a library filled with finely bound volumes, an art gallery featuring nudes in gold frames -- no expense was spared. While the heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson thought the $57 gold spittoons in his café were worth boasting about, the patrons of the Everleigh Club were obliged to expectorate in $650 gold cuspidors. The Everleigh Club was described by Chicago's Vice Commission as "the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country."

Prior to the opening of the Everleigh Club, Ada was responsible for recruiting talent for the club. She started by contacting her former employees in Omaha and spreading the word through brothels across the country. She conducted face-to-face interviews with all the applicants.
The Everleigh Club - America's Most Famous Brothel
On the other hand, not all women who participated in this sort business had it that easy. Prostitution during the early 1900's in Chicago was a very rough experience for the majority of these women. While the Everleigh Club charged men fifty dollars for secluded time with one of their women, most prostitutes were only paid about twenty-five cents for their work. 
1900. The Rose Parlor room inside the Everleigh Club. A brothel at 2131–2133 South Dearborn Street.
Everleigh Club, Rose Parlor Room, Chicago
Also, many of these young women were beaten and taken advantage of by the men who worked for them and sold them to different brothels. Even though some women were lucky enough to partake in the glamour that the Everleigh Club had to offer, the majority of prostitutes in this section of history in Chicago used this business as a way to get by during hard conditions in this time period. The clientele of the Everleigh House included captains of industry, important politicians and European nobility and royalty. Among them were Marshall Field, Jr.Edgar Lee MastersTheodore DreiserRing LardnerJohn Warne GatesJack Johnson, and Prince Henry of Prussia.
Minna Everleigh (left) and Ada of the Everleigh Social Cluв Minna (1866-1948) and Ada (1865-1960) Everleigh, arrived in Chicago in 1899 from Omaha and the doors opened on 1 February 1900 what soon became the most famous brothel in America. Lavish rooms made their services seem respectable to many including the press. Regular patrons included Marshall Field, Jr., poet Edgar Lee Masters, author Theodore Dreiser, columnist Ring Lardner, industrialist John Warne Gates, boxer Jack Johnson, actor John Barrymore and Prince Heinrich of Prussia. Their corporate headquarters was located in the heart of the Levee District at 2131-2133 S. Dearborn Street. Their phone number was CALumet 412.
Gold piano
The  $15,000 Gold-Leafed Piano at the Everleigh Social Club
The Everleigh sisters spared no expense in their redecoration of their brothel which they named the Everleigh Club. They replaced all old furnishings with new lavish furnishings including: Mahogany and walnut paneling, tapestries, oriental rugs, statuary, gold-nude paintings, gold-rim china and silver dinner ware, perfumed foundations in every room, a music parlor within a $15,000 gold-leafed piano, mirrored ceilings, and a library complete with finely bound volumes. A dozen parlors were orientated on the first floor.
The Grand Ballroom of the Everleigh Social Club
 Each parlor consisted of a certain theme such as: the Silver Parlor, the Gold Parlor, the Rose Parlor, or the Japanese Throne Room-all of which appealed to the varying groups of clientele the club received. The upstairs of the Everleigh Club held the private bedrooms were clientele could experience enjoy a more personal encounter with the women of his choosing alongside luxurious divans, damask chairs, gilt bathtubs and warbling canaries. As luxurious, the dining room's design emulated a private Pullman cart with the corresponding ornate gold and mahogany trimmings. The menu featured only the finest entrees such as: duck, caviar, lobster, deviled crab, fried oysters, goose capton, and an excellent selection of wine. It is due to all these extravagant amenities the Everleigh Club was dubbed "probably the most famous and luxurious house of prostitution in the country" by the Chicago Vice Commission.
File:Everleigh Club - Oriental Music Room.jpg
The Everleigh Social Club, Oriental Music Room
The Everleigh quickly gained a reputation as an upscale gentleman's club, so much so that the Everleigh sisters were forced to turn away prospective clients even on opening day on February 1, 1900. The club's extensive popularity afforded Minna and Ada the opportunity to select their clientele. Only those men deemed suitable by Minna and Ada gained admittance into the Everleigh Club. The Everleigh sisters deemed a prospective client "worthy" to be admitted into the club if: the prospective client provided a letter of recommendation from an existing member, an engraved card, or through a formal introduction by Minna or Ada. These standards made the club extremely exclusive, indulging the desires of only the wealthy and influential men. "The cachet of being able to go there, just because they turned down so many people..It became an exclusive badge of honor just be to admitted."
The Everleigh Blue Bedroom, Chicago ca 1900
By 1902, the club expanded and the sisters were making donations to the First Ward Aldermen, "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and Michael "Hinky-Dink" Kenna, to ensure their continued leeway. After the club was closed, Minna Everleigh claimed in testimony that she "always entertained state legislators free in the club."
On March 3, 1902, Prince Henry of Prussia visited the Club while in the United States to collect a ship built for his brother, German Kaiser Wilhelm II.
On March 3, 1902, Prince Henry of Prussia visited the Everleigh Club 
 Although the city had sponsored numerous events for Henry, his main interest was a visit to the club. The sisters planned a bacchanalia for the visiting prince, including dancing, dining and a recreation of the dismemberment of Zeus's son. During one of the dances, a prostitute's slipper came off and spilled champagne. When one of the prince's entourage drank the champagne, he started the trend of drinking champagne from a woman's shoe.
On November 22, 1905, Marshall Field, Jr. suffered a gunshot that would prove to be fatal. Although newspapers reported it was an accident and occurred at his home, there is some evidence that he was shot by a prostitute at the Everleigh Club.
On January 9, 1910, Nathaniel Moore died of natural causes in the Chez Shaw brothel in Chicago's Levee district after spending much of the previous night at the Everleigh Club.
The club employed 15 to 25 cooks and maids. Gourmet meals featured iced clam juice, caviar, pheasants, ducks, geese, artichokes, lobster, fried oysters, devilled crabs, pecans and bonbons. There were three orchestras, and musicians played constantly, usually on the piano accompanied by strings. Publishing houses would publicize new songs by having them played at the Everleigh Club. The house was heated with steam in the winter and cooled with electric fans in the summer.
Scandals
One of the notorious scandals that surrounded the Everleigh Club concerned the questionable death of Marshall Fields, Jr. On November 22, 1905, Fields experienced a fatal gunshot wound. Different theories arose as to how Fields received the gunshot wound. It was reported that he shot himself accidentally while cleaning his gun before a hunting trip. However, rumors alleged that Fields was actually at the Everleigh Club when he was shot and murdered by an Everleigh butterfly. The actual events that led to the cause of his death still arise suspicion among people.
On January 3, 1910, Nathaniel Moore also died under suspicious circumstances. It was said that Moore died of natural causes after spending the previous night at the Everleigh Club. He was found dead at the Chez Shaw brothel, and the events leading to his death were also questionable.
Their House: From its 1900 opening until a forced closing on Oct. 24, 1910, America's most famous (and sumptuous) brothel operated in two adjoining three-story stone mansions at 2132 South Dearborn Street, well within Chicago's famous red-light Levee District. The buildings provided 50 rooms, including 12 soundproof reception parlors where three orchestras played, 30 bedrooms, a library, an art gallery, a dining room, and a Turkish ballroom complete with a huge fountain and a parquet floor.
The most famous of the parlors was called the Gold Room and featured gilt furniture, gold-trimmed fishbowls, $650 cuspidors, and a $15,000 gold piano. Upstairs in the boudoirs, guests found marble-inlaid brass beds, mirrored ceilings, gold bathtubs, fresh-cut roses, oil paintings, and push-buttons to ring for champagne. One room had an automatic perfume spray over the bed, another had a silver-white spotlight which focused on a divan, a third had the furniture of a Turkish harem. Spending an evening at the Everleigh Club was such a special occasion that many guests publicly boasted of their adventures. Prince Henry of Prussia enjoyed a memorable orgy there in 1902. Other delighted celebrities who visited at least once included writers Ring Lardner, George Ade, and Percy Hammond, boxer "Gentleman" Jim Corbett, actor John Barrymore, and gambler "Bet a Million" Gates. Chicago newspapermen made it their favorite watering and wenching place. (When a small fire occurred in the club one evening, three of the top reporters on the Chicago Tribune were on hand to cover it.) Newsman Jack Lait once insisted, "Minna and Aida Everleigh are to pleasure what Christ was to Christianity." Poet Edgar Lee Masters was also a devoted patron. He once described a typical arrival at the Everleigh Club. Minna ("somehow the larger personality, the more impressive figure") would come to the door, walking with a sort of "cater-pillar bend and hump. . . . She was remarkably thin. Her hair was dark and frizzled, her face thin and refined. 'How is my boy?" was her cordial salutation." 
Specialties and Eccentricities: Often on special occasions, Minna would set a number of butterflies loose to flit about the house. Madam Cleo Maitland, an old friend of the sisters, once remarked that "no man is going to forget he got his behind fanned by a butterfly at the Everleigh Club."
Aida once told journalist Charles Washburn how she selected her "hostesses." "I talk with each applicant myself," she said. "She must have worked somewhere else before coming here. We do not like amateurs. . . . To get in, a girl must have a pretty face and figure, must be in perfect health, must look well in evening clothes. If she is addicted to drugs, or to drink, we do not want her. . . ."
The girls received weekly instruction in makeup, dress, and Southern manners. They were required to read books from the Everleigh library. And Minna lectured them on general operating procedures.
"Be polite, patient, and forget what you are here for," she said. "Gentlemen are only gentlemen when properly introduced. . . .No lineup for selection as in other houses. . . . It means, briefly, that your language will have to be ladylike and that you will forgo the entreaties you have used in the past. You have the whole night before you, and one $50 client is more desirable than five $10 ones. Less wear and tear. . . .Give, but give interestingly and with mystery. I want you girls to be proud that you are in the Everleigh Club."
The rewards for such conduct were princely. The sisters made an annual profit of about $120,000 (despite the fact that expenses were high and that graft cost them over $10,000 a year). When a wave of reform forced them to close the club on Dearborn Street, Minna and Aida departed with a cool million in cash, furnishings worth $150,000, and about $200,000 in jewelry.
They lost a hunk of it in an abortive attempt to reopen on Chicago's West Side in 1912, but they still were able to retreat into comfortable obscurity. Like most investors, they were hit hard by the stock market collapse of 1929, but they salvaged an expensive home off New York's Central Park, where they lived the life of genteel club women.
"All they ask for the remainder of their lives," reported Charles Washburn, "is a roof and one quart of champagne a week."
Ada Everleigh
Ada Everleigh Portrait Commissioned in Omaha, Nebraska
1895
Minna Everleigh
Minna Everleigh Portrait Commissioned in Omaha, Nebraska
1895


Ada and Minna Everleigh, born Ada and Minna Simms, were two sisters 
who operated the Everleigh Club, a high-priced brothel in the Levee District of Chicago during the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Ada, the eldest, was born in Greene County, Virginia on February 15, 1864, and died in Charlottesville, Virginia on January 5, 1960. Minna Sims was born in Greene County on July 13, 1866 and died in New York, New York on September 16, 1948.The 1870 census reveals that they were the daughters of a farmer named James Montgomery Simms of Greene County, 
The sisters claimed an alternative biography, which has long been accepted as factual. Karen Abbott has debunked their story.
According to their story, Minna and Ada Sims were born outside of Louisville, Kentucky in 1876 to a wealthy lawyer who had fled to Kentucky from Virginia when Benedict Arnold invaded Virginia in 1781. The two sisters had been to finishing school and had proper social debuts. When Minna was seventeen, she says, she married a man whose last name was Lester who turned out to be abusive. Ada claimed to have been married to Lester's brother, who also turned out to be abusive. After both marriages had failed, they became actresses. Claiming their father died in the early 1890s, they said they came into a legacy of $35,000.
According to Abbott, whose research included an interview with the sisters' great niece, Minna and Ada were born in Greene County, Virginia to Montgomery Simms, the second and third of four daughters. Their mother died when they were young, as did their sisters. There were three brothers, who all survived to adulthood. Although the family was wealthy at the time of their birth, they lost much of their wealth during the Civil War and the family lost their plantation when they couldn't pay their taxes. There is no proof that either sister was ever married. Stranded by a theater company in Omaha, Nebraska, the sisters changed their last name to "Everleigh," adapted from their grandmother's habit of signing letters with "Everly Yours" and opened their first brothel in Omaha in 1895. When the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was held in Omaha in 1898 they opened a second brothel in the vicinity of the event in Kountze Park and quickly doubled their investment. They then decided to close their brothels and seek out a more affluent city.
By 1900 they settled in Chicago and opened a high class brothel called the Everleigh Club which did good business until closed down in 1911. In 1911, after a vice commission report, Mayor Carter Harrison Jr., son of legendary Mayor Carter Harrison, ordered the club closed. Minna responded philosophically, "If the Mayor says we must close, that settles it.... I'll close up shop and walk out with a smile on my face." And so they did.
Ada was 35 years old, Minna 33. They took a trip to Europe. With $1,000,000 in cash, $200,000 in jewelry and a $15,000 gold piano, they returned to New York, changed their names back to Lester, and spent the rest of their days going to the theater and hosting poetry reading circles. Minna died in 1948, Ada in 1960.
Minna, the outspoken one, said, "If it weren't for married men, we couldn't have carried on at all, and if it weren't for cheating married women we could have made another million."
Although the Everleigh sisters and their employees earned good money in luxurious circumstances, most prostitutes worked in very different situations.
White slavers would bring teenage girls to Chicago where they would be repeatedly raped before being sold to a brothel. In 1907, an 18-year-old reported that she had been drugged and raped continuously for three days before she was sold for $50, the cost of a meal at Everleigh House.
Many whores worked for 25 cents at a time. Others were shop girls or factory workers who worked a few nights a week to pay their bills or to buy a few luxuries. The Everleigh sisters were savvy and lucky. Most others were not.
At the time it was closed by the city authorities Ada was 47 and Minna 45: they then retired and moved to New York.
The Everleigh Club
By Louise Kiernan Tribune staff reporter
Behind the doors of the twin brownstones at 2131-33 S. Dearborn St., Minna Everleigh gave her final instructions: "You have the whole night before you and one $50 client is more desirable than five $10 ones. Less wear and tear," she told the women assembled before her.
With that, Minna and her older sister, Ada, opened what would become the best little bordello in Chicago and, for a time, one of the best known in the world. Minna and Ada Everleigh, then 21 and 23, took their name from their grandmother's habit of signing her letters "Everly Yours." Raised in a prosperous Southern family, the sisters fled bad marriages to become touring actresses and ended up in Chicago after running a bagnio in Omaha during the Trans- Mississippi Exposition. Amid the grimier brothels of the Levee, Chicago's notorious vice district, the Everleigh Club sparkled like one of Minna's many diamond pins. The Tribune described the 50-room mansion as the world's most richly furnished house of courtesans. Guests were entertained in opulent parlors, among them the Gold Room, which featured gold-rimmed fishbowls, gold spittoons and a miniature gold piano, and the Chinese Room, where gentlemen could set off tiny firecrackers.
In an era when a beer cost a nickel, the Everleigh sisters charged $12 for a bottle of champagne. Dinners started at $50 a person--without female company. Gentlemen who left without spending at least $50 were advised not to return. Exempt from that rule were newspapermen, for whom the sisters professed a soft spot. If Tribune overnight clerks needed to round up reporters quickly, they were told to call Calumet 412, the club's famed telephone number.
Thanks to the protection money the sisters gave police and aldermen, the Everleigh Club operated freely. But its extraordinary success eventually led to its downfall. A brochure advertising the club fell into the hands of Mayor Carter Harrison Jr., and on Oct. 24, 1911, he ordered it shut down.
The sisters left with more than $1 million in cash, jewelry, stocks and bonds. Ada and Minna resettled on the West Side, but neighbors drove them out. They moved to New York City, and there they led quiet lives under assumed names and started a neighborhood poetry circle and came to New York and in 1913, using the name Lester, bought a brownstone at 20 West 71st Street and resided there for many years.  Many people come to New York in search of opportunity and excitement, but the Everleigh/Lester/Simms sisters came to it for a quiet retirement and theater.  And so, having left their glory days behind in Chicago, they lived quietly on West 71st Street for years, attending theater, joining some women’s organizations, presiding over a poetry reading group, and visiting relatives in Virginia once a year.  Perhaps the only one who knew of their past was Charles Washburn, a Chicago Tribune reporter whom they had known back in Chicago, and who would visit them once a year to share a bottle of champagne and reminisce.  Drawing on information gleaned from these sessions, in 1934 he published Come into My Parlor: A Biography of the Aristocratic Everleigh Sisters of Chicago, a readable but undocumented biography that presents uncritically whatever they told him and is therefore not too reliable a source.  When Minna died in 1948 at age 82, Ada sold the brownstone and went to live with her nephew, James W. Simms, in Charlottesville, Virginia, taking with her some of the furniture from the Everleigh Club – “beautiful furniture,” the nephew assured me later in a letter.  She died there in 1960 at age 96.  When we corresponded in 1981, Mr. Simms assured me that his aunts, whom he had visited in New York, were “two of the kindest, most caring people I have ever known.”
After Minna died in 1948, Ada sold off most of their belongings, including the gold piano, and moved to Virginia. She died in 1960, at 93.

Book Excerpt:

Angels Of The Line1905
"As soon as the bullet pierced Marshall Field Jr.—the only son and heir of Marshall Field, founder of the splendorous department store, the man who famously said, “Give the lady what she wants”— Chicago made the story even bigger than it really was. Amplifying things, good or bad, was what Chicago did best.
In the days following November 22, 1905, rumors about the shooting spun through the city's streets. The fruit cart vendors whispered to the newsboys who shouted to the hansom drivers who murmured to the society women who were overheard by servants who gossiped with bartenders who bantered with pimps and whores and drunks. Did they hear the wound was just like the one that killed President McKinley? Tore through his abdomen, caught a corner of the liver, grazed the stomach and skidded to a halt outside the spinal cord—lucky for Marshall Junior. He was in his bedroom at the Prairie Avenue mansion, home alone with his son and the hired help, when a hollow boom split the air. A cry followed, thin and drawn out like taffy.
The family nurse and the butler scaled the stairs in flying jumps and found him slumped in a chair, wan face seeking cover in the curve of his shoulder. Goodness, the blood—it was everywhere. Veining across his shirt, fissuring down the wall. His automatic revolver came to rest on the tip of his shoe. He tried to straighten, tread the air as if it were a lolling wave. "I shot myself," Marshall Junior said. "Accidentally."
But it couldn't have been an accident. Who really believed that Field dropped his gun, and that the trigger could slam an armchair with sufficient force to explode a cartridge? A reporter at the Chicago Daily News said it was impossible—he took an identical, unloaded revolver, and hurled it several times to the floor. Not once did the thing go off. Marshall Junior must have pointed the gun at himself; it was the only way. And a suicide attempt made sense. He had suffered a nervous breakdown the year prior, in 1904—this act could be a decisive sequel.
No, what really happened was sadder than suicide, more pitiful than a nervous breakdown: Field had sneaked off to the Levee district for a tryst at the Everleigh Club. So what if he was married, the father of three—he had money and status and power, and men with those things always went to the Everleigh Club. A prostitute shot him, maybe in the Gold Room or the Japanese Parlor or beneath the glass chandeliers suspended like stalactites from the ceiling. Later, as the sun deserted the sky and the streets gripped the fog, those Scarlet Sisters, Minna and Ada Everleigh, ordered his unconscious body smuggled out and planted in his home.
Those Scarlet Sisters heard all about their alleged hand in the incident, how they stood idly by while one of their harlots blasted the poor man, then directed the covert removal of his bloody body.
"We are a funeral parlor," Ada Everleigh said, "instead of a resort."
Her younger sister, Minna, gave a blunt, trumpet-burst laugh. Ada parsed her words as if they were in limited supply, but damn if she didn't load each one before it left her mouth.
The Chicago rumor mill operated as predictably as the Everleighs' regular clients; no matter how gossip began, or where it twisted and turned, it ended up, invariably, at the doorstep of 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street. Nonsense, every bit of it. The sisters had decided long ago to permit no stains, blood or otherwise, on their house.
Neither would the Everleighs add their own voices to the din. Discretion paid—but also had its price.
Even Chicago's newspapers kept their distance from the speculation for fear that Marshall Field Sr. would pull his advertising dollars. He certainly wouldn't appreciate reports that his son, currently laying in critical condition at Mercy Hospital, had visited a whorehouse, even one as dignified as the Everleigh Club. Still, journalists staked out the sisters all week, trying to score something—anything—that would be safe to print. Minna and Ada waited in the front parlor, expecting yet another newsman.
All thirty Everleigh Club harlots remained upstairs in their boudoirs, preparing for the night ahead, running a razor under their arms, down and between their legs—clients didn't have a smooth woman at home. They packed themselves with sponges, made certain they had enough douche, checked cabinets for the little black pills that, along with three days of hot baths, usually "brought a girl around" from any unwanted condition. They yanked and tied each other's corsets, buttoned up gowns made of slippery silk, unrolled black stockings over long legs. Hair was wound tight with pins or left to fall in tousled waves, depending on the preference of their regulars. A dab of gasoline—the newest fad in perfume, if you couldn't afford an automobile—behind the ears, across the wrists and ankles, between the breasts. Eyes rimmed in black and lashes painted, standing stiffer than the prongs of a fork. Each courtesan had a name chosen by her peers. Once she entered this life—the life—she discarded all remnants of the one she'd left behind.
Minna navigated the silk couches, the easy chairs and the grand piano, the statues of Greek goddesses peering through exotic palms, the bronze effigies of Cupid and Psyche, the imported rugs that swallowed footsteps. She had an odd walk, a sort of caterpillar bend and hump, pause and catch up, as friend and frequent client, the poet Edgar Lee Masters, described it. She came to rest before a wide-paneled window and swallowed, her throat squeezing behind a brooch of diamonds thick as a clenched fist. Holding back the curtain, she surveyed Dearborn Street.
Arc lamps stretched up and out, unfurling bold ribbons of light. The air was thick and yellow, as if the varnish manufacturer on the next block had slathered his product across the sky. Visibility was reduced to the next street, or the next corner, or sometimes just the next step. No matter: Minna didn't have to see the Levee district to know what it was up to.
Panders, an underworld term that served as both verb and noun, were outfitted in dandy ties and jaunty hats, lurking in corners and alleys. Eugene Hustion and his wife, Lottie, the "King and Queen of the Cokies," weighed thirty pounds of cocaine and half as much morphine. Soon their salesmen would make the rounds. Funny thing was, Minna knew, Lottie was a college graduate who spoke five languages, and in her spare time composed music and painted portraits.
Down the street, at the House of All Nations, johns lined up at the $2 and $5 entrances—too bad the suckers didn't know that the same girls worked both sides. Blind men cranked hurdy gurdies, spinning tangled reams of melody. The air reeked of sweat and blood and swine entrails, drifting up from the Union Stock Yards just a few blocks southwest. Mickey Finn hawked his eponymous "Special" at his Dearborn Street bar. Merry Widdo Kiddo, the famous peep-show girl, warmed up her booth, breasts twirling like pinwheels behind the glass. Levee piano players—"professors," they were called—cracked their knuckles before plucking out the hiccupped notes of ragtime.
Minna watched a figure turn the corner of 21st Street onto Dearborn, and waited for the solemn gong of the bell. She patted the dark, frizzed coil of hair at the nape of her neck, and reached for the door. From knuckle to wrist to elbow, waist to bodice to neck, she was ablaze in jewels. Diamonds played with the parlor light, tossing tiny rainbows against the wall.
"How is my boy?" she said, her customary greeting for every caller.
The boy this time was Frank Carson of the Chicago Inter Ocean, a once-respected newspaper that had declined in recent years. Minna invited him inside with a slow-motion sweep of her arm. He was no stranger to the Everleigh Club; every reporter in the city knew their phone number, Calumet 412, by heart.
Carson saw precisely what the Everleighs wished him to see, and knew what they wished him to know. Both sisters had a prim, close-lipped smile, genuine but guarded, as if a full-on grin risked conveying complexities best left unmined. The younger one, Minna, was the talker. She spoke in clipped, staccato sentences, shooting words from her mouth—it was so good to see her boy, it had been far too long since his last visit, he should stop by more often. She broke occasionally for a frenetic drag of a gold-tipped, perfumed cigarette. Ada stood next to her sister, quiet. Her eyes were darker, her hair lighter, her figure fuller. Her hands were wind chill cold.
Frank Carson knew they ran a clean place with clean girls; their house doctor never forged the reports. He knew that Sunday was "Beau Night" at the Everleigh Club, when girls were permitted to see their sweethearts, to accept flowers and hold hands, to experience all the thrills of dating as if they lived in homes. He knew there had been a shooting at the Club two years earlier, an unfortunate incident that was no fault of the sisters'. He knew the Everleighs brought a bit of decency to a profession rife with shame.
He knew Prince Henry of Prussia had visited the Club three years earlier and sipped champagne from a courtesan's shoe. He knew they had the ear and the respect of the most powerful men not only in the Levee district, but the entire city: Big Jim Colosimo, Ike Bloom, Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink Kenna. He'd heard they'd come up from Virginia or Kentucky, or a farm someplace in Indiana—Minna insisted that their Southern accents were part of an act. They'd been married, the story went, to vicious, violent men. He knew a fellow Chicago journalist, Jack Lait, declared the sisters were "to pleasure what Christ was to Christianity."
What the reporter didn't know was how avidly the sisters, generally speaking, disliked his gender.
Minna took charge, ordering her boy to please sit and make himself comfortable. Yes—on that silk divan. She and Ada settled across from him. Edmund, the butler, appeared with a flute of champagne, which Carson downed in one zealous gulp. Minna signaled to keep the bubbly coming.
Carson asked what they knew he would ask. If Marshall Field Jr. had indeed ventured into the Levee on the night before he was shot, where else would a man of his stature go but to the Everleigh Club?
Minna and Ada smiled but said nothing.
Had Field, as one nurse alleged, been pierced by a paper knife and not a bullet?
The sisters replied that they had no idea.
If the Everleighs really had no involvement in or knowledge of the tragedy, why not dispel the rumors and just say so?
Edmund arrived on cue, offered their guest another drink. Carson, like all the others, left with a giddy champagne buzz but no story.
But Marshall Field Jr. wasn't dead yet, not in any sense of the word.
***
Chicago was changing. Every day it awoke a new city. Its leading citizens no longer recognized it as the place that had raised them.
The stream of immigration that flowed in the 1890s became a deluge during the first decade of the new century. More arrived every day from Italy and Germany, France and China, Russia and Greece, bringing with them their odd customs and habits, their peculiar religions and strange tongues. They joined the thousands that had descended during the 1893 World's Fair, disreputable men and women who stayed long after the Ferris Wheel was dismantled and Buffalo Bill skipped town. Together these interlopers built their own cities within the city, block after block of gambling parlors and opium dens and brothels where inmates dangled bare breasts from windows and did unspeakable things with animals. What depravity went on inside a dive named the Bucket of Blood? Did a street called Bed Bug Row belong in a town like Chicago?
The horrors were spreading to respectable neighborhoods and solid homes. Young women were no longer content to sit with suitors on front porches or in parlors. Ten months earlier, in January 1905, a teenage girl from a good family guzzled a mug of chloroform and died on the floor of 33rd Street's American Dance Hall. There were whispers about syndicates of evil men, foreign men, who lured girls to the city, drugged and raped them at "clearing houses," and sold them for fifty dollars to enterprising madams.
Advertisements in newspapers seeking secretaries and clerks and leads for musical productions were best read skeptically. The taxi driver could deliver a girl straight to evil's door. The nickel theaters were moral suicide. Not even the ice cream parlors were safe. If things continued as they were, the Levee district would corner Chicago and swallow it whole, this fine, proud city that wielded its triumphs like a scepter and wore its reputation like a crown. Surely the rest of America would not be far behind.
The Marshall Field Jr. shooting was a seismic boom with aftershocks that rattled the Everleigh Club. The sisters would be hit from both sides, the law and the outlaws, two diametrically opposed groups who disdained them for precisely the same reason. The Club was the gleaming symbol of the Levee district, shining too brightly on those who operated best in the dark.
"They were the Angels of the Line," wrote journalist Charles Washburn, twenty-five years after the war over the Levee, "and, as angels, hated and persecuted."
But on that fall night, as Minna Everleigh watched the reporter disappear into the murk of Dearborn Street, she did not fret about what trouble might come, or who would be behind it. She and Ada had work to do: keep books, prepare the courtesans and greet their boys, watching each man admire the seesaw sway of a girl's rear as he followed her up the stairs. Would he like a warm bath, or something scrumptious from the Pullman Buffet, or a favor far too naughty to say aloud?
They ran the most successful—and respected—whorehouse in America, and had no reason, yet, to believe that would ever change."

Something "Hinky" about him
Something "Hinky" about

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