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The Everleigh Club at 2131-2133 South Dearborn Street, Chicago.
Photograph from Minna Everleigh's 1911 book "The Everleigh Club, Illustrated"
The Everleigh Club was a high-class brothel which operated in Chicago, Illinoismarker from February 1900 until October 1911. It was owned and operated by Ada and Minna Everleigh.

Opening of the Everleigh Club

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.marker, who suggested they contact Effie Hankins in Chicago. 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, mirrored ceilings, mahogany tables, gold rimmed china and silver dinnerware, perfumed fountains in every room, a $15,000 [equivalent to $369,205 in 2007] gold-leafed piano for 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 "probably 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 brothel opened on February 1, 1900 with little fanfare, and turned away many of the clients who initially appeared because the Everleigh Sisters did not deem them suitable for the clientèle they were seeking. Once the club was open, Ada, who was quieter and more reserved than her sister, took on the responsibility of making sure the club was kept up to standards. She oversaw cleaning and renovations. Ada was also very much taken with the gold leaf piano in the Club and once claimed she rejected a suitor because he disapproved of the piano.

The club's heyday

The clientèle of the Everleigh House included captains of industry, important politicians and European nobility and royalty. Among their clientèle were Marshall Field, Jr.marker, Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, Ring Lardner, John Warne Gates, Jack Johnson, and Prince Heinrich of Prussia.

The Everleigh club's Japanese throne room
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 Heinrich of Prussia visited the Club while in the United States to pick up a ship built for his brother, German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Although the city had sponsored numerous events for Heinrich, 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.

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.

Standards at the brothel

The Everleigh sisters had standards for their employees:

  • "To get in, a girl must have a pretty face and figure, must be in perfect health and must look well in evening clothes."
  • "Be polite and forget what you are here for. Gentlemen are only gentlemen when properly introduced.... The Everleigh Club is not for the rough element, the clerk on a holiday or a man without a check book."
  • Their employees had to come to the house of their own free will; the Everleigh sisters would not deal with pimps, panderers, white slavers, or parents eager to sell off their daughters.
  • Girls needed to prove they were 18 years old and undergo regular exams by a doctor.
  • Drug use was grounds for terminating a girl's employment.


This led to many prostitutes desiring employment with them, as the girls would have a safe environment to work in, good accommodations, and better clientèle. When Everleigh House opened, admission was $10 (the equivalent of $246 in 2007), dinner was $50, a bottle of champagne $12. Private time with one of the girls was another $50. The prices only went up from there, so that it was difficult for a caller to leave without spending at least $200. A decent working wage at the time was $6 a week.

Closing the brothel

Following a 1910 Vice Commission report that noted there were nearly 600 brothels in Chicago, Mayor Carter Harrison, Jr. ordered the Everleigh Club to be closed on October 24, 1911. The sisters retired with an estimated million dollars in cash (the equivalent of almost $22,000,000 in 2007) and traveled in Europe before eventually changing their name back to Lester and settling in New York Citymarker. When their brothel business closed, Ada was 45 years old and Minna was 47 years old.

Minna, always the more outspoken of the two, responded philosophically, stating "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. She later stated "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."

Shortly after the brothel was closed, Everleigh testified against Chicago aldermen "Bathhouse" John Coughlin and "Hinky Dink" Kenna. Although Everleigh announced she would make her testimony public, threats by "Big Jim" Colosimo to kill Minna and her sister if the testimony were made public kept her silent. Nevertheless, Chief Justice Harry Olson of Chicago's Municipal Court released her testimony which outlined the schedule of graft due to the aldermen in return for allowing operations to continue in the Levee District.

The building which housed the Everleigh Club was eventually razed in July 1933. Today, a public housing project stands on the site.

Notes

  1. Abbott (2007), p. 7
  2. The Inflation Calculator
  3. City of the Century, PBS
  4. Asbury (1940), p. 250
  5. Abbott (2007), p. 18
  6. Abbott (2007), pp. 70-71
  7. Lloyd Wendt (1974), p. 321
  8. Abbott (2007), pp. 75-77
  9. Abbott (2007), pp. 90-91
  10. Asbury (1940), p. 253


References

  • Abbott, Karen (2007) Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul. New York: Random House ISBN 9781400065301
  • Hermann, Charles H. (1945) Recollections of Life & Doings in Old Chicago: from the Haymarket Riot to World War I; by An Old Timer (Charles H. Hermann). Chicago: Normandie House; pp. 240 ff.
  • Hibbeler, Ray (1960) Upstairs at the Everleigh Club. Volitant Books
  • Kanin, Garson (1980) Smash. New York: Viking
  • Masters, Edgar Lee (1944) "The Everleigh Club" in: Town & Country, April 1944
  • Wallace, Irving (1965) The Sunday Gentleman. New York: Simon & Schuster
  • Wallace, Irving (1988) The Golden Room
  • Washburn, Charles (1936) Come Into My Parlor: a biography of the aristocratic Everleigh Sisters of Chicago. Knickerbocker Publishing
  • (reissued under title Bosses in Lusty Chicago, 1967 by Indiana University Press, Bloomington ISBN 0253201098; reissued as Lords of the Levee, 2005 by Northwestern University Press, Evanston ISBN 0-8101-2320-7)


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