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Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers,…
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Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for… (2007)

by Karen Abbott

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The novel reads like a text book at times. Yet, I found it surprisingly educational. I did not realize how naive I was about Chicago's history. The title is lengthy but the story does focus heavily on the sisters who worked as madams. Learning the city's history always fascinates me. ( )
  godmotherx5 | Apr 5, 2018 |
I found myself harboring serious sympathy for the harlots and madams researched for this book. My bias against Americans' and our tendency to be Puritanical about sex probably had something to do with this; however, at the very least it was entertaining. Abbott narrates her story in a similar vein as that of Erik Larson, author of "Devil in the White City," which was also about Chicago. Very enjoyable. ( )
  gossamerchild88 | Mar 30, 2018 |
SIN IN THE SECOND CITY by Karen Abbot 2007. Follows the career of sisters, Minna and Aida Everleigh in Chicago in the early 1900s in the brothel trade of that era. It is a non-fiction novel like book about the sisters who ran the classiest house in Chicago’s Levee district. Men of substance visited their establishment known as the Everleigh Club. It was the most famous brothel in American History, and even known in Europe. It really was different from other brothels because the girls dined on gourmet food, were examined regularly by an honest doctor and even were tutored in the literature of Balzac. The sisters were quite wealthy and were known by their penchant for wearing huge pieces of jewelry made of real gold and diamonds. The book details the demise of the brothels when politicians at last could no longer turn a blind eye to them, without revealing their own corruption to the voters. Depiction of the brothels as traders in white slavery and the actions of numerous reformers, both secular and religious changed the cultural landscape in Chicago from the perceived Victorian propriety to twentieth century modernity. The book although non fiction is written about the lives of the sisters and the history of the Everleigh Club in such a way that to read it was very like reading a fiction story.
  JanetMcK | Feb 22, 2018 |
Ladies of ill repute are one of my favorite topics, and Chicago is my home town, so this is a natural. The story centers on the Everleigh sisters and their famous/notorious Everleigh Club in the Chicago Levee District at the turn of the 20th century. Alas, it’s kind of hard to tell how much is fact and how much is anecdotal. Ada and Minna Everleigh were extremely secretive about their own lives, and were always loyal to their customers, so author Karen Abbott depends a lot on hearsay.


The Everleigh Sisters ran the most expensive brothel in Chicago – possibly in the world. The entrance fee was $50, at a time when a workingman’s salary was around $50 a week. That didn’t get you anything but in the door (and the bouncers kept out anybody that didn’t look reputable, even if they could come up with the cash). Other houses in the Levee presented you with a row of bored ladies lined up in lingerie – at the Everleigh Club, all the girls were dressed in evening gowns and the parlor was supposed to be a place for conversation (in several languages), music, and discrete negotiation. The upstairs rooms all had themes – the Japanese Throne Room, the Blue Bedroom, etc. The girls got regular medical exams for one of the best doctors in Chicago; any girl could leave at any time, no questions asked; no drug use or drinking (by the girls) was allowed; and there was a waiting list pages long.


The very elegance of the Everleigh Club may have contributed to its downfall. The vice crusaders could apparently put up with hovels and cribs but not with something this deluxe. Author Abbott’s sympathies are clearly with the Everleighs; and most likely rightly so. The tack taken by reformers was racist and sexist, even for the times – the prostitution business was controlled by “Russian Jews” or “garlic-scented Italians” or Frenchmen, who turned good, clean American girls into white slaves. It was also claimed that Chicago was even more sinful than Salt Lake City, presumably based on religious prejudice as I expect Salt Lake City was probably the most vice-free city in North America in 1905. The inability of reformers to find a girl who would testify that she was a white slave didn’t hinder them at all; tracts and books claimed 60,000 girls a year entrapped by procurers. (The statistically inclined might want to calculate the population of girls of the appropriate age in, say, 1905 and figure out what percentage would need to be abducted to keep up with demand; this reminds me a little of the claim of a few years back that millions of children a year were being abducted to serve as human sacrifices in Satanist rites. I imagine the strategy was the same – arguing with the numbers made you a pimp or Satanist). Illustrations scattered through the book depict the downfall of a Gibson-girlish country maiden in the big city – first a casual meeting with a handsome stranger in an ice-cream parlor; then a dance hall (“the brilliantly lit entrance to Hell itself”); then the grave (some things may have been left out in between).


Unfortunately confirmable facts about what went on in the Everleigh Club are scare and Abbott is reduced to various dramatic but unverifiable stories. Writers and poets like Edgar Lee Masters and Theodore Dreiser were reportedly frequent visitors; how did they afford the entrance fee? Did the sisters give them a discount? A millionaire reportedly married one of the girls – a Chinese girl, at that – one would think that would be verifiable. Prince Frederick of Prussia is supposed to have visited, and was treated to a simulated Bacchante orgy in which the girls dressed in skins, tore into a pile of raw steaks supposed to simulate a bloody corpse, then leapt into the laps of the visiting German dignitaries (the same event is supposed to have originated the custom of drinking champagne from a ladies shoe. It might also explain a lot of German foreign policy toward the US, I suppose).


Another annoyance is despite Abbott’s obvious sympathy, the girls are almost always described as “whores” or “harlots”; maybe “courtesans” would have made the book to long?


The Everleigh’s downfall came when they published a brochure. It didn’t show any girls, or even describe what went on in the Club – just photographs of the ornately furnished interior. It was finally too much for the reformers, who demanded action from Chicago politicians or else. With considerable reluctance, the Chicago police shut down the entire Levee. The sisters move to New York, where they started a book club and poetry circle with their presumably clueless neighbors. (The Everleigh Club had been rather famous for having an expensive and extensive library. I can almost imagine myself traveling back in time. Standing nervously in the parlor, I’m approached by a kohl-eyed, saffron-gowned beauty whose musky perfume intoxicates me and whose already impressive décolletage is rendered even more dramatic by her custom corset and sheer blouse. “I’ve been watching you” she says. “You’re the shy, intelligent type – I like that in a man. If you’d like to come upstairs with me, we can do things that you never even imagined”. Rendered speechless and distracted by the caress of a satin-gloved hand, I’m in tow toward the stairs when suddenly I glimpse something just barely visible through my fogged-up spectacles. “Just a moment, Miss; are those books over there?” Ah, well. Feeding the intellect has its rewards, too. I wonder if I’d get my $50 refunded?) ( )
1 vote setnahkt | Dec 19, 2017 |
Fascinating look at the pre-Capone days in Chicago when the city was widely know for its vice. The focus on the high class, world-renowned outfit run by the Everleigh sisters was especially fascinating. If prostitution were to be legalized, their approach makes the most sense. The girls they hired were there of their own free will, had regular medical check-ups and could leave whenever they chose to.

The book also focuses on the problem of the so-called "white slave trade," which today would be referred to human trafficking. Young girls, many just young teens, were entrapped by brothel owners into the business, and were not allowed to leave until they paid off their "debts" incurred by accepting the clothing provided to them, and room and board. After reading this, it makes me wonder if the sex trade will ever be fully halted. ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
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Chicago, a gaudy circus beginning with the two-bit whore in the alley crib. - Theodore Dreiser
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For Laura Dittmar, my scarlet sister
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In the winter of 1899, a train clattered toward Chicago, fat coils of smoke whipping the sky.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812975995, Paperback)

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 Balzac.

Not 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 Investigation.

With a cast of characters that includes Jack Johnson, John Barrymore, 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.

Visit www.sininthesecondcity.com to learn more!

“Delicious… Abbott describes the Levee’s characters in such detail that it’s easy to mistake this meticulously researched history for literary fiction.” —— New York Times Book Review

“ Described with scrupulous concern for historical accuracy…an immensely readable book.”
—— Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal

“Assiduously researched… even this book’s minutiae makes for good storytelling.”
—— Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Karen Abbott has pioneered sizzle history in this satisfyingly lurid tale. Change the hemlines, add 100 years, and the book could be filed under current affairs.” —— USA Today

“A rousingly racy yarn.” –Chicago Tribune
“A colorful history of old Chicago that reads like a novel… a compelling and eloquent story.” —— The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Gorgeously detailed—— New York Daily News

“At last, a history book you can bring to the beach.” —— The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Once upon a time, Chicago had a world class bordello called The Everleigh Club. Author Karen Abbott brings the opulent place and its raunchy era alive in a book that just might become this years “The Devil In the White City.” —— Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine (cover story)

“As Abbott’s delicious and exhaustively researched book makes vividly clear, the Everleigh Club was the Taj Mahal of bordellos.” —— Chicago Sun Times

“The book is rich with details about a fast-and-loose Chicago of the early 20th century… Sin explores this world with gusto, throwing light on a booming city and exposing its shadows.”
—— Time Out Chicago

“[Abbott’s] research enables the kind of vivid description à la fellow journalist Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City that make what could be a dry historic account an intriguing read."
Seattle Times

“Abbott tells her story with just the right mix of relish and restraint, providing a piquant guide to a world of sexuality” —— The Atlantic

“A rollicking tale from a more vibrant time: history to a ragtime beat.”
Kirkus Reviews


“With gleaming prose and authoritative knowledge Abbott elucidates one of the most colorful periods in American history, and the result reads like the very best fiction. Sex, opulence, murder — What's not to love?”
—— Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants


“A detailed and intimate portrait of the Ritz of brothels, the famed Everleigh Club of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Sisters Minna and Ada attracted the elites of the world to such glamorous chambers as the Room of 1,000 Mirrors, complete with a reflective floor. And isn’t Minna’s advice to her resident prostitutes worthy advice for us all: “Give, but give interestingly and with mystery.”’
—— Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City


“Karen Abbott has combined bodice-ripping salaciousness with top-notch scholarship to produce a work more vivid than a Hollywood movie.”
—— Melissa Fay Greene, author of There is No Me Without You


Sin in the Second City is a masterful history lesson, a harrowing biography, and - best of all - a superfun read. The Everleigh story closely follows the turns of American history like a little sister. I can't recommend this book loudly enough.”
—— Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng


“This is a story of debauchery and corruption, but it is also a story of sisterhood, and unerring devotion. Meticulously researched, and beautifully crafted, Sin in the Second City is an utterly captivating piece of history.”
—— Julian Rubinstein, author of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:32 -0400)

A vivid snapshot of America's journey from Victorian-era propriety to 20th-century modernity. 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 at the dawn of the 20th century, the Club welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons into a stately double mansion, and the Everleigh sisters treated their girls far better than most madams. But not everyone appreciated their attempts to elevate the industry. Their most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who sent the 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 FBI.--From publisher description.… (more)

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