To compliment my earlier review, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping, let’s turn the clock forward a bit from 1870 to the turn of the century and Empire of Sin.
Have you ever heard of Storyville in New Orleans? I had only because of my interest in WWI and had read a bit about how the War Department played a big part in making Storyville a thing of the past. Well, Gary Krist has taken on how it was before vice was “contained” in New Orleans, what happened when it was, and how it ended up just another interesting way to deal with vice that was abandoned. The best part is he does it in a way that isn’t all in your face with salacious specifics. It is so tasteful that you could be reading a story about how Detroit became the motor city, a subject much less objectionable.
Prostitution is/was, at the end of the day, a business and in the Victorian era and for a period after it was more or less seen as a needed thing that will-not-be-named in gentile company. So what is an up and coming city supposed to do? New Orleans decided that no longer would the pleasure palaces be scattered around the city willy nilly and while they didn’t think they could lick it entirely, the fine city leaders (some of them brothel owners themselves or at least backed by the owners) came up with the idea to corral it in one specific area. Genius right? Okay, perhaps not in today’s way of thinking, but it worked for many years for them.
There were murders, bumbling cops, paid off city and state leaders, a brothel owner in the State house, and even the aging Carrie Nation came by, set aside her ax, and had tea with a lady brothel owner. It was what it was and Krist’s take on it allows you to learn without feeling like you have to hide the book in last week’s New Yorker.
I said it last time and I’ll say it again, New Orleans has an amazing history of acceptance and in the South at that period of time, that is saying a heck of a lot. Read it…now.