Thursday, January 9, 2020

HGB Ep. 322 - New Orleans' Haunted Brothels

Moment in Oddity - Masonic Temple Becomes a Family Home
(Suggested by Kim Gasiorowski and Erina Garcia)

Back in 2017, the Cannizzaro family decided to make a big change and this was facilitated with an interesting purchase.  Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro bought a former Masonic Temple in Indiana and have been renovating it into their new home ever since. The couple and their three children had lived in San Diego all their lives, but they wanted a change and thought that perhaps a farm in the Midwest would be perfect. A Masonic Temple is no farm, but when they attended a family reunion in Indiana and spotted the building for sale, they immediately fell in love. The price tag was nice too. They paid only $89,000 for the property. They quickly began renovating, starting with the bathrooms and they installed a shower. The second floor has become their living space, which has the typical open-floor design with a large kitchen and living room connected in that space. The offices were turned into five bedrooms. The great room on the third floor has become a movie theater for the family. The basement is wide open and the couple hope to eventually turn it into an event space for the community. But perhaps they could consider opening it up to investigations as Theresa thinks the house is haunted and has heard the jangling of janitor's keys in that basement. The library is supposedly haunted too. The kids enjoy riding their bikes down there. Turning a 20,000 square foot former meeting place for a secretive male fraternity into a family home, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Yorkshire Ripper Confesses

In the month of January, on the 4th, in 1981, truck driver Peter Sutcliffe confesses that he is the "Yorkshire Ripper." Sutcliffe murdered 13 women over a six year period. He attacked his first woman in 1969, but she didn't press charges. This started him down a road of targeting women with his first murder victim being a mother of four. The women he killed were Marguerite Walls, Yvonne Pearson, Jayne MacDonald, Josephine Whitaker, Wilma McCann, Patricia Atkinson, Helen Rytka, Jacqueline Hill, Irene Richardson, Vera Millward, Barbara Leach, Jean Jordan and Emily Jackson. It took awhile to arrest Sutcliffe. He was questioned and released nine times because he gave a false alibi. The police had zeroed in on him because of a five pound note left at the scene of a murder victim that was traced to a group of 8,000 workers who had been paid with this set of bills. He initially was arrested for having false plates on his car. They found a hammer, knife and rope in his car and he confessed to being the Ripper. He claimed he was a paranoid schizophrenic, but was still found guilty and sentenced to 20 concurrent life sentences. An appeal was dismissed and the court said he would never have the opportunity to be released.

New Orleans' Haunted Brothels

*Special note: The modern accepted vernacular at the time of publication for the term prostitute is sex worker. We will not being using this term, not only because the historical value is questionable, but we find its use questionable. Sex worker is impersonal and dehumanizing to us. We prefer to use Ladies of the Evening or just simply women or ladies. Also, we will be talking about madams. These were the boss ladies of the brothels and we are torn on how to present them. These women were caught up in an industry that they probably had little choice in being a part of and managed to rise to the top. That is laudable. But they also were making money off of women being used for sex. They were better than a pimp, of course, but how much better? We tend to glamorize them in movies, books and history. So we will try to walk that fine line.*


Storyville was about two things: women and music. This area was a famous red-light district in New Orleans that would give birth to jazz. Today, it no longer exists, but its legacy does and the place it holds in New Orleans' history is significant. Brothels were plentiful in this city of vice and some of these structures still stand today. The lady bosses of these establishments are some of the most famous people in New Orleans' history and some of them still have a hold on the city as the subjects of ghost stories. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of New Orleans' Brothels!

When France decided to send some of her citizens to their territory known as Nouvelle Orleans to expand the population, the country didn't pick her best citizens. France sent its criminals. John Law was a Scottish financier who managed to worm his way into controlling this French colony in America. He told the Duke of Orleans that he had a plan to expand the population. It was his idea to send the criminals. He offered the male and female convicts a one-way ticket to the colony if they agreed to marry each other and then they would have land and provisions. One hundred eighty-four female prisoners picked mates and were married. They were then shipped off to the New World where they actually would not have land or provisions. Later, people from hospitals and asylums were sent as well. Before long, New Orleans was a crazy place that was very dangerous.

For women, this new world was just more of what they already knew. Their main prospects were in the sex industry. Over the years, several areas of New Orleans became known as red light districts. The most famous of these was Storyville, which was on the outskirts of the French Quarter. The district ran along Basin Street, between Canal Street and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and between Iberville (Customhouse) and Robertson Streets. The area got its name from Alderman Sidney Story in honor of the fact that he created an ordinance in 1897 to legalize prostitution in the area that became Storyville. The nickname "Tenderloin District" was sometimes used for it. Business ran here in the form of brothels and saloons from 1897 until 1917. Brothels ran the gamut from cheap run-down buildings with cribs to fancy mansions for the upscale clientele. Some of the brothels were segregated, while others had a mix of races. Some may wonder why the city would legalize that sort of activity. This actually was so the city could have some control over a business that was getting way out of hand. Some women would do their business right on the street for very little money with any man that didn't mind a little exhibition. Other women would drag men back to their cribs and either rob them or rob them and kill them and the police would never find the bodies.

New Orleans had a unique guide for the man about town looking for a good time, the Blue Book.
Blue Books were basically guidebooks to sin giving clients all the information they needed for finding liquor and women and they offered venereal disease cures. Not all of them were blue. Some were actually red. The books were pocket-sized and sold in barber shops, hotel, railroad stations and saloons. Hundreds of ladies of the evening were listed and categorized by race. To give you an idea of the contents, here are a couple of examples. A blue book published in 1907 described Madame Emma Johnson’s brothel as "Emma’s 'Home of all Nations,' as it is commonly called, is one place of amusement you can’t very well afford to miss while in the Tenderloin District. Everything goes here. Fun is the watchword." Another listing from a 1905 book reads, "Miss Cummings also has the distinction of keeping one of the quietest and most elaborately furnished establishments in the city, where an array of beautiful women, and good times reign supreme. A visit will teach more than the pen can describe." They were considered lewd at the time, but are pretty tame in our modern world.

A military base was built near Storyville and the rule was that no place of prostitution could be within five miles of the base and so prostitution was outlawed in 1917. Mayor Martin “Papa” Behrman wholly supported the civic implementation of Storyville and traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1917 when there was a threat to shut down Storyville and he said, “You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular.” Many of the former brothels were demolished eventually. Today, only three structures from Storyville are still standing. The Iberville Housing Projects grew up in the remnants of Storyville. These projects were the last of the New Deal era public housing that had been built in New Orleans. They were demolished and today they are a modernized apartment complex called the Bienville Basin Apartments. This is the fourth incarnation of the neighborhood. So finding a haunted former brothel in Storyville is impossible, but some former madams seem to still be around in the afterlife.

Kate Townsend

There once stood a grand brothel at 40 Basin Street in New Orleans before prostitution was legalized and the neighborhood became known as Storyville. This brothel was built by Kate Townsend in 1866. I first heard about Kate Townsend in Episode 59 of the Southern Mysteries Podcast. I encourage you to check it out to get the full story. Kate Townsend was born in Liverpool, England as Katherine Cunningham. She fell for a man she met working as a barmaid and became pregnant with twins. She left for America sometime in 1856 and landed in New York. In early 1857, she moved to New Orleans. Clara Fisher had a brothel on Phillipa Street and she quickly embraced the beautiful and voluptuous Kate, who worked for her for six months. Kate then moved on to Maggie Thompson's brothel where she stayed until she was 24-years-old. She decided to make a go of it on her own and rented a house and made her way into the lives of politicians and influential people in New Orleans. She soon had enough money to built her own brothel, which she did as we said at 40 Basin Street. This was a gorgeous house that rose three stories and was built from brownstone and marble. The marble also made its way inside for the fireplace mantelpieces. The furnishings were of black walnut with damask upholstery and velvet carpet covered the floors. The brothel and interiors cost around a hundred thousand dollars, which is a little over 3 million dollars today. The grandest room was Kate's, of course, decorated with marble statuettes, a French mirror that was gilded, costly oil paintings and the finest linens. Kate's women were the highest paid in the profession and most encounters started at $100.

Things were great for Kate for many years and her brothel was incredibly successful. As we read about Kate, we found that she had a man named Treville Egbert Sykes who was her fancy man for twenty-five years and many stories claimed that they lived as husband and wife. He kept the books and ran the business. Obviously, we had to look up what this term fancy man was all about and we found two meanings. One was that this was a pimp, which doesn't make much sense when talking about a madam, and the other was the lover of a Lady of the Evening. So this Sykes was longtime boyfriend. She started seeing another man and this made Sykes angry, but he was no match for Kate who could apparently hold her own. He made her angry enough, that she told one of her girls that she would basically like to gut him with a knife. This young woman talked her out of that, but she continued to beat Sykes off and on. On November 3, 1883, the Picayune published a story about the murder of Kate Townsend, "Carved to death! Terrible fate of Kate Townsend at the hands of Treville Sykes with the instrumentality of a bowie knife. Her breast and shoulders literally covered with stabs." Yep, Sykes killed Kate. He stabbed her eleven times with her own bowie knife and claimed that it was self-defense, that she had been coming at him with the knife and after he took it from her, she grabbed a pair of pruning shears. Sykes was tried and acquitted and actually presented a will that gave him Kate's estate. Eventually, that went to court and with court costs, legal counsel and such, Sykes got about $34. Kate was laid out in the drawing room in an expensive white silk dress with all the furniture covered in white silk too. She was buried in a $400 metallic coffin.

Josie Arlington

The Arlington was an opulent brownstone opened up by Josie Arlington and was located at 225 North Basin Street. This was an elegant four story mansion with a tulip-domed cupola, numerous bay windows and the interior had the finest furnishings and the works of great artists. There was a Turkish, American and Chinese Parlor. She had anywhere from ten to twenty women working for her with the higher number being during Mardi Gras season. The Arlington wasn't her first brothel. She had operated a house at No. 172 Customhouse. She had a boyfriend through most of her early work and while at this house, but he shot her brother and she broke things off. About this time, the Storyville ordinance went through and she opened The Arlington. Josie was one of the most notorious madams in Storyville, but her brothel was one of the classiest and she paid her girls well at $5 an hour. She had been born Mary Deubler and started her life in prostitution at the age of seventeen. Josie was known to have a quick temper and to be a spunky fighter. Marita Woywod Crandle writes of Josie in her book "Josie Arlington's Storyville: The Life and Times of a New Orleans Madam,"This crafty creature turned the tables from what had been a somewhat scary and dangerous beginning to an extraordinary existence." Josie unfortunately suffered from early onset dementia and died in 1914 when she was only 50. She was originally buried at Metairie Cemetery in a tomb designed by Albert Weiblen. The memorial is a red marble tomb topped by two blazing pillars and features a bronze female figure. The grave became a tourist attraction because of her reputation and her family was mortified, so they had the body moved. But her spirit remains, perhaps because the body was moved. One of the legends told about her former grave is that the bronze female figure leaves its post at the door of the monument and walks around the other graves. And early on, people claimed that the tomb would appear to burst into flames after dark. Two grave diggers said they witnessed the statue of the girl at the door vanish and walk about in the cemetery. And it is said she continues to do that to this day. The urn outside the memorial is said to glow red as well.

Lulu White

Lulu White was the Diamond Queen of Storyville. She was mixed race and ran a very successful brothel, Mahogany Hall. Her place was known for its diversity and wealthy white men loved it. The women here were mainly known as octaroons, meaning they were one-eighth black, and Lulu White was one of them. Octaroon is obviously considered offensive today, but it was an important distinction at the time because of what it revealed about slavery for black women who were raped and impregnated by white masters. And it puts a light on racism as the fact that even having one drop of black blood made one segregated. But as we said, despite the race of the women inside, this brothel was very successful. White had it built for $40,000 and it was described as "unquestionably the most elaborately furnished house in the city of New Orleans, and without a doubt one of the most elegant palaces in this or any other country." A pamphlet claimed her girls were "gifted with nature's best charms." The building stood four-stories and had five parlors and fifteen bedrooms. The exterior and interior were built from marble. Her life began in Selma, Alabama and she came to New Orleans in 1880. She was called the Diamond Queen because she was known to dress in jewels and loved to look glamorous. When Storyville was shut down in 1917, she was left in debt and destitute before leaving the city. She died in poverty in 1931. Louis Armstrong recorded Mahogany Hall Stomp, which is a tribute the place. The building survived most of the other brothels, serving as a department store warehouse until November 22, 1949 when it was razed and turned into a parking garage. Lulu White's Saloon at 237 Basin Street still does exist.

Norma Wallace

Norma Wallace was a woman born in Mississippi who relocated to New Orleans with her mother and brother. For some reason, she announced to her mother at the age of twelve that she wanted to run her own brothel some day. I'm not sure what life she lived, but the prospect of being a woman servicing men and not in control of her life was not appealing, but being a madam was because she never wanted to be reliant on a man. She was so committed that she traveled to Chicago and New York to study under the best madams. She opened her own brothel at 1026 Conti Street in 1917. She had bad timing as the legalization of prostitution was ending, but she still managed to be successful and she was never caught. She always got a tip that the police were coming and she would get out with her girls before they arrived. They did this by connecting a ladder to the saloon next door and they would make their way across the rungs. She had a gangster boyfriend that brought everything to an end when he shot her in front of the brothel.

She lived, but eventually lost almost all her money when the banks collapsed in the 1930s. She started stashing money at the brothel since she didn't trust the banks. The brothel shut down in the 1960s when she was arrested. She decided to convert the place into an Italian restaurant. This was the end of openly run brothels in New Orleans. Norma found out her husband was having an affair and she shot herself in the head. Now it is said that she haunts 1026 Conti Street. There are seven apartments here today and people who live there claim to hear the tinkling of glasses, to smell the scent of cigarette smoke - Norma was a heavy smoker - and they hear music and husky laughter.

Gallatin Alley

Gallatin Alley was a notorious location that is now known as French Market Place. This is a stretch of two blocks that has many shops, but was once filled with saloons, dance halls and bordellos. This was a dangerous place full of thieves, drunks, drug dealers, murderers and, of course, Ladies of the Evening. One would not believe that the ladies could be the most dangerous, but many of them could be. They swindled the men and a few of them were even murderers. These included Mary Jane "Bricktop" Jackson who stabbed many men, killing four of them, Bridget Fury who was also known as Delia Swift and America Williams, who was very tall and got into many brawls with men. It ran this way from 1840 to the mid-1870s.

Smokey Row

Another red light district could be found between Bienville and Conti Streets along Burgundy Street behind the French Quarter that was called Smokey Row. This name came from the fact that this was a district where African American women worked. This was s place where a cheap date could be found with many women working in cribs and charging as little as fifteen cents.These women were hard, chewing tobacco, stealing from customers and drinking rot gut whiskey.

The Creole Gardens Inn

The Creole Gardens Inn is an historic 19th century antebellum mansion that was originally built in the 1840s for the Reverend Benjamin Palmer. He lived here during the Civil War and considered Jefferson Davis his friend. He stayed in the home until he died in 1902 after being struck by a streetcar. Today, this is a bed and breakfast with many remnants of the past. Some of the rooms had been part of the old slave quarters and when Storyville was in full swing, some of the rooms were part of a bordello. Rooms have been named for some of the madams of that era. There is a lot of southern charm here, but there are also spirits. When the inn was been renovated, contracters witnessed heavy doors closing and opening on their own. They also found bathroom tiles stacked very neatly one morning when they had not been left that way the day before. The energy seemed to be fed by guests staying and the activity increased with people claiming to hear disembodied voices, feelings of being watched and they would see shadow figures. The top spot in the inn is Room 2C where people experience cold spots and have been pushed or experienced vertigo.

May Baily's Place

The Dauphine Orleans Hotel sits on land that passed through many hands through the decades, most of whom were rich families. A Charity Hospital spent time there for awhile. This hospital provided care to anyone regardless of race or social status. A red light sits outside May Baily's Place at the Dauphine Orleans Hotel as an homage to its former history and is decorated with Victorian wallpaper and gold accents. This bar was one of the first and most notorious brothels just outside of Storyville. As was the case for many brothels, this one was around long before prostitution was legalized. May Baily was granted her operating license in 1857. Now you might be wondering since this kind of business wasn't legal yet, how did May Baily get that license. Apparently, the police would go around and fine these establishments to get them to clean up their acts. May had no intention of shutting down, so she paid the fines ahead of time and this became a brothel license. That also explains how her's became the first. The building that hosted the brothel was built in 1821. The original purpose of all things, was to be a convent. Several wounded Confederate soldiers died here during the Civil War and many more found comfort in the arms of May Baily's ladies.

One of those former employees is said to still be roaming the halls of the Dauphine Orleans Hotel. She apparently was a courtesan who had a special talent for mixing cocktails for her gentleman callers. And for that reason, most people who have encounters with this spirit, have them in the back of the bar where liquor bottles move about and a shadow is seen in the mirror. She responds most favorably to men, although she has been blamed for locking a few in the bathroom. Civil War era ghosts are seen here too. Many are seen accompanied by a Lady of the Evening. A man in a general's uniform is seen sometimes pacing the courtyard looking rather worried. There are guests who claim to have their beds shaken by something they can't see. Could this be residual movement for something else? The Ballroom hosts a dancing entity that people say is named Jewell and a little orb seen around this spirit is said to be a ghost cat. Patrons see brochures and books fly off of shelves. May Baily's sister Millie lived at the brothel and is seen roaming the hallways and is our Woman in White here. She wears a wedding dress to be specific. People have nicknamed her the "Lost Bride" and it seems she is searching for her groom who was a Confederate soldier that was killed. One of the craziest stories reports a bar stool levitating off the ground.

Two of the main haunts are Suite 110 and Suite 111. Suite 110 likes to keep the guests out. Many times the door will not unlock or it won't open even when unlocked. Housekeeping staff has the most experiences with lots of poltergeist type pranks and the lights are often turned off, leaving them in darkness. Guests complain of having their covers yanked off them at night too. Suite 111 is right above the bar and in this room objects and furniture get moved around on their own. The apparition people report in here is an African American man. People call him George.

The Hermann House is across the street from the Dauphine Orleans Hotel and is owned by the hotel. This home was owned by German born Samuel Hermann, Sr. He moved to the Louisiana colony to chase opportunity and he found it through many investments. He married a woman from a wealthy family and worked as an agent and broker for plantations. In 1813, Hermann and his family relocated to New Orleans and had architect William Brand build his home. It was done in the Federal Style and spared no expense including several coats of paint. About six years after moving into the house, the English Cotton Market crashed in which Hermann was heavily invested. He eventually lost the house. Today, it is a museum known as the Hermann-Grima House. At some point, it was known as the White Elephant.

The White Elephant was quite different then May Baily's place. It was pretty low-class where the ladies stood in the doorways trying to entice the men to come inside. They were not considered very classy. Two of these women were Nellie O'Neal and Eliza Riddle. Riddle was cunning and violent, known to beat up other women. One she clunked over the head on two separate occasions and another on she hit with a lamp. She was arrested at least twenty-four times. There were rumors that men had been killed at the White Elephant and buried in the courtyard. Not sure if Riddle had anything to do with that, but we wouldn't be surprised.

The Hermann House is reputedly haunted. Guests feel cold spots when the AC is off, bursts of an icy wind and the disembodied sounds of soft music playing. Lights turn off an on by themselves and footsteps are heard, even on the carpeting.

Mississippi River Bar

Near to Gallatin Street and on the side of the French Quarter sits the Mississippi River Bar. Locals call it the MRB.This was another tough area of town and at about this point, it seems that most of the French Quarter was this way. Fights were a regular occurrence with the local papers reporting things like a barber striking a journalist "in the left eye with a colt [ . . . ] thereby endangering his life and considerably marring his beauty." The Mississippi River Bar had been a brothel in the 19th century. There was a young Irish woman who was working there and looking for a way to get out. She fell in love with a young man who promised to marry her. He went off to war and was killed. And like so many of these stories, this one ends with her hanging herself out in the courtyard from despair.

Her spirit is said to be here still. She hangs out in the women's bathroom most of the time where she turns the lights off and on and when women are washing their hands at the sink and look into the mirror, they sometimes see the apparition of the woman standing behind them. Now, we don't know how true this is, but some stories claim that some women get their heads are smashed into the mirror. Management has had to replace the mirror.

Hotel Villa Convento

The Hotel Villa Convento is located at 616 Ursuline Avenue and there are claims that it is the most haunted hotel in New Orleans. Many of you have probably heard the song "House of the Rising Sun" and this hotel is rumored to be that very house. But keep in mind that many brothels had a carved quarter rising sun marking them in some way, so it could be argued that all brothels are "Houses of the Rising Sun." The land under this structure was owned by the Ursuline nuns. The Ursuline nun convent in New Orleans is one of the creepiest places when considering it in light of the vampire stories told about it. Diane tells the story of the casket girls. The original convet started with fourteen nuns who were sent to help the poor and sick and to educate the young girls in the city. They built timber structures that didn't hold up in the southern weather. In 1823, they moved to the Ursuline Convent that stands today.

Jean Baptiste Poeyfarre purchased the land from the nuns and built a Creole townhome in 1833. The property was sold in 1843 to Octave Voorheis and he lost it after the Civil War in 1872. The house passed through several hands and was bought by Pasquale Taromina in 1902. The Tarominas lived there until 1946. The widow sold the property and it again passed through a few hands and was converted to housekeeping rooms. Many of the residents were students and they called it Old Town Villa. Fun Fact: Jimmy Buffett was one of those students. The Campo Family bought the Villa Convento in September of 1981. There are a variety of rooms for rent at the hotel running from suites to smaller budget rooms. It was probably during the late nineteenth century that the house served as the brothel.

The Hotel Villa Convento is thought to be one of the more haunted locations here. Many people believe that the main ghost here is the former madam of the brothel. Women rarely experience anything here. Most unexplained activity happens to men. One story reports that a couple checked into the hotel and the husband went out to have a smoke. He was started when he heard his name. It was early in the morning and no one was up, but he still thought he would turn around and see his wife. She was not there. He went in and asked his wife if she had called him and she said she had not.
Later, they decided to head out and explore the French Quarter. They returned to their room and the wife got into bed while the man went into the restroom. He heard a female voice say his name again. This was whispered in his ear and really freaked him out. He actually yelled out and woke up his wife to tell her what happened. They searched the room and found no one, of course.

Guests claim to hear disembodied laughter and feel people sit on the bed that they cannot see. Many times, male guests claim to wake up and see female spirits shrouded in black like shadows hovering above them and staring at them. Kalila Smith wrote, "New Orleans Ghosts, Voodoo and Vampires, Journey Into Darkness" and he also founded the Haunted History Tours in New Orleans. In the book he writes of an experience one of their tour guests told him on Page 64.

The history of brothels, madams and Ladies of the Evening in New Orleans is extensive. It's an important history. Is it a haunted history? That is for you to decide!

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