Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Sin in the Second City"

Karen Abbott has worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for and other publications.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her widely acclaimed book, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul, and reported the following:
Sin in the Second City tells the true story of two sisters, Madams Minna and Ada Everleigh, who operated the world’s most famous brothel at the turn of the last century. The aristocratic (or so they said) Everleigh sisters welcomed literary luminaries, actors, and visiting royalty into their stately mansion, where 30 well-trained “butterflies” awaited their arrival. While other madams robbed clients and whipped their courtesans, the Everleighs tried to inject a bit of decorum and class into the world’s oldest profession, feeding their girls gourmet meals, sending them to an honest doctor, and even tutoring them in the poetry of Longfellow. But the Everleighs had many secrets and even more rivals, including jealous fellow madams and reformers who spread lurid tales of “white slavery.” This culture war rocked the nation and had repercussions all the way to the White House, even leading to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I think page 69 is nicely representative because it details some of the ways the sisters tried to elevate the industry, which, ironically, is what led to their downfall; reformers seized upon the Club as the shining symbol of open and protected vice.

They came to see the ballroom, with its towering water fountain, parquet floor arranged in intricate mosaic patterns, and ceiling that dripped crystal chandeliers. They came to see the little oddities that made the Club like no place else in the world: gilded fishbowls, 18-carat gold spittoons that cost $650 each, and the Everleighs’ signature trinket—a fountain that, at regular intervals, fired a jet of perfume into the thickly incensed air.

They came to see the library, filled floor to ceiling with classics in literature and poetry and philosophy, and the art room, housing a few bona fide masterworks and a reproduction of Bernini’s famous “Apollo and Daphne,” which the sisters had failed to find in America. After learning that the original statue was at the Villa Borghese in Rome, Minna sent an artist to capture its image. She was haunted by how the exquisite nymph’s hands flowered into the branches of a laurel tree just as the god of light reaches for her. A gorgeous piece, but she mostly admired the statue for the questions it posed about clients: why did men who had everything worth having patronize the Everleigh Club? And what if the thing they desired most in this world simply vanished?
Read an excerpt from Sin in the Second City, and learn more about the book and author at Karen Abbott's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue