fabulous chicago

[fabulous chicago]

[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from
Fabulous Chicago
by Emmett Dedmom

The pride of the Levee and its showplace was the Everleigh Club, an elegant mansion under the direction of Ada and Minna Everleigh. The Everleighs were two upper-class Kentucky girls with ambitions to go on the stage and a remarkable precocity for the profession of a Madame. When the Everleigh Club opened its doors, Ada was twenty-three and Minna just twenty-one. Their scale of prices began at $50, unheard of even on the free-spending Levee. "I've heard of southern hospitality," one of their competitors sneered, "but not at these prices." Minna set the tone of the club. Girls were given daily instructions in etiquette and told to use the library which had been installed. "Be polite and forget what you are here for," Minna told them without conscious irony. "Stay respectable by all means; I want you girls to be proud you are in the Everleigh Club." She explained bluntly that the sisters had no time for the "rough element, the clerk on a holiday or a man without a checkbook."

"She must have worked somewhere else before coming here. We do not like amateurs. To get in a girl must have a pretty face and figure, must be in perfect health, must look well in evening clothes and must understand what it is to act like a lady." To this Minna added, "Don't forget -- entertaining most men at dinner is more tiring than what the girls lose their social standing over." Minna regarded her girls as members of a professional class. They accepted fees for services rendered, she explained, and did not sell themselves "as these eggheads keep shouting."

Patrons of the Everleigh Club were entertained genteelly in one of a number of elegant parlors bearing such names as the Moorish, Japanese, Egyptian or Chinese and decorated appropriately. There were Silver and Copper parlors for the mining kings who came to call and a famous Gold Room which was refinished each year in gold leaf and polished industriously every day. The sisters established these parlors on the theory that "the contemplation of deviltry" was more satisfactory than its performance. Dinners were sumptuous affairs and always accompanied by champagne. Although banjos were the favored instrument for music in many Levee houses, the Everleighs preferred a small ensemble of a violin, cello, piano and occasionally a harp. The piano player received sizable sums from music publishers for popularizing new songs with the select crowd which visited the Everleighs. Both sisters had a fondness for reporters. Newspapermen had the freedom of the house. The sisters let it be known that they preferred the reporters avoid the upper floors but there was no absolute rule even about this. On Christmas Eve there was always a party for the press with much champagne, dancing and small but valuable gifts for the guests.

The Everleighs were both sentimental. Their name was a pseudonym fashioned from their grandmother's letters which concluded "Everly yours" and Minna's fondness for the poems of Sir Walter Raleigh. The sisters were offended when no one praised them for "such noble gestures" as donating Sunday nights to old-fashioned romance. Sunday was Beau Night and the girls were permitted to entertain their sweethearts as if they had been receiving them in more conventional surroundings. Every Sunday evening a parade of swains bearing candy, perfume and flowers would file into the Everleigh Club, where the evening would be spent in the manner of much less sophisticated sweethearts.

The genteel approach of the Everleighs had its hazards. One of these was gambling. Realistic Minna thought that any man would rather gamble than spend his time with women. "Admitting that women are a risk," she told Charles Washburn, her biographer, "I still say that men prefer dice, cards or a wheel of fortune to a frolic with a charmer. I have watched men, embraced in the arms of the most bewitching sirens in our club, dump their feminine flesh from their laps for a roll of the dice." With such experiences in mind, Minna placed a half-hour limit on gambling. Besides, she said, it was illegal.

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