When I was in the eighth grade I was a school crossing guard, a patrol boy. I wore a wide belt with a silvery buckle and a strap across my shoulder. I stopped traffic and led the younger kids across the street. A position of power and responsibility. The perk for patrol boys was The Patrol Boys Picnic, a school day at the local Kennywood amusement park. Several weeks before the picnic a park person came to my school and sold us ride tickets. The limit was 50 tickets – $2.50. The thrill rides like the roller coaster cost 5 tickets. The Tilt-a-Whirl and the Dodgem Cars were 4. Three ticket rides were pretty sedate. It was a wonderful day.
Not Your Average Amusement Park
Fifty years later I am telling the stories of another amusement park; one for adults. It was called Storyville or the Sporting District of New Orleans. It ain’t der no mo’. For almost two decades, 1898-1917, Storyville was New Orleans’ experiment in controlling vice. Twenty-five “scarlet” blocks in the back of town designated for all those things we make illegal but can’t seem to make unpopular. Two thousand prostitutes worked in Storyville in some 230 brothels. They ranged from 25 cent cribs in the back, through $3-$5 parlor houses in the middle, to the $10-$15 mansions fronting Basin Street (multiply by 25 for today’s dollars!).
By law, the women had to work AND live in Storyville, paying rent to “the landlords of boarding houses for women”. Think Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, sort of. There were grocery stores, drug stores, a school (prostitutes had “trick” babies). Storyville had a Catholic church and even a Door of Hope mission for those seeking redemption. There were dozens of dance halls and bars where the early jazz musicians played until the sun came up.
Currency of the Realm
Brothel tokens were the currency of the realm in the mansions of Storyville just as ride tickets were at Kennywood Park. They embossed the “head” or obverse side with the name and an ad for the house:”20 pretty women of all nations who are clever entertainers. Everything goes – pleasure is the watchword.” The “tail” or reverse side was embossed “Good for one”, “Good for all night”, “Room Check Good for All Night.” Brothel tokens were not unique to Storyville.
Brothel tokens paid for sex and made sense. Just as Kennywood’s money-tickets-money cycle secured the cash from disappearing so did brothel tokens. And you always kept a couple of tickets as souvenirs.
If you enjoyed this post you will love The Savvy Native’s Mafia, Murder, Sex and All That Jazz Tour. We will keep you safe with private small group tours. Our tours are now available only to “familiar groups” of 1-4 or 5-8 guests. No mixed bookings. We can’t wait to show you around!
A great big thanks to David Feldman, one of New Orleans’ extraordinary storytellers, for this post.
The Savvy Native is a group of experienced local tour guides who were either born in New Orleans or wish they had been.
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