Saturday, January 24, 2009

Carrie Watson - Come in, Gentlemen

UPDATE: In a previous post on the house at 441 S. Clark, I accidentally photographed the wrong side of the street. The photo above is correct.

Between 1868 and 1897, Carrie Watson ran one of the world's most famous houses of ill-repute here at 441 S. Clark (since the renumbering in 1909, this is now in the 800 block). Her most famous advertisement was a trained parrot at the door who repeated, "Carrie Watson - come in, gentlemen!".

Carrie Watson (neƩ Caroline V. Storm) was born in 1850 to a middle-class family in Buffalo, New York. Surveying the sad state of the labor market for women, she decided as a teenager to seek her fortune in sin. She moved to the center of all that was sinful in the world, Chicago, in 1866 and took a job as a prostitute at Lou Harper's Mansion. After two years learning the madame business at Harper's feet, she set out with her solid man, Al Smith, to buy the two-story brick building at 441 S. Clark from Annie Stewart, whose run-ins with the law made her persona non grata in Chicago society.

Watson's house usually had around 25 women, experienced, well-mannered, and well-dressed, along with a variety of diversions for the strictly upper-class gentlemen who frequented the home, including a bowling alley, five parlors, and a billiard room. A three-piece orchestra kept the guests entertained at all hours. The splendor of the house made it famous during the 1893 World's Fair.

One of Watson's long-time employees, a Swede who went by the name Annie Hall, illustrated the wealth of the house. She was in possession of a large diamond star necklace worth over $1,500 -- and of which she was robbed not once, but twice. The first time, in 1890, the star was stolen in an assault and robbery by a famous Nebraska desperado, Patrick Crowe, who tried to pawn the item the next day, but was caught by a policeman. Crowe shot the officer, then ran through the streets of the city, firing indiscriminately into crowds, until he was mobbed and nearly lynched. Crowe served five years at Joliet prison before continuing his career as a jewel thief and train robber.

In 1893, the star was stolen again by a customer, and this time for good. The Tribune reported:
She says that a young man who said his name was Robert N. Weatherill called on her Friday afternoon and that together they made a round of the theaters and other places of amusement. At 1:30 in the morning she says that Weatherill proposed she should go to the Grand Pacific Hotel. She registered and was assigned room 253. At 12:30 the next day, she says, Weatherill entered her room, and, seizing her by the throat, pressed a hankerchief saturated with chloroform to her nostrils until she became insensible. He then robbed her of her jewelry, among which was the celebrated star.
Though most of Carrie Watson's clients were society men, and comported themselves well (or at least as well as one can in a brothel), there were exceptions. In 1886, residents heard two gunshots from an upstairs bedroom. When the police arrived and broke down the door, they found a customer had murdered one of the women, then shot himself and fallen on top of her. In another case in 1888, a delirious drunk jumped out the second-story window, stark naked -- a fact which made it into the next day's papers.

Later in life, Carrie Watson began working with Sig Cohen, and then Christopher Columbus Crabb. In 1897, under pressure from the city, she retired from the business and moved to a farm in Kankakee County, where she died in 1904. Crabb then began underwriting Lizzie Allen, who built the Everleigh Club building on S. Dearborn.

Carrie Watson's brothel was destroyed in the first decade of the 1900s to make way for expanded tracks at Dearborn Station, and since the closing of the Station, the property has been redeveloped for residential purposes.


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Celestially said...

Kendall, what is your source for Christopher Columbus Crabb being Carrie Watson’s lover and heir? I’m researching him and others in his orbit, and cannot find any primary sources from the time backing it up. He definitely was connected to Lizzie Allen and inherited her estate, but she died in 1894 and Carrie died in 1900. Would love to learn what you know.

TJWatson said...

You have a few things not quite right about Caroline V. Storms ( Carrie Watson )
She was born in Canada, not Buffalo. In the Port Hope/Coburg area where the Watson family owned a farm and fished in lake Ontario, they were not even "middle class".

If you wish to revise your article, I would be happy to provide information on my great Aunt.

Max Yasgur said...


I am the cousin of Charley Stiles, who was mentioned in her obituary. I am in Chicago and would like to talk to you more about Carrie Watson since I may have some info for you.


Unknown said...

If memory serves,Carries tombstone reads "Perpeptual ease".....Fitting parting shot from a unabashed cyprian who really had no shame in her game.

TJWatson said...

Re:Carrie Watson's Tombstone

Not correct. I only has her married name - Caroline V. Storms and the dates.

To:Max Yasgur ( nice farm you have here, can we destroy it with a little concert? )
Re: info -

I would be glad to get any email is

Unknown said...

My family used to own the house in Kankakee after Ms Watson passed. My father was born in that house (and joked about it).

She evidently owned the house for some time and used it as a get-away for the working girls. It was right on the Kankakee river, but it burned down in the 50s. There is a marina where the house once stood, but the barn was across the creek and was still standing 3 years ago (it had been converted to a home at some point). I actually have a couple pictures of the house if you are interested. One of them actually identifies Madam Watson as the person who had it built written on the back.

Unknown said... is the email address for the above comment. said...

I would LOVE to know where that farmhouse was, I have a report that she did not die at the farm house but in the city of Chicago. I was just at her gravesite last month in Mt. Greenwood cemetery.
I would be glad to get any email is

Unknown said...

Max Yasgur, please feel free to contact me.
I would be glad to get any email is

Max Yasgur said...

TJ - I have sent you a response and would like to collaborate on researching Carrie Watson. Please let me know where she is buried and I would like to order her death record if you have not already done so since it should provide the exact place of death. I have a photo of Charles Stiles and am looking for some of Carrie Watson. I was thrilled to see that he was mentioned in her obituary.

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