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.

No comments: