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October 10: The Storyville Red Light District

October 10, 2014
mahoganyhallad At the urging of the federal Department of the Navy, Martin Behrman, the longest-serving mayor in the history of New Orleans, shuttered Storyville, the four-block red light district of his city, on this date in 1917. Born in New York, Behrman had lived in New Orleans since the age of seven months, and his political machine brought many improvements to New Orleans, including its sewage and water systems, new streets and schools, improved drainage, the creation of the city’s port. Storyville is often cited as the birthplace of jazz; Louis Armstrong grew up there. Although it was established in 1897 to confine prostitution to a sector of New Orleans, “Storyville made prostitution and sporting culture more visible rather less, and cemented the city’s reputation for promiscuous pleasure and illicit sex,” according to Knowla, the Encyclopedia of Louisiana. “Storyville’s promoters... even published guidebooks. Known collectively as the Blue Books, they listed the brothels and the women within according to race: ‘W’ for white, ‘C’ for colored, and ‘Oct.’ for octoroon. Some editions listed ‘French’ and ‘Jewish’ women.” “The U.S. has always had a particular city dedicated in the national imagination to exotic sex. Until 1917, that was New Orleans because of its unique (for the U.S.) racial mixing. When Storyville closed, that site moved to Havana, where it remained until 1959.” —Erik Loomis, Lawyers, Guns & Money