The Aunt’s and the “World’s Oldest Profession”
A Short-Short Story…
In the early 1800s, the hectic harbor in Mobile, Alabama was bustling with upriver planters who came to town for the annual cotton-marketing season. Along the waterfront a variety of establishments from boarding houses, hotels, saloons and places know as the Gentlemen’s Entertainment Club, as a group these clubs were known as “Shakespeare’s Row”. During the South’s Antebellum Era prostitution ranked right up there with vagrancy and public intoxication. It later became a prohibition of any disorderly behavior public or privately. The fines for “keeping a disorderly house” ranged from $5 to $10; there were no consistent laws on the subject.
It was during mid-1850, that my Aunt Molly and Modena Veste found themselves visiting a distant cousin in Mobile near the waterfront. They had inherited from their Aunt Ira a hotel outside Birmingham, Alabama and after working night and day for months decided to give themselves a vacation. Leaving the Veste Hotel in the capable hands of their hired staff off the two went on their Mobile Bay retreat. When they inherited their Aunt Ira’s Hotel the entire family encouraged them to turn their lives around and make a living running the upper-class establishment.
It was toward the end of their stay they ventured onto Shakespeare’s Row. Neither Molly nor Modena wavered from having a good time; they walked right into the first Club they came too. Inside they sat at a table, ordered brandy and observed the atmosphere around them. It was then that the idea of turning the Veste Hotel into a “Gentleman’s Club” became an adventure of the mind.
They did not identify themselves with the Shakespeare Row Madame’s, but they did discover since their younger days their need to pander with men. Upon their return to Birmingham they closed the hotel, purchased new furnishings, created a gentleman’s’ room and put their business plan into effect. The Veste Gentleman’s Club was born.
These two women catered to the wealthy, cards, cigars and liquor became the enticement. Upon paying a substantial monthly fee to join and a daily fee before entering deposited at the door would give the gentleman their choice of available “Ladies of Pleasure” or “Ladies of Easy Virtue” for one hour. The city law enforcement agreed to turn their heads to these nightly “Whore Parties” for a reasonable annual tax! A wink and a nod condoned and protected prostitution at the Veste Gentleman’s Club for almost 50 years.
Therefore, my aunts Miss Molly and Miss Modena brought the red-light district to Northern Alabama. It was one of the few buildings left standing when Yankee troops pilfered their way through the south. The women in the hotel were not cheap, but to test the virtuous caverns of the Veste sisters’ could be costly.
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