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The Queen of the Gambling Cities
(Part 4 Of 4)



One of New Orleans's pets was the jockey, which three could play at one time using its three coin slots. The Hy-Lo card machines, puffed by the manufacturer as "the greatest draw poker machines ever built. Fill their hands and your cash box" had ardent devotees. The Little Gem, another poker card slot machine, was popular because it offered an additional prize for particularly high hands. Every second nickel dropped into a separate cash drawer, and the man who pulled a royal flush might collect $5 on a nickel play, with a straight flush $2.50, and so on down. The machines were apt to be fixed to prevent anything bigger than a full house (payoff $1) ever showing.

Some machines were so crooked a whole suit was missing on each reel, and the chances of hitting a jack pot remained 2700 to 1 through the years, with an owner bent on extra larceny fixing his machine not to hit a jack pot at all.

Alderman Sidney Story introduced a bill in 1897 intended to confine the lurid life of New Orleans to one part of the city by making prostitution legal there. The result was thirty-eight blocks on the Irish Channel section of the waterfront around Basin Street called Storyville.

Between one and two thousand ladies of joy peddled sin day and night during Storyville's existence at prices running anywhere from fifty dollars to the twenty-five cents charged by free-lancers who walked the streets with carpets on their backs. There were quite as many gamblers as whores in the district. It was in the fancy gambling houses of Storyville that a new kind of music came into its own. In the riproarious section of the roaring city the upstairs were crowded with men satisfying their propensities for love while downstairs the tables were crowded, the bars busy, and the bands gave out the hot and violent rhythms of jazz.

When the bangtails raced at the New Orleans fairgrounds at the turn of the century, it was past a glass-enclosed grandstand with a small section set apart for the scarlet sisters. The winning jockey was required to observe a quaint custom. After being weighed in he went to the steward's box and took a bag filled with bottles of perfume, carried it to the rail and tossed it to the lady of his heart. The spectators roared their approval in good Southern style whether it went to a respectable lady or to a Storyville jenny.

Beginning in 1902 a forty-five-page directory to Storyville was published for some years and sold for a quarter at steamboat landings, hotels, railroad stations, and anywhere else likely to reach visitors. The Storyville Blue Book was illustrated with pictures of the interiors of outstanding brothels, contained gossip on the personalities of the ladies who worked there and hinted slyly at their special talents. Issued for the benefit, as it said itself, of any man "who wants to be a thoroughbred rounder," it put the stranger on a proper grade or path, as to where to go and be secure from holdups, brace games or other illegal practices usually worked on the unwise in Red Light districts."

The big Terminal Station which opened along Basin Street in 1908 gave travelers a ringside view of the sights and sounds New Orleans citizens were used to. When in 1917 the' Army and Navy enforced a regulation that excluded prostitution from a five-mile radius around military installations Storyville would go out of existence, the Blue Book become a collector's item, the scarlet sisterhood scatter, and the gambling houses languish. But jazz had gone forth from Storyville to become part of America.


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