Built in 1911, at the height of legalized prostitution in New Orleans, Madam Justine’s brothel on Esplanade was a little out of the way from Storyville, but those who made the trip were never disappointed. Known for its stunning singing Madam and her roster of gorgeous performers, regulars came from across town, out of town and sometimes even from out of state, to savor the rare beauty offered in this unique crib.
Justine DeVille was born in the French Quarter to wealthy 3rd generation Louisiana Free People of Color. She grew up singing in Catholic Church and then was classically trained in the Conservatory at Straight University, that would become Dillard. Her annual trips to visit a Haitian uncle made a lasting impact on her psyche and enflamed an ever growing taste for the wilder things in life.
While being courted by a wealthy New York business man, Justine insisted they go to Lula White’s Mahogany Hall. She absolutely adored the Professor, whom she eventually poached, and found tremendous spirit in all of the girls. Meanwhile, her suitor proceeded to win big at the poker table and in ecstatic drunken moment, pledged his undying love for Justine and promised build her a brothel of her very own.
She loved the business opportunity he provided and they are still friends.
Justine also convinced her sister, Alice, to join her in the venture and so she brings her delicious cuisine to the table.
The House Mother
Her husband and first child were killed in a fire when Colline Maillet Verdin was pregnant with her second child, Miette. As she escaped the fire, she saw one of the perpetrators. Colline stalked him and learned that he fished at midnight on the bayou. One night she shot him. He didn’t die from the bullet but fell into the water and flailing, attracted the attention of the alligator who attacked him and killed him. Colline left that night for New Orleans with help from her native family and moved into the brothel to assist Madam DeVille. She had her baby there and, as soon as she was able, began working for the Madam. Colline did not want her daughter to go into the business and was pleased that Miette did everything that she could to find a life outside of it. But alas, to her dismay Miette fell into the lifestyle. Colline feels guilty for being a negative influence but also knows that they would never have survived without the crib. Over the years, she has fully embraced her lifestyle but still regrets that she hasn’t given her daughter a better life. She wishes Miette would’ve been able to stick it out and keep working outside in the restaurant. Colline looks out for daughter but Miette is rebellious and will not accept advice.
Clementine “Minnie” Lafleur moved to Storyville shortly after being exiled by her staunchly religious family. She was the youngest of 5 girls, all married by the age of 18. Although she was beautiful, most regarded her to be “hysterical” and quite odd. In a last ditch effort to get Minnie “straightened out”, her father, a foundryman, attempted to marry her off to the son of his closest friend. Minnie refused, stating, “All I need is a song. How am I supposed to hear the music when I have a man talking over it all the time?”
Penny Rose was born and raised by her grandparents in sunny San Diego, California and mostly left to her own devices. A founding member of early female rowing clubs, she found herself in the first Olympics to include women competitors in the summer of 1900. She placed silver but would have won, if it weren’t for the cheating Switzerland team. Of the incident, Penny says, “People hate to think Switzerland is rotten like that because they’re all peace and milk chocolate. But guess what? They’re dicks.”
Shortly after, her Meme and Pop were torn to shreds by her pet coyotes, one bizarrely cold night. She never forgave herself and would plain old walk into water and disappear but finds the strength to go on living for the sake of her beautiful and shy sister, Marta.
So she drinks.
The Caged Bird
Maven Louise Marseille was raised in the Mississippi Delta and heavily influenced by it’s style of the blues. She started playing at an unusually young age, to entertain herself, while growing up dirt poor. She remained in dire straights, despite her beauty, until finding herself in houses of ill repute. Her dream is to go to Atlanta City to become an entertainer or maybe even on to New York City and then to Broadway!
Estelle Fontenot, native to the area, was raised by her maternal grandparents, Andre and Talula, after her mother’s untimely death during childbirth. Rochelle Fontenot, was raised with privilege by her parents in their successful store, near the Bayou St. John but preferred sneaking around with bohemians and artist types. It’s rumored that her mother found her way into nude modeling and the studio of visiting French painter, Edgar Degas. Estelle claims to have been conceived on the day of the public hanging of maroon slave leader, San Malo, with whom Andre and Talula secretly worked.
After being offered every opportunity by her grandparents, Estelle stayed close to home, foraging around what became City Park, attending neighborhood gospel services and caring for them.
With their passing, she found her way to Madam Justine’s house and likes being part of the group. Her colleagues opinions vary about her usefulness but most enjoy the herb garden she keeps.
Sissy Kusiak, the youngest of 12 children, was a born trouble maker and sent to the “bad girls” school for her formative years. People say that she straightened out and was allowed to attend the local high school where she met her future husband and professional hockey player, Kyle Donahue. After seven years of what Sissy claims as “marital bliss,” Donahue went missing. Questioned about his disappearance, Sissy was found innocent. She then completed training at the police academy before finding her way to the New Quorum where she can make time-and-a-half working security.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Miette dreams of getting far away and pursuing a career in writing, surrounded by nature and her days filled with fantasies of a life like the one Muir wrote about. If only she could have mountains for muses and currency in the form of poetry. Miette resents her mother for using her body to make a living.
Rather than conforming to a life in the crib, she earned her pay by working at a local restaurant. Waiting tables was an impossible means to save money. Desperate to begin a journey outside concrete streets laden with lustful businessmen, she takes her mother’s advice and uses men to her advantage. Although annoyed with her mother’s constant oversight, she can’t deny that she is impressed with her ability to milk these men for everything they are worth.
Timid and apprehensive at first, Miette found herself successful. Through this new business venture, she is aware of her own sexuality and likes the work. After a few months and some bountiful encounters, Miette finds it harder and harder to leave the home she not-so-long ago begrudged.
Now that she is in business, the other women are not keen on the additional competition, especially from a girl who is not yet 17.
Marta Rose was born somewhere in the Southwest. Her family were fairly itenerant, due to her alcoholic pharmacist father killing at least one woman dues to poorly managed prescriptions. After Marta’s sister Penny was born, their mother sent them to live with their grandparents in San Diego. Being used to a life on the road, Marta was anxious to leave Southern California and traveled east with her “fiancé” Felix. Arriving in New Orleans, Penny decided to end their “engagement” when Felix left the city with another woman, leaving Marta with nothing but a deep suspicion of others.
Her colleagues have seen a marked improvement in Marta’s disposition, mostly after cocktail hour, since she was joined by her younger sister Penny. They are a family once again.
Aurora Butte is a child of the Wild West. Born in Dakota territory to an outlaw mother who was in prison for her role in a botched bank robbery, she was raised on the inside by guards and their Doberman unil the age of six. The duo got a new lease on life when the prison veterinarian fell in love with her mother and convinced the parole board to reduce her sentence for good behavior.
The vocabulary and people skills Aurora acquired in prison helped her excel in the public school system. She graduated at the age of 14 with a perfect score on the SAT but no real marketable skills. She heard tales of Louisiana as a steamy paradise where drinking is a profession and women make up their own rules, and she set her sights south.
Though not quite the “ladies who lunch” type, Aurora appreciates elegance and she likes daytime drinking. Working at the crib gives her access to the finer things in life. Her obsessive compulsive disorder (attention to detail) makes her an excellent security guard, and she enjoys working with the girls. She and Estelle hold mandatory Safety meetings in the garden, and she dreams of one day being as cultured and elegant as the Madam.