Mary Deubler was born in New Orleans to German immigrants in 1864. From an early age, not only was she considered beautiful, but she was also smart, shrewd, and ambitious. When she was seventeen years old, she began working as a prostitute using the alias of Josie Alton. She also acquired a boyfriend named Philip Lobrano, known for being lazy and useless. Despite this, with her earnings as a prostitute, Josie financially supported Philip and her family.
Easily angered, and with a penchant for violence, Josie soon developed a reputation as a spunky fighter. Always ambitious, she soon opened her own brothel under the name Josie Lobrano. It did not take long for her brothel to gain fame due to her fiery temper, and the rough clientele who frequented it.
With her sharp business acumen and drive to succeed, Josie’s brothel soon gained fame and wealth. But with her fiery temper and tight-fisted rule, a major brawl broke out inside the brothel in 1890 that involved nearly everyone who lived and worked and visited there. During the fight, Philip Lobrano shot and killed Josie’s brother, Peter. He was arrested and prosecuted, but was lucky and was acquitted. She dumped Peter and took up with a new boyfiend named John Brady. The fight and its aftermath so disturbed Josie, that she avoided anyone with a violent nature or who was known for fighting.
Eager for a fresh start, Josie decided to raise the status of her brothel. Her dream was to operate the classiest brothel in the country. To achieve this, she changed her name to Josie Arlington, fired the whores and servants who worked for her, and forever banned fighting from establishment. She hired new prostitutes preferring classier foreign prostitutes with reputations for being sociable, good-natured and friendly. She allowed no shady characters past her doors, shutting her door to all riff raff and criminals. Only distinguished gentlemen were allowed entry. She even gave her house a new name, The Chateau Lobrano d’Arlington.
She was definitely on the right track, because it soon became the richest, most respected, most highly-thought of and preferred brothel in New Orleans. At the first breath of any potential trouble, Josie had the perpetrator immediately expelled, and it didn’t matter whether the trouble-makers were one of her customers or her whores.
Soon, she had enough money for a grander house and built The Arlington, a looming luxurious four-storey mansion boasting sixteen bedrooms and a large round cupola at its peak. It had several parlors and dens. She decorated each one in a different foreign décor – Turkish, Japanese, French, and Viennese, and with the most lavish of furnishings including expensive paintings, curtains, ornaments, and tables and chairs. It gained fame as being the most decorative and costly furnished sporting palace in all of America.
The Arlington is the one with the round cupula on the roof
Josie and John lived a comfortable life there. Her whores commanded the outrageous price of $5.00 per hour. And in the late 1800’s, that was an amazingly high fee considering that most men only earned 22 cents per hour. Only the well-to-do could afford it.
The Arlington catered to the kinkiest tastes, a focus on the odd and unusual, and it featured a live porn show called The Circus in which sex acts were publicly performed. Josie provided specially trained whores for fetishists and sadomasochists. All for a price, of course. Though it had a reputation for depravity, and her house catered to just about anything, she drew the line at deflowering virgins. Even though she could charge $200 or more for the deflowering, she never permitted it. Rather, she bragged that no girl had ever lost or would ever lose her virginity at The Arlington – and she stayed good to her word on that. Her business grew and soon, she could afford to buy herself her own mansion, country house, and even a farm.
In 1905, a fire ripped through the brothel, leaving it ravaged. Josie nearly died in the fire. Temporarily, until she could re-establish her house, Josie moved her business to a few rooms above a saloon owned by one of her friends. It did not take long for the new site to be dubbed The Arlington Annex. The owner was so proud, he had the name painted over the front doors.
With her business uninterrupted, Josie set about renovating and repairing her brothel. She set out to make it even more lavish and ornate than before. ington was even more elegant than before. Having barely survived the fire, Josie changed. She began to shut herself off to society and became a recluse. She moved to her private mansion, leased the brothel to one of her whores, sold off many of her possessions and holdings to her friend who had given her the rooms over his saloon, and purchased a large burial plot in the Metairie Cemetary.
At the cemetery, she constructed an flamboyant tomb of red marble with ornate copper doors. At the doors of the tomb is a bronze statue of a young woman knocking at the door that represents the many virgins that Josie prevented from entering a into a life of prostitution.
Josie Arlington’s mental and physical health went into decline. She became temperamental, unstable, and querulous which sunk into full fledged dementia. She died at the age of 50 and was buried the next day.
The madames and prostitutes and clients of New Orleans sent flowers, but few attended her funeral. A week later, her boyfriend married one of her female relatives, Josie’s father stepped in to contest her will, but the entire estate went to the newlyweds.
Meanwhile, at the tomb, people began to report seeing the tomb burst into flames after dark. The site became a tourist attraction. Then, more terrifying happenings occurred. Two grave diggers said they witnessed the statue of the girl at the door vanish and walk about in the cemetery. This upset the family, so they removed Josie’s corpse to a different grave and sold the haunted tomb back to another family. Even though the cemetery caretakers no longer identify the haunted tomb to curious tourists, it is said that the bronze virgin still takes her walk through the cemetery.
Madam by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin is biographical novel based on the life of Marie Deubler, aka Josie Arlington, the madam of a notorious brothel in Storyville, New Orleans. The story takes place is the late 1800’s and begins with a young Marie working as a lowly street prostitute earning mere coins. She shares quarters and works shifts with another prostitute in Venus Alley, a run-down alley of shacks and crates where whores lay for the poorest dregs of society. She struggles to survive and keep her brother and his wife supported. When she learns the street where she works will be torn down, and a new red light district will open called Storyville, she works hard to re-establish herself there.
Meticulously researched, the book includes important personages of the times, and emits a strong flavour of turn of the century New Orleans. It deals with the political and social climate of the time including racial conflict between whites, blacks, ad Creoles, political corruption, and the modernization caused by the coming of the railroad. Of course there is a strong sense of New Orleans culture with Jazz and food and vibrant life.
From the harsh life on the lowest rungs of social ladder, to the opulence of the rich and wealthy, this novel is sure to entertain. Colorful characters, vivid descriptions, and a compelling storyline kept me turning the pages at a furious pace. And just because this book is about prostitution, in no way does this book disrespect women. Rather, it makes one sympathetic to their plight. I hope to read more books by these authors!