Archive for February 8th, 2011

Nowhere in this country will you find a more complete and thorough sporting house than the Arlington…Miss Arlington, after suffering a loss of many thousand dollars through a fire, has refurbished and remodeled the entire place at an enormous expense, and the mansion is now a palace fit for kings. –  Blue Book (Third Edition)

Mary Deubler was born in New Orleans to German immigrant parents on February 8th, 1864, and began working as a prostitute in 1881 under the name Josie Alton.  It is likely that the idea first came from her boyfriend Philip Lobrano, a useless man with whom she stayed until 1890 though they never actually married.  Josie was very attractive, intelligent and industrious and therefore had no trouble supporting Lobrano and several members of her family as well.  She was also, however, notoriously hot-tempered and never shied away from a fight with either customers or other whores, and when she opened her own brothel at 172 Customhouse Street in 1888 (under the name Josie Lobrano), the place soon became notorious for the feistiness of both its madam and the employees she attracted.

Since Josie was a shrewd businesswoman the brothel prospered, but the situation was too unstable to continue for long and on November 2, 1890 a free-for-all broke out which involved nearly everyone in the building.  In the ensuing melee Philip Lobrano shot Josie’s brother Peter, and though he was eventually acquitted she would have nothing more to do with him nor with anyone else who had a reputation for fighting.  Changing her name once again to that by which she is remembered, Josie Arlington, she fired her entire staff and vowed that from then on fighting would not be tolerated in her house; she further decided that only “refined gentlemen” who preferred “amiable foreign girls” would be welcome as customers.  She had apparently decided to operate the highest-class brothel in the entire country, and in the minds of many she eventually succeeded.

The Chateau Lobrano d’Arlington soon developed into the one of the most profitable and highly-respected brothels in the city, and though it is highly doubtful that as many of her girls were imported as she claimed, it is unquestionable that they were amiable; Josie had learned her lesson and immediately ejected anyone who caused trouble, whether employee or customer.  So when Storyville was established in 1898, she had plenty of money to build an opulent four-story, sixteen-bedroom mansion with an onion-domed cupola at 225 North Basin Street.  In keeping with her “foreign” theme this brothel, now called simply The Arlington, had a number of parlors decorated in various national styles including the Turkish Parlor, the Japanese Parlor, the Vienna Parlor and the American Parlor; it also had a Hall of Mirrors and several large dens, all lavishly decorated with paintings, hangings, statuary and furniture.  It was, as the Blue Book expressed it, “absolutely and unquestionably the most decorative and costly fitted-out sporting palace ever placed before the American public.”

Josie lived on the premises with her lover John T. Brady (whom she “took up with” soon after dumping Lobrano) and about a dozen girls at a time, although the number could be as high as twenty during Carnival season.  It was one of the most expensive houses, charging $5.00/hour at a time when the average American workman made 22¢/hour.  The Arlington also offered a live pornographic show called The Circus (I shall leave the details to your imaginations) and various specialties, but there was one common request of that time to which its madam refused to cater: defloration of virgins.  Brothels of the day charged $200 or more for a credible virgin, but Josie absolutely refused to participate in this disreputable trade and insisted that no girl ever had or ever would lose her virginity at The Arlington.  But despite this refusal (or perhaps, in part, because of it) the business was incredibly lucrative and within a few years she bought herself a $35,000 mansion on Esplanade Avenue and a country house and farm in Covington (north of Lake Pontchartrain).

Alas, nothing lasts forever; the Arlington was badly damaged in a fire in 1905 and the business temporarily moved to a set of rooms above a saloon owned by Josie’s friend Tom Anderson.  The building soon acquired the nickname “The Arlington Annex” as a result, and Anderson was so pleased by this he actually had the name painted on the front of the building.  Extensive renovations costing about $5000 were carried out and soon the Arlington was even more elegant than before, but Josie’s mind could not be so easily repaired; she had almost died in the fire, and in the years which followed she became increasingly reclusive and morbid.  She retired in 1909 to her mansion, leased the Arlington to Anna Casey and sold many of her other assets to Tom Anderson, then bought a large plot in the exclusive Metairie Cemetery and built an ornate tomb of red marble with elaborately engraved copper doors.  In front of the tomb stands a beautiful bronze statue of a young girl knocking at the door; she is said to represent a virgin being denied access to the interior of the Arlington.  The project was designed by the noted Albert Weiblen and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000.

For the next five years, Josie Arlington continued to decline mentally and physically; she became moody and quarrelsome, sinking into dementia in 1913 and dying on February 14th, 1914 – less than a week after her 50th birthday.  She was buried the next day, and though most of the madams in the District sent flowers the actual turnout at her funeral was very poor:  Tom Anderson, Josie’s common-law husband John Brady, her niece (and chief heir) Anna Deubler, regular client Judge Richard Otero and several representatives of the Sisters of Charity, a convent to which Josie had been generous.  A week later Brady and Anna Deubler were married, and though Josie’s father tried to contest her will the couple retained control of the entire estate.

But that isn’t quite the end of the story.  Soon after Josie’s funeral people began to report that sometimes after dark the tomb seemed to burst into flame, with tongues of ghostly, cold fire flickering across the red marble (some claimed it was due to reflection from a nearby traffic light but this could never be proven).  The site soon became a tourist attraction, and before long these visitors began to report an even more terrifying phenomenon:  the statue of the girl at the door sometimes vanished from her post and was said to walk about the cemetery.  Two gravediggers even claimed to have seen her in the act of leaving the tomb!  Naturally, the family was deeply upset and so they eventually had Josie’s remains moved to a different grave and sold the “haunted” tomb to the Morales family.  Though caretakers of the cemetery have been ordered not to point out the tomb to the curious any longer, it is not difficult to find and though no one has seen the phantom fire for at least seven decades there are still occasional claims that the bronze virgin continues her nocturnal wanderings to this day.

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