Karen Abbott is a journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Sin in the Second City, an exploration of the role of brothels in the cultural and political life of turn-of-the-century Chicago. Prior to publishing Sin in the Second City – which took her three years to write and research – Abbott worked for Philadelphia magazine and for Philadelphia Weekly. Abbott, a native of Philadelphia, received her BA from Villanova University in 1995. The critically acclaimed Sin in the Second City tells the story of Chicago’s Everleigh Club, a famous high-end whorehouse that was known as the “finest brothel in the land.” Abbott lives with her husband in Atlanta and is working on her second book, a portrait of Gypsy Rose Lee and Depression-era New York.
Karen Abbott: That’s an interesting question. Definitely. Sometimes I would come across quotes, and it would . . . it’s like something you could have read in the New York Times yesterday. There was a quote from one of Clifford Rowe’s supporters talking about how we can’t . . . “We can’t bend to pressure from the infidels and Jews from Europe. This is a Christian nation. Our courts have decreed it so. We should make sure that our schools are Christian schools.” And it was sort of right when that whole debate was going on about . . . about the Constitution and, you know, prayer in schools and that sort of thing. And it was like, you know, something from Focus on the Family ended up 100 years earlier in these archives I was looking at I do think it will always be the case . . . Part of my . . . One of the main themes in the book I think is the cyclical nature of religious fundamentalism that’s a constant stream for this country. And it’s just sort of as much of our fabric as you know . . . you know the idea that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I mean I just think that that’s something that’s always going to be running through our blood, is this sort of . . . this struggle between these puritanical roots. And I think it’s going to keep reasserting itself, and you know I think we’ve seen that in the last few years too. I mean the fact that a candidate’s religion is constantly on the top of the list of whether or not they’re electable; you know the fact that an atheist will never be elected in this country – not in our lifetime anyway, I don’t think. So I do . . . For the foreseeable future I think it’s something that’s gonna be a recurring theme in our country. That’s a . . . That’s a fun question. I . . . You know I think it came from the Bible . . . you know “to lie with”. You know I think that that evolved into a euphemism to “get laid”. But the Everleigh sisters . . . So of course that’s been around for a very long time, but I think the Everleigh sisters very calculatedly picked their name . . . their surname knowing that it would sort of be adopted as a pun. And although it wasn’t the origin for the phrase, it could be a link to it. And it sort of furthered the use of that phrase. So they just sort of jumped on the bandwagon of it I think; but they weren’t . . . Their adopted surname wasn’t the actual impetus for that, so . . .
Recorded On: 1/22/08