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: It’s about Gypsy Rose Lee, and Depression era New York, and prohibitionary New York. And she was a really interesting lady. I got interested in her because she . . . she was in New York the same time the Everleigh sisters were. And it was . . . of course they were winding down. They had just retired and they were trying to become anonymous again and disappear. And she of course was at the other end of the spectrum and trying to gain . . . You know become notorious and sort of reaching her pinnacle of her career. And I’m really attracted to women who sort of have to . . . who weren’t privileged enough to be born into something . . . into something great. They have to make something of themselves. And I think they were of similar circumstances in that regard. She also, you know, took this profession that was considered sort of tawdry and dirty and elevated it. She became known as . . . You know she was friends with H.L. Mencken, and Conde Naste, and Walter Winchell and all these New York glitterati, and was this famous strip tease artist who never really stripped. You know she . . . She took off a glove, she lifted her skirt, and she quoted . . . she quote Shakespeare and everybody just loved her and laughed. So there’s that, and there’s also the political aspect of it too. I’m really interested in the way cities are shaped. And New York of course at the time was really fascinating. You know Tammany Hall was about to fall, and LaGuardia was about to begin his assent, and FDR was running for President. And you had Lucky Luciani and all these characters running around, and the literary scene was flourishing. And now … Roundtable and all that. So it was another sort of cast of characters that’s going to weave in and out, so . . .
Recorded On: 1/22/08