ARCHIVE LIBRARY

ALEXANDRIA’S INFAMOUS “SPEAKEASY”

Brought To You By Michael Wynne

Our many unusual historical places in CenLa continue to astound me with their uniqueness and variety. I cannot understand why some prior historians over the decades have disregarded, ignored, and/or in some cases just made up our incredible history and
heritage when the truth of our history is so much more interesting. We have a fascinating history here with great (and a few not so great) people from the past involved, and we all should really know our REAL history and appreciate it for what it is, not what we want it to be.

I recently discovered that Alexandria, of all places, likely had a “Speakeasy” of sorts. You may ask, “What is a Speakeasy?” A Speakeasy, also called a “Blind Pig,” “Blind Tiger,” or a “Gin Joint,” is a place where alcoholic beverages are illegally sold. In our case, this establishment most likely existed during Prohibition (1920-1933).

A “speak softly shop”, meaning a “smuggler’s house”, first appeared in a British slang dictionary in 1823. In the United States, the word first appeared in a newspaper article on March 21, 1889. The article referred to “speak easy” as the name for a saloon in the western Pennsylvania town that “sells without a license.” Owner Kate Hester told her rowdy customers to speak easy to avoid unwanted attention from neighbors and the police.

But did Alexandria and central Louisiana have its own Speakeasy in the roaring twenties, one century ago? Well, from all available accounts, it surely did, and more.

Not only did we likely have a Speakeasy, but we may have had at least one brothel back then. This was commonplace throughout the United States at that time. Even New Orleans had the neighborhood of “Storyville,” one of the most infamous “red-light” districts in the U.S. where prostitution was effectively legal from 1897-1917.

I was recently given an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of what is hidden from the Alexandria public, a location underground within 5 blocks of the Alexandria City Hall. The tour that I was given was truly one of the most amazing tours of this columnist’s life. (I have been sworn to complete secrecy and cannot reveal the exact location, nor who has control to the location.)

Quite frankly, I found it to be so spooky and eerie walking downward a very tight, very steep old worn marble staircase, lit only by an old light bulb swinging casually from the ceiling. It felt so creepy going into the pitch black darkness, seeing things that haven’t seen the light of day since the time of President Calvin Coolidge and “flapper” girls swinging their beaded gowns and purses. The rooms for what might be a brothel were now partly used for storage, but one could see what could have been the individual bedrooms and bathes and imagine the one time elegant boudoirs. The quietness and seclusion there was astonishing and breathtaking. This was a different world, a world the public did not want to know about, then and now, but was whispered about among a select few. What stories the brick walls and marble floors, the opaque windows and ancient wooden doors could now tell! The famous, and infamous, have trodden the carefully laden tile marble floors. The secret words given for entry, the coded knocks, the transaction of money, the music, all may have taken place here in the seclusion of deep below the ground.

What was probably the Speakeasy part of this underground lair is now walled off, hidden for a future archeologist to find and uncover one day. What kind of mahogany bar did it have, with the back wall lined with the very “freshest made” illegal booze then
available? All here is again locked away, lodged in the unrelenting dark for a future tomb raider-type explorer to one day again uncover.

 

*Photo for illustration only.

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