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Spite (1.2)

Pay no attention to the words; just the image.

Opera Alley is one of Agincourt’s named service lanes; perhaps its first. Running along the south side of The Auditorium (whose first season was in 1895, if memory serves), the adjacent alley became convenient for carriages awaiting those out for a night of dinner and entertainment, this was especially true after the Blenheim opened across First Street, when the two buildings were linked by a pedestrian bridge. Those two conjoined buildings may be among our few claims to big city pretense. So imagine everyone’s consternation when a cat house opened next door. You know what I mean: a “sporting house”, as my grandmother used to say; a house of ill repute; a brothel.

Stockholders in the Blenheim hotel project hoped to enhance their property, increasing the number of rooms by acquiring Mrs Belle Miller’s tobacco shop and thereby achieving a full southern exposure. Mrs Miller’s husband had died suddenly (of pleurisy) in the fall of 1895, leaving few resources beyond her wits. Their shop and the drayage he had operated from a stable at the rear of the property were more than she could manage, so her brother Armand Schert arrived (from Memphis or Vicksburg or some other Mississippi river town) to guide his big sister toward financial stability. His suggestion? Bring some girls and set them up in the remodeled haymow. He would continue the drayage below. And act as Mr Madam?

The Blenheim’s architects had proceeded on the basis of a fourth exposure, so Schert had them over a barrel. It came down like this: The Blenheim would get its bonus rooms. Ten feet would be shaved from the Miller tobacco shop and stable, creating the new alley and giving Miller her own “new” facade (and better access for the horses and wagons); and the Blenheim would pay Miller’s remodeling costs. Everybody won—everyone except the hotel, however: they hadn’t counted on the whores.

See how spite works?

Agincourt’s tradition of “alley culture” (a current buzz concept in my town, too) often attached names related to their circumstance. This stubby stretch of pavement became “Easy Alley” almost overnight and for obvious reasons.


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