Monday, March 27, 2017

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Aunt Jessie (1885-1952)

La Grange Yellow Pages phone book, 1958
On this date in 1952, Fay Stewart, otherwise known as Jessie Williams or simply "Aunt Jessie," passed away at the age of 67 in San Antonio, just a couple of months after selling the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange to Edna Milton. Her sister-in-law, Eddie Ledda Moody, traveled from McLennan County to oversee Miss Jessie’s burial in Sunset Memorial Park.

Fay Stewart’s parents came from Georgia, moving to Waco well before she was born. The family lived for years on Franklin Street, but struggled after Stewart’s father died unexpectedly in 1886. While it is entirely possible that Stewart learned the ropes of prostitution in Waco's infamous Two Street vice district, there’s scant evidence she was successful enough to own her own brothel there. By 1910, however, she’d moved to Austin and assumed the alias of Jessie Williams, as was customary for women in the sex trade intent on protecting their families’ reputations.

It's somewhat timely, then, that I spent the evening yesterday in Austin (Westlake, to be specific) with a book club discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse. It was a lively and engaging evening, with some outstanding tempranillo along with Popeye's fried chicken and sides--beans, slaw and potato salad--from County Line. Several of the folks in attendance had friends or relatives who'd visited the Chicken Ranch back when it was an operating brothel, and my hosts were related to Col. Wilson "Pat" Speir, the head of Texas DPS and Texas Rangers at the time of the Chicken Ranch's closing. Lots of great questions and discussion throughout the evening. Have I mentioned how much I like book groups? Because I sincerely do!

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Bossa Nova Years
Chicken Ranch Central

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