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Beale Street has been playing the blues for more than half a century. Named after an unknown military hero in 1841, it acted as General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters during the Civil War. But, Beale Street’s heyday was in the 1920's, when the area took on a carnival atmosphere and gambling, drinking, prostitution, murder and voodoo thrived alongside the booming nightclubs, theaters, restaurants, stores, pawnshops and hot music. One club, The Monarch, was known as The Castle of Missing Men due to the fact that its gunshot victims and dead gamblers could be easily disposed of at the undertaker’s place that shared their back alley.

In the early evenings, boxback suits and Stetson hats mingled with overalls. Young ladies began to sashay around and inside the bars, gamblers waited for an easy mark from the country to come strolling in, bug-eyed at the ways of the big city. If the mark escaped from the dice or the cards, maybe the rube would fall victim to Little Ora, who was always ready to prove her reputation as the best pickpocket between New Orleans and St. Louis. Or maybe he’d just stop over at PeeWee’s and visit with the musicians, or play a little pool, or secure the voodoo protection of Mary the Wonder.

By mid-evening, the street would be packed and a one-block walk could take forever, especially if he had to detour around the medicine show set up in the little hole in the wall, or if he stopped and listened to the wandering bluesman playing for pennies and nickels.

There was the sight of Machine Gun Kelly peddling bottled whiskey from a clothes basket back before he moved into the ranks of big-time crime.

There were numerous gamblers setting a box next to the card table and sliding a share of the take into it for the church down the street.

There were big vaudeville shows at the Palace and the Daisy, hot snoot sandwiches at the corner café jug bands playing down at the park and one block over on Gayoso there was a red-light district to rival New Orleans’ Storyville.

Good or bad - Beale Street created some memories.

Click here to see the present day Beale Street.




 
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