AN ODD COUPLE?
How did a literary giant get mixed up with a River City
brothel queen? The wordsmith in question was Stephen Crane, the
highly influential writer of "The Open Boat" and The Red Badge of
Courage. And proving a most interesting character in her own
right was a Jax madam often considered to have been his common-law
wife. She was Cora Crane, also known as Cora Taylor or Cora
Her biography should be made into a movie. Cora hailed
from a proper Boston family, but her life's story included arms
smuggling, a murder case, marriage to an English baronet's son, the
operation of a swank bordello, hobnobbing with literary luminaries, and
reporting on a foreign war during a era when women were usually
expected to be seen, but not really heard.
Cora and Stephen Crane loved to party. Not surprisingly,
the picture above was taken during a benefit bash on
August 23, 1899. It depicts
the couple at Brede Place, a medieval estate they rented
in England. The manor featured a dungeon, a gallows room, and the
wailing ghosts of children who were supposedly eaten for supper several
hundred years ago by "The Brede Giant," Sir Goddard Oxenbridge.
There's another portrait of Cora a few inches below on this
webpage. It dates from about 1902, according to the Florida State
Archives. Or it may come from around 1886, as indicated
in the fascinating book Cora Crane: The Biography of Mrs.
Stephen Crane, by the late Riverside
Lillian Barnard Gilkes.
HERE for a possible Cora picture
For additional photos, see the many links
a look inside a local house of ill repute, 100 years ago!
Cora Crane was a person of ability:
She built and managed Jacksonville's largest bordello, she published
short stories in several of the nation's leading magazines, and she has
called the world's first female war
correspondent. Cora proved a
sophisticated conversationalist with immense personal magnetism.
considered a gifted cook, and she enjoyed drawing.
She even designed an improved filter for water canteens after reporting
on the Greco-Turkish wars. And to top all of this off, she
attracted a renowned young author as the love of her life.
was unrest in Cuba that set the stage for the romance between Stephen
and Cora Crane. These military difficulties later culminated in
the Spanish American War and the acquisition of the island by the
U.S. Also owing to the Cuban troubles, Stephen penned
"The Open Boat," a tale from
1897 that has been called the finest short story in the English
raged in Cuba as it tried to break away from Spain. Most
Americans supported the rebels, and gunrunners illegally shipped arms
& supplies to them. Jacksonville served as the center for the
smuggling. Well remembered, for example, are the tugboats the Dauntless
Three Friends, with its mournful nighttime whistle. The
latter vessel was operated by a Duval County sheriff and future Florida
governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward. The authorities usually
winked at the unlawful activity.
Stephen Crane came to the River City in 1896
to cover the action.
The New Jersey native
was only in his mid 20s but already a celebrated
author and newspaper correspondent. Befitting his station, he
lodged at the best local hotel, the St. James, which stood where City
Hall (the St. James Building) is located today. Jacksonville
offered Stephen a much needed break from problems he had
recently experienced in New York City. He landed in hot water
there when he vigorously supported in court a young woman harassed by
the police. Stephen had interviewed several chorus girls one night for a series
of articles about the metropolis. After leaving a restaurant at 2
a.m., he and his party were stopped by an officer, Charles Becker, who
arrested a lady in the group on a charge of soliciting. Indeed,
she was a prostitute, but she actually hadn't been plying her trade
when nabbed. Local papers had a field day with Stephen's
denouncement of the cop and defense of the defendant.
A police disciplinary committee finally exonerated Officer Becker,
while the media still debated Stephen's character. The episode
spelled the end of the writer as a working reporter in New York
City. He literally couldn't set foot there without facing bogus
police charges, according to a "Booknotes" interview with Linda Davis,
author of the acclaimed work Badge of Courage: The Life of Stephen
later, in 1915, Charles Becker distinguished himself in a most
notorious way: He became one of the very few law enforcement
officers in America history who has been executed for murder.
Witnesses fainted as his death in the electric chair required three
separate jolts over eight minutes.
Lieutenant Becker had been convicted of
complicity in the killing of his gambling partner.
His court trials proved the most sensational in New York
City's history and garnered worldwide attention, according to
CrimeLibrary.com. The case also left the police department a
Jacksonville figured heavily in
Stephen Crane's life. One evening in the St. James dining room,
the author encountered the captain of the Commodore. This
was a ocean-going steam tug that illegally shipped weapons, clothing,
and medicine from Jax to Cuba. Stephen quickly signed on as a
completed The Red Badge of
Courage, a brutally
realistic account that is sometimes considered the greatest novel ever
written about the Civil War. Stephen, however, had never seen war
in real life. The Commodore might give him his first
chance. With financial support from New York newspapers, he
chartered and outfitted the vessel in Jacksonville. He hoped to
make a quick run to the Caribbean island, but fate would intervene in
the form of mudflats and sandbars.
SOMETHING ABOUT CORA
long after Stephen came to the River City, he met Cora Taylor under
rather unusual circumstances: Using an alias, the writer visited her
brothel with two friends. The proprietress initially didn't
know the true identity of the boyish-looking man with piercing
eyes. When it was revealed later that night, Cora was thrilled! She had
The Red Badge, as well as
Stephen's novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.
Gritty and controversial, Maggie told of a girl who "blossomed
in a mud puddle," only to have urban poverty force her into
prostitution and eventual suicide.
Cora jumped at the opportunity
for the author to sign George's Mother, another of his books
that she had just finished. Stephen penned in her volume, "To an
unnamed sweetheart." This meeting bloomed into the most important
romance of their lives. Within a week, Stephen moved out of the
St. James and in with Cora, six years his senior. Twice-married
and once divorced, Cora owned the Hotel de Dreme, a classy bordello in
La Villa. This name conjures up steamy, fantasy-filled nights,
but the moniker actually originated with
a previous proprietress, Ethel Dreme.
Born in 1865, Cora hailed from
a polished, well-to-do Boston family, headed by an artist, her
father. However, the young lady grew alienated from her
relatives. Intensely curious about things, she exhibited a craving to
escape from the commonplace, according to
author Lillian Barnard Gilkes. In other
words, Cora felt an almost maddening desire to test all aspects of
living. During an age when few women owned a business of any
kind, for instance, she possessed one that most people considered
outside the bounds of decent society.
Earlier, she had also served as a hostess at a gambling
house. On the coin's flip side, she had shopped for clothes
in Paris and journeyed to Constantinople on the Orient Express, as
noted by Linda Davis, the Stephen Crane chronicler. Through thick and thin, Cora
stuck to her guns. She proved poised and resolute, condemning
pessimism as "the religion of the unsuccessful." She
observed, "I am a strange woman to whom fear of many kinds is
unknown. I could dare, or do, some strange things without
flinching if I were driven." And she often seemed driven.
Boasting an ample figure and long,
reddish-gold hair (its natural color), Cora arrived in Jacksonville in
No doubt townsmen took quick
notice of this short, pretty lady with soft, blue-gray eyes.
Cora was the estranged wife of an English
military officer, Donald Stewart, whose father, a baronet, had
commanded all of the British forces in India. What drew Cora to
the Gateway to Florida? There were a variety of rumors: She
may have come as the traveling
companion of English investors in the orange
industry, or she might have accompanied wealthy
abandoned her here, but not before endowing her
with generous parting gifts. Then again, perhaps
she was intended as the mistress for a Jax politician.
In any case, Cora picked up the name "Taylor" during this time.
According to gossip, she was possibly the common-law wife of a local
man named Allen Taylor. The 1895 city directory does show a
person by this name, living in East Jacksonville and working for the
railroad. He might have been a short-term resident, for he
doesn't appear in any of the other directories from 1893 to 1898.
THE HOTEL de
Cora embarked on a new life
in the River City, but the
change meant severe repercussions for her. As the Jacksonville
Metropolis later noted in her obituary, "She plunged into the life
with a restlessness that would ostracize her from society and forever
banish her from her relatives in the North."
Striking out on her own, Cora
opened the Hotel de Dreme in a refurbished old building. Its
neighborhood, La Villa, consisted primarily
Americans, along with some Hispanics and whites. (A Caucasian
ancestor of the JacksonvilleStory.com
manager lived there during the time of the
Great Fire, working in the Florida Times-Union production
Cora's establishment dispensed its pleasures at
the southwest corner of Ashley and Jefferson (then called Hawk
Street). Both locals and visitors made tracks to this upscale
enterprise, which trumpeted its name in large, gleaming gold letters on
a semi-circular sign over the front door. The business operated
as a combination of an inn, nightclub, and
bordello that offered beer & champagne, but no hard
liquor. Back at the St. James Hotel, the head clerk handed out a
list of local brothels to visitors, and this guide gave the Hotel de
Dreme a class-A rating.
for Cora's hotspot!
houses traditionally provided a pianist called the "Professor," and the
Hotel de Dreme proved no exception. Although history doesn't
record whether Cora's musician was white or African American, the
Professor tickled the ivories night and day, providing mood music and
entertaining guests with song & dance routines. However,
Cora herself served
as the brightest attraction. Exhibiting a sharp wit and
luminous smile, she charmed the men while they played at the roulette
wheel or socialized with the ladies of the evening.
madam quickly became known about town. Women used parasols to
hide her from their view as she glided past in a handsome
carriage. Her conveyance featured a stately black horse, a
uniformed African American coachman, and seat dusters that were changed
daily in order to match the owner's elegant fashions.
After Stephen Crane's ugly experiences
with the Commodore,
he would convalesce at the Hotel de
Dreme. His first journey aboard the tug ended in
But as Stephen wrote later, though,
things looked good at the very
outset of the trip on
December 31, 1896:
was the afternoon of New Year's. The Commodore lay at
her dock in Jacksonville and negro stevedores processioned steadily
toward her with box after box of ammunition and bundle after bundle of
rifles. Her hatch, like the mouth of a monster, engulfed them. It might
have been the feeding time of some legendary creature of the sea.
It was in broad daylight and the crowd of gleeful Cubans on the pier
did not forbear to sing the strange patriotic ballads of their
island. Everything was perfectly open... She loaded up as
placidly as if she were going to carry oranges to New York, instead of
Remingtons to Cuba."
The Commodore was crammed with
rifles, bullets, dynamite, black powder, razor-sharp machetes, and 23
After leaving its downtown mooring, the vessel
quickly got stuck in the St. Johns River.
It grounded on mudflats at Commodore's Point, an ironically-named spot
that lies at the north end of the present-day Hart Bridge. A U.
S. Customs cutter, the
Boutwell, finally pulled the Commodore free, yet it
damaged the tug in the process.
The vessel continued its journey but ran aground again,
this time on or near the St. Johns River bar, not far from the
jetties. When Cora heard about the mishap, she caught a train to
Mayport and then rented a boat to visit the stranded craft -- all to
spend a few more hours with her heartthrob. Although the Boutwell
the Commodore was able to refloat
itself. The tug then headed into seas that may've been too rough
and stormy for a safe passage. Leaking through broken seams, the
a number of miles off the coast of Daytona Beach. Nine men
eventually lost their
lives, and all of the rest suffered injuries.
Stephen drifted in a tiny, open dinghy for 30 hours, along with with
the injured captain and two other sailors. Listen to how he
described the miserable affair in "The Open Boat":
a man ought to have a bathtub larger than the boat which here rode upon
the sea. These waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt
and tall, and each froth-top was a problem in small boat
The cook squatted in the bottom and looked with both eyes at
the six inches of gunwale which separated him from the ocean. His
sleeves were rolled over his fat forearms, and the two flaps of his
unbuttoned vest dangled as he bent to bail out the boat. Often he
said: 'Gawd! That was a narrow clip.' As he remarked it he
invariably gazed eastward over the broken sea. The oiler,
steering with one of the two oars in the boat, sometimes raised himself
suddenly to keep clear of water that swirled in over the stern.
It was a thin little oar and it seemed often ready to snap.
The correspondent, pulling at the other oar, watched the waves
and wondered why he was there."
A monstrous shark kept nudging the puny craft, reminding the haggard
sailors that death hovered close by. Just when the ordeal's end
was in sight, one of the mariners did meet his fate. He went
under as the men began a swim through treacherous breakers to
shore. The survivors finally crawled out of the sea within
several miles of today's
Daytona Beach Boardwalk
and Pier. Not long afterwards,
Stephen wrote "The Open
Boat" about the
are now surveying and studying what are believed to be the Commodore's
remains. They lie under 80 feet of water, twelve miles
BECOMING AN ITEM
returned to the River City in ragged shape, having suffered from
exposure, exhaustion, and a near drowning.
Cora got him back on
his feet though, treating him
to such meals as watercress salad, quail on toast, and champagne. Unlike many
authors, Stephen proved a
charismatic talker. He was often full of
life and humor,
savoring other people's company. Charmed, his lover smothered
him with attention, so much so that he found it difficult to
concentrate on the preparation of "The Open Boat." Stephen couldn't
escape Cora even when he hid in a local bar to write. He began
the masterpiece in Jacksonville, but went north to complete it.
After his return to
and Cora grew even closer. He composed love poems for her, while
she stuffed her diary with sweet nothings about her "guiding star." Something that
endeared his partner to him was Cora's interest in literature &
authorship. In later years, in fact, she
several national publications like Smart Set and Harper's
eventually closed the Hotel de Dreme, and the couple moved north and to Europe, with
Stephen introducing Cora as his wife. Unfortunately for the
Cranes, ugly rumors about them
began to fly. Talk buzzed
about drug addiction, alcoholism, rampant promiscuity, and even
Satanism. None of this proved true. The scandalous gossip,
nevertheless, is what drove the pair to relocate to
England. And that nation also proved more accepting of their
kind of relationship, for one of Cora's previous husbands, Donald
Stewart, wouldn't grant her a divorce, according to a
did indulge in interests that could set rumor mills churning.
Interestingly, he had grown up in a religious atmosphere. His
minister, penned many popular church tracts, while his mother
wrote for the temperance movement (which advocated moderation or
abstinence in regard to liquor).
Stephen's passions proved to be the forbidden fruits of his
parents. His father had preached that novels were a filthy vice,
but his son became one of the preeminent authors in American
Although Stephen wasn't a drunkard, moreover, he enjoyed
drinking. He also liked to womanize, proving a loyal customer to
hookers. And his
parents would not have approved of his high regard for cigarettes and
The chain smoker had even served as the captain of the Syracuse
University baseball team.
In spite of his
background, Stephen didn't care much for religion. He focused a
great deal of his attention on such underdogs as the fearful and the
outcast, for he identified with them. His writing reflected this
outlook. It radiated an unyielding defiance of
smugness, complacency, hypocrisy, and intolerance. In the novel Maggie,
the forlorn streetwalker wanders aimlessly, finding rejection even from
"Suddenly she came upon a stout gentleman in a silk hat and a
chaste black coat whose decorous row of buttons reached from his chin
to his knees. The girl had heard of the Grace of God and she
approach this man. His beaming, chubby face was a
picture of benevolence and kind-heartedness. His eyes
good-will. But as the girl timidly accosted him, he gave a
convulsive movement and saved his
respectability by a vigorous side-step. He did not risk
it to save a soul. For how was he to know that there was a
soul before him that needed saving?"
describing a slum or a military incident, Stephen depicted the most
repulsive of life situations in stark realism. Consider The
Monster, a grim novella from 1899 that is lauded as one of the best
short stories in English, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia.
The tale describes how an African American saved the child of a white
doctor from a fire, but the rescuer, badly burned, then lives the rest
of his life without a face. His
neighbors ostracize him, and the story ponders the physician's
obligation to support the disfigured man. (The Monster was
later made into a 1959 movie
"Face of Fire," with
James Whitmore and Cameron Mitchell.)
Pithy, dramatic, and down to earth, Stephen Crane's writing helped set
the course of American fiction and poetry during the twentieth century.
his literary skills in news reporting. Stephen finally did get
into Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War and Teddy Roosevelt's famed
Rough Riders. And he frequently flirted with disaster. When
the Rough Riders stormed San Juan Hill in 100 degree weather, the
writer traipsed around in a white raincoat, drawing Spanish fire on
himself and those nearby. Along with Cora,
Stephen later visited Greece to file reports on its conflict with
He arranged a job for
Cora with the New York Journal, and so his consort joined into
the journalistic endeavors. She was billed as the
correspondent, publishing in various papers under the penname “Imogene
Carter.” Cora sent dispatches that, according to the era's
newspapers, showed the fighting from a woman's perspective.
in England, the Cranes tried to surround
themselves with merriment at
Brede Place, the manor they rented. Stephen
delighted in hearing voices chatting and laughing, and he relished
boisterous pastimes like blind man's bluff and animal grab. The
latter game involved playing cards with fauna printed on them. As
each card was turned over, a player won by being the first to snatch it
up and make the appropriate animal sound for it. The large manor
hall would echo with Stephen roaring like a lion, Cora twittering like
a canary, and H. G. Wells, the author of The Invisible Man, The
Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds, barking like a
dog. Late at night, the Cranes and their guests would hop out of
bed and raid the pantry. An impromptu jam session might result,
with Stephen using a tuning fork to conduct such literary masters as H.
G. Wells, AEW
Mason (The Four Feathers),
and Joseph Conrad (Nostromo, Lord Jim, Heart of
Darkness). The little band played kazoo-type instruments,
fashioned from toilet paper stuck to their combs.
Unfortunately, though, things weren't all fun and games for the
Cranes. Theirs was a tumultuous relationship, and Stephen even
appears to have abandoned Cora at one point, much to her dismay.
The couple also lived large and suffered deep debts. They paid
for such extravagances as lavish soirees for sixty houseguests, who
brought their own bedding to Brede Place. To make matters worse,
numerous people sponged off them, yet Stephen earned more fame than
Stressed out and surviving
mostly on credit and from the generosity of friends, Stephen wrote like
a maniac, trying to earn as much as possible. He would seclude
himself for many hours, sliding completed pages under the door for Cora
Ill health further complicated matters.
During his sickly childhood, Stephen may very well have been inflicted
with tuberculosis, the great death sentence of the nineteenth
century. Like AIDS today, TB nearly always took its victim's
life. If a young Stephen had been infected with tuberculosis,
then it went into remission. In most cases, however, the fatal
disease would recur later in life. And there's no doubt Stephen
suffered TB as an adult. Perhaps since childhood, the author
probably knew that he lived on borrowed time, and so he lived on the
edge, according to Linda Davis in Badge of Courage. His
testing of life's bounds often proved similar to the risk-taking of his
malarial fever in fever in Cuba, and this had
worsened his condition. He
compounded problems by
a senseless disregard for his
On June 5, 1900, the
28-year-old author died of tuberculosis at a spa in Germany. His
before slipping into a coma, were nightmarish memories of the Commodore.
Although a heartbroken Cora waited nearby, Stephen's final deathbed
companion was his favorite pet, a black dog named Sponge.
What does it mean when a brothel publishes a tasteful, refined
souvenir booklet? The enterprise is probably aspiring for a
high-class clientele, and Cora Crane's new bordello did just
that. Following the Great Fire of 1901, Jacksonville flourished
as money & newcomers flowed in. The time was ripe for its top
madam to make a reappearance. Cora came back to Jax after
recovering from a nervous breakdown. She resumed her former
career with gusto! Using borrowed funds in 1903, she built the
Court, the River City's most popular and palatial sporting house.
The establishment stood in the heart of the
red-light district, attracting
hordes of patrons to its La Villa location, two blocks
northeast of today's Prime Osborn Convention Center.
The Court was Cora's baby. She tried to maintain a proper decorum
there, and she could prove hard as nails. The proprietress would
discontinue the liquor to a customer, for example, if he began to grow
diligence paid off, for the police arrested
few, if any, people at the Court. Its record looked good
numerous incidents at neighboring brothels. Cora's business
also catered to better-heeled men,
another reason that it didn't suffer a rowdy
you like to see the ritzy digs at the Court? Dating from about
1903, here are the photos from its souvenir booklet!
HERE to view the Court from outside
to climb its grand stairway
to peek into a bedroom
HERE for additional bedchambers
HERE to sit in a parlor
CLICK HERE to dance in the ballroom
HERE to rest in a rocker
The Court proved a hit in Jacksonville. And
so, according to its owner, why not branch out and try to replicate its
success elsewhere? Cora sought to take advantage of the booming
Beaches area. Thus, Palmetto Lodge was born.
CLICK HERE to travel to the Court's
During the era, many men preferred women who were
Rubenesque, that is, pleasingly plump. The bountiful meals that
Cora fed her female staff helped them to retain these types of
to learn more about the Court's personnel!
or at least tongue clucking, seemed to accompany Cora & her ladies
wherever they went. But many townspeople had mixed feelings about
the scarlet women from La Villa.
Crane served as a queen "of the painted cohorts of the city," to borrow
Stephen's words from Maggie. Local women labeled her a
jezebel, threatening family life with drink, neglect, and
infidelity. During the early 1900s, moreover, Jacksonville's
African American church leaders denounced bawdyhouses as harmful to
their communities. Across America, crackdowns on prostitution did
gain momentum after about 1890.
River City whites, however, seem to have tolerated the world's oldest
profession. Simply put, money talked. The issue had to do
with the local economy, as indicated in James B. Crooks' book
Jacksonville After the Fire, 1901-1909. Many residents
believed that bordellos proved a necessary evil in a town that profited
from its seaport and railroads, as well as from some tourist
traffic. Sailors could visit Jax brothels for R & R, while
businessmen could leave their wives at downtown hotels and partake of
the illicit pleasures too, according to Dwight Wilson, the Curator for
the Beaches Area Historical Society Archives.
to Cora herself, the
Court fulfilled a mission: It enabled lonely and frustrated men to
better continue with life's struggle.
She wrote in her journal, "I wonder if husbands
are so often unfaithful because their wives are good? I think
so. They cannot stand the dreary monotonies and
You could say that -- in the owner's opinion -- Jax's best bordello
operated for the good of mankind.
felt otherwise. If the Court was Cora's baby, then some believed
that she begat a demon seed. Carry Nation once raided the Court
and its neighboring brothels, and she described them as a
"demonocracy," held under the sway of evil spirits. Mrs. Nation
proved to be "the irrepressible disciple of the hatchet,"
Florida Times-Union at the time.
Born in Kentucky in 1846 and later based in
Kansas, the temperance champion traveled throughout America,
smashing up saloons and preaching in houses of ill repute. Mrs.
employ an offbeat publicity approach, according to a
Milwaukee paper in 1998. Her publicist used to tell the media
that, even though the famed crusader looked "homelier than a mud
fence," she wielded "a most powerful arm for swinging a hatch
Valentine's Eve, 1908, Mrs. Nation targeted her sights on
Jacksonville. Several reporters met her at the Windle Hotel,
where she lodged. (These accommodations partly stood at the site
of today's Florida Collection at the Main Public Library, that is, next
to the 11 East Forsyth Apartments.) Mrs. Nation's little group
included the future widow of Robert Bateman, a popular Jax minister who
would die on the Titanic four years later. (According to
some accounts, he asked the ship's band
to play his favorite hymn, "Nearer My God to
Thee," after the liner struck the iceberg. The musicians may've
done so as their final song before going down with the
first bordello into which Mrs. Nation swooped was "the notorious
Court," as the Times-Union
explained the next day. "The public had evidently got wind of the
visit, for when the vehicles came to a halt in front of the resort,
there were at least a couple of hundred boys and men, with
gaping mouths, eager to see Carry Nation and what they thought would
prove a knock-down and drag out raid." The sheriff and other
officers stood in the background, but Cora herself wasn't present,
probably staying at her Pablo Beach brothel instead. The
Times-Union continued, "The doorbell was rung and when
the door was opened Mrs. Nation followed the newspaper men
inside. The inmates (prostitutes) were taken unawares, and Mrs.
Nation's reception at first was just the adverse from cordial.
However, Carry, not to be outdone, ascended the stairs to the upper
floor, where she lectured as she went from room to room. As
egress was made from the resort, Mrs. Nation and party had to find
their way through an even larger number of curiosity seekers than upon
stopping at several neighboring dens of iniquity, Mrs. Nation headed
back towards the Court. She spotted a saloon across from Cora's
establishment, so she barged in and upbraided the barkeep.
The manager "tried his best to remonstrate with Mrs. Nation,
and to impress upon her that she was not on his visiting lists, but
this proved of no avail."
Although she didn't trash any bottles or furniture that night,
she did condemn the drinkery as "a breathing hole of hell." In
the Times-Union's opinion, Mrs. Nation would find her Jax
visit "a treasured asset to her list of experiences."
CLICK HERE for more about Carry
Nation & the River City
It would've been most interesting to see how the
might have handled this unusual visitor.
Would she have confronted her? Or would she have let the
intrusion slide, perhaps even humoring the melodramatic reformer?
Cora and her good-time girls
proved a favorite topic of River City conversation, albeit usually in
hushed tones. They
would set off whispers as they made way to their
theater boxes. They also caused ripples in the audience at the
Grand Theatre, a Forsyth Street movie house.
The madam and her ladies attended afternoon films, but she agreed
to try not to distract other patrons. Her group wouldn't come in
as a bunch, nor would they all sit together.
No doubt Cora turned heads during her outings
to a park in Riverside, where she walked her dogs Hatson, Bon-Bon,
Pill-Box, Lamb Chops, and Sponge, which Stephen had adored.
Another favorite jaunt was to St. Augustine. Along with
a small bevy of her ladies and their young male friends, Cora would
enjoy dinner on the train, patronize the Turkish baths, and pose in an
automobile for a photo in front of the Old City Gates. This
excursion served a double purpose: Not only did it provide a fun
day, but it also promoted the Court, with men gawking at the women and
the proprietress passing out the establishment's souvenir
Cora impressed many as being cultivated
in manner and speech, evincing an air of affluence. Her
reputation did precede her, nevertheless. As her local death
notice remarked, "Toward the end of her career..., she became restless
and plunged into the Bohemian life, several of her escapades in
Jacksonville still being vivid in the minds of the populace."
Just her presence alone could make people nervous. Consider the
meetings with her
attorney, D. C. Campbell, who maintained a practice
at the old Law Exchange Building on Forsyth Street. (The Yates
Building, which houses the Property Appraiser's Office, sits at the
location now.) His neighboring lawyers took offense at these
regular visits from such a woman of ill fame.
Going against the customs of the time, she even
smoked in Mr. Campbell's office.
told him to either get rid of the madam or to relocate. Mr.
Campbell's reply? He blandly told them that Cora wouldn't go,
since she was worth $1,000 a year to him. (This translates into
roughly $20,000 in current currency).
things excite the public as much as murder. Regrettably for Cora,
this cloud further darkened her reputation. A frequent Court
a railroad conductor, Hammond P. McNeil, the
25-year-old son of a prominent family in Waycross, Georgia.
Fifteen years younger than Cora, Hammond was a
fellow, but he also proved to be a short-fused hothead frequently made
more combustible by alcohol. In 1905, Cora married him.
Soon afterwards, it was probably she who set him up as the owner of a
local saloon called The Annex. It operated at the Everett Hotel,
a large hostelry situated where the eighteen-story SunTrust Building is
CLICK HERE for the Everett
a couple of years into the marriage, Hammond grabbed headlines by
fatally shooting a man in Mayport. He suspected
the nineteen-year-old railroad employee
of being his spouse's lover. Although Cora saw the
killing, she refused to testify against Hammond at his trial.
Indeed, her father-in-law sent Cora and another witness, her
housekeeper, to Europe during the legal proceedings. The jury
acquitted Hammond, excusing a crime that involved someone's wife.
Nevertheless, newspapers took potshots at Cora, characterizing her as a
"keeper of a disorderly house," a "woman of the underworld," and an
his release from jail, Hammond quickly divorced his wife and got
hitched up with a much younger woman. With witnesses backing him,
the medium-built man accused Cora of smacking him in the head with a
shoe (resulting in three stitches), as well as physically assaulting
him on numerous other occasions. Cora is alleged to have said,
"Yes, I did it, I would do it again, and I only wish I had beaten him
to death." Hammond's end came in 1913. He scuffled with his
later wife at their Pablo Beach home, threatening to shoot her.
However, the gun went off in his direction, blasting a bullet into his
brain. He died soon afterwards at a hospital.
was an act of kindness that hastened Cora's demise at an early age,
only forty-six years old. Her final day occurred at Palmetto
Lodge, the former Pablo Beach bordello. The weather prove ideal
on Sunday, September 4, 1910, according to the
Times-Union at the time. Jax
residents flocked to the Beaches area, with "hundreds of automobiles"
chugging east on the new Atlantic Boulevard and passengers crowding
aboard the coast-bound trains, one of which contained fourteen coaches
that still couldn't seat everyone comfortably. The paper remarked
the next day, "The surf was rolling as if made to order, and the
bathers were plentiful and in high glee as they rode or also plunged
through the restless billows." At about noon, a car became stuck
in the sand along the shore at Palmetto Lodge. Cora helped push
it free, but she then felt dizzy. She had already suffered a
light stroke a few months before, so she went inside to lie down.
She never regained consciousness, dying alone from a cerebral
services were held in the chapel of Marcus Conant Funeral Directors
& Embalmers, located at 16 East Forsyth Street in downtown
Jax. (This site is now occupied by a parking garage across from
the Main Library's Florida Collection.) Cora's burial took place
at Evergreen Cemetery on North Main Street. Her grave is set off
by itself, for she has no spouse or relatives interned nearby.
HERE to visit the final resting place
madam had given instructions earlier in regard
to her tombstone, and they were carried out. Thus, her little
reminds the world of "Cora E. Crane."
Source of photographs on this webpage: Florida
Source of clipart: J.O.D.'s Old
Fashioned B & W Clip Art Collection, at
http://www.oldfashionedclipart.com (The lantern was tinted red by
the website manager of JacksonvilleStory.com.)
Sources for quotes: CLICK
FOR VISITING THE JACKSONVILLE