Trans-Mississippi Exposition

No results found.

Sorry. Please try using the category links or the search field.

The Everleigh Sisters’ Early Days in Omaha

By DCHS volunteer Rita Shelley

The two women who became known as the Everleigh sisters began their lives as Ada and Minna Lester (or Simms), daughters of a well-to-do Southern family. Though there are few primary sources that give any definitive facts regarding their early lives, the sisters’ legacy is more visible. They were most likely born in Virginia, Ada in 1864 and Minna in 1866. Minna died in obscurity in New York City in 1948, and Ada passed in Virginia in 1960. As adults, they changed their last name to Everleigh, reportedly taken from how their grandmother signed letters, “Everly Yours.”[1]

Ada’s and Minna’s training in the arts of elocution may have influenced their embarking upon theatrical careers. But their time as traveling actresses was brief and not particularly well documented. The most popular version of the story is that the troupe they were traveling with went broke, stranding them in Omaha in 1898. The end of their acting careers became the beginning of eventual renown as bordello operators (most famously in Chicago). But their Everleigh Club in Chicago was the second chapter. The preceding chapter was in Omaha, when the sisters found themselves in town right before the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. The story goes that Ada and Minna had heard of the plans for the exposition and sought permission to open an “entertainment center” on its grounds. Suspicious officials turned them down, claiming their attraction was nothing more than a house of ill fame. The sisters opened their house anyway, at another location.[2]

Portrait of Ada Everleigh, taken in Omaha, c. 1898. Photographer: Fyock, 218-20-22 N. 16th St. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.

With an initial investment of $35,000, they entered a trade variously referred to in Omaha and then Chicago newspaper accounts as a “bawdy house,” “den of sin,” “bordello,” “house of sin,” “glittering palace of pleasure,” or “upscale gentlemen’s club.” During their careers and in years since, the proprietresses have been referred to as “harlots,” “naughty ladies,” “scarlet sisters,” and “the most glorious madams of all time.” The sisters officially said the $35,000 was from a family inheritance.[3] Another theory questioned whether such a “heavy purse” more likely was loaned by a local “cattle baron, meatpacker, or railroad magnate.”[4]

The Omaha brothel was at 12th and Jackson Streets. The Trans-Miss Expo returned dividends of 50 percent to its investors. In comparison, the Everleighs doubled their $35,000, ending their two years in Omaha with $70,000 to invest in Chicago toward what eventually would be a $1,000,000 fortune.[5]

Exterior of the Everleigh Club at 2133 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, purchased by the sisters in 1900. Originally published in The Everleigh Club: Illustrated, 1911. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

The 1910 Federal Census recorded Ada and Minna as owners of a “boarding house” with 25 women in their twenties as “boarders.” The Club gained ever more fame during its eleven years: Some said the first fast trains from New York [to Chicago] were inspired by wealthy men looking to make more frequent trips to the Everleigh Club.[6]

The sisters touted their establishment as sumptuous and luxurious in an advertising brochure they published in 1911. The Chicago Sunday Tribune paraphrased the brochure:

[The Everleigh Club] is long famed for its luxurious furnishings, famous paintings and statuary, and its elaborate and artistic decorations. Fortunate, indeed, with all the comforts of life surrounding them, are the members of the Everleigh Club.[7]

Interior photo of the entrance hall of the Everleigh Club at 2133 South Dearborn Street, Chicago. Originally published in The Everleigh Club: Illustrated, 1911. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

But modern marketing brought about the Club’s demise. Chicago’s reform-minded Mayor Carter Harrison objected to the reflection on the city’s image as boldly flaunting prostitution. He ordered the club closed on October 24, 1911.[8]

“So bold is their operation that they issued a brochure. Circulation of their fancy pamphlet brought the closing,” the Chicago Tribune published.[9]

Ada and Minna responded to the mayor’s order by leaving for a six-month tour of Europe. With their Chicago prospects having abruptly ended, they moved to New York, where they lived in quiet comfort. After Minna’s death in New York City in 1948, Ada moved to rural Virginia, where she lived until her death in 1960 at age 93.[10]

[1] Washburn, Charles. “Onetime Most-Glamorous Madam, Ada Everleigh Dies.” Omaha World-Herald. 6 January 1960, p. 15.

[2] Omaha Press Club to Unveil Portrait of Everleigh Sisters. Historical Society of Douglas County, no date.

[3] “Ex-Omahans Introduced in Special Way Back East.” Omaha World-Herald. 10 September 1985, p. 2.

[4] Uhlarik, Carl. “The Sin Sisters Who Made Millions.” Real West. December 1968, p. 20.

[5] Ibid, p. 21.

[6] “Ada Everleigh Genius of Notorious Bawdy House.” Chicago Sunday Tribune. 31 January 1960, p. 3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Omaha’s Hanscom Park

Omaha’s Hanscom Park
Natalie Kammerer

Omaha’s oldest remaining park was formed in November 1872, when land developers Andrew J. Hanscom and James G. Megeath donated 57.6 acres near Park Avenue and Woolworth Streets to the city of Omaha. The land was part of their 400-acre development called “Hanscom Place,” but was too hilly to be used for residential construction.


The acceptance of land for the site of a city park. In the coach, left to right: Joseph H. Millard, mayor; Harry P. Deuel; Byron Reed. Standing, left to right: W. J. Connel, Dr. V. H. Coffman, General J. C. Cowin, and James Stephenson. Atop the coach, left to right: Alfred Sorensen, W. Gallagher, Judge J. M. Woolworth, Count John A. Creighton, Captain W. W. Marsh, and Colonel Hooker. Original photo taken by Herman Heyn. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.


The park was named after Andrew Hanscom, as he was the majority landowner. Hanscom was born in Detroit in 1828. After serving in the Mexican-American War, he set off to take part in the California gold rush. Along the way, he stopped in Council Bluffs, built a mill, and established a mercantile business. He practiced law for a while, then moved to Omaha in 1854. Here, he took part in politics, holding positions on the school board, city council, and territorial legislature, where he served as speaker of the Nebraska House of Representatives. His primary business was real estate.
Hanscom’s partner James Megeath was born in Virginia in 1824. He also followed the gold rush to California, opening a store in Calaveras County. On a trip home in 1854, he decided to settle in newly-established Omaha City. He and his brother Samuel opened a store at 14th and Farnam in 1858, which served to outfit Mormons emigrating west. He also took part in politics, serving on the city council, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, and the Territorial House of Representatives, where he was elected speaker in 1866. He also worked as a forwarding agent for the Union Pacific Railroad.
At the time of the donation, no official city agency existed to care for the land. Indeed, aside from Hanscom Park, there was only one other active park in the city—Jefferson Park located between 15th and 16th Streets and Chicago and Cass. It was demolished in the 1960s to make way for I-480. In 1888, a controversy arose when Hanscom and Megeath threatened to sue the city for the possession of the land on grounds of neglect by the city. They argued that the city had not executed the improvements stipulated in the conditions of the donation. The city quickly began installation of a sewer system and agreed to re-grade the streets around the park, making them more easily navigable by residents of the neighborhood. In 1889, the State Legislature created a new charter with a provision to form a Board of Park Commissioners to control the city’s public grounds and parks, establish rules for management and care of the sites, suggest a system of public parks and boulevards, and designate lands to be acquired for park purposes.

Jefferson Square Park at 15th and Chicago Streets. No date. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.

As one of only two extant parks, Hanscom received a lot of attention and funds in the years following. Early features of the park included two lagoons and a cascade, and it boasted fifty-one species of trees. In 1890, the Board of Park Commissioners erected a bandstand, greenhouse, and a “wooden pavilion, slender and graceful, built in the Moorish style, with rounded arches, a pitched roof two stories high, and dormer windows” designed by Louis Bourgeois. This first pavilion burned on a February night in 1893, but was replaced the next year by another. Before it too was destroyed by fire in 1927, it was often a gathering place for local meetings. The park was recognized as one of the most beautiful places in the city, and it was runner-up for the location of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1898.

Hanscom Park’s second pavilion, ca. 1905. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.

Additional greenhouses were built to house the Joslyn family’s conservatory after the greenhouses at their estate on 39th and Davenport were destroyed in the 1913 tornado. That building was deemed unsafe and demolished in 1968, but today large greenhouses on the grounds are still used to raise the plants used in parks, boulevards, and other city properties.

Hanscom Park flower beds with Joslyn Conservatory in the background, ca. 1915. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.


Another controversy arose in 1946 when then-park commissioner Roy Towl proposed filling in the lagoon. In response, Omahans formed the Hanscom Park Improvement Club, which fundraised enough money to clean the lagoon and refill it with fresh water, as well as build a new rock wall around the water’s edge, thereby saving the lagoon, which still sits at the southeast end of the park.

Ice skating on one of the lagoons at Hanscom Park, ca. 1900. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.


Close filters
Products Search
Products Price Filter