Robbie Robertson: Go Back To Your Woods


Storyville was the red-light district of New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1897 through 1917.

Locals usually simply referred to the area as The District. The nickname Storyville was in reference to city alderman Sidney Story, who wrote the legislation setting up the district. It was bounded by Iberville, Basin, St. Louis, and N. Robertson streets.  Most of this former district is now occupied by the Iberville Housing Projects, two blocks inland from the French Quarter.

The District was set up to limit prostitution to one area of town where authorities could monitor and regulate the practice. In the late 1890s, the New Orleans city government studied the legalized red light districts of northern German and Dutch ports and set up Storyville based on such models.

Between 1895 and 1915, “blue books” were published in Storyville. These books were guides to prostitution for visitors to the district’s services including house descriptions, prices, particular services and the “stock” each house had to offer. The Storyville blue-books were inscribed with the motto: “Order of the Garter:

In the early days of World War I, four soldiers were killed within the District within weeks of each other; both the Army and Navy subsequently demanded that Storyville be closed down. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels cited the district as a “bad influence” during World War I in 1917. The closure was over the strong objections of the New Orleans city government; New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman pronounced that, “you can make prostitution illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular.” After 1917, when Storyville was shut down, separate black and white underground dens of prostitution emerged around the city.

William J. Toye painted several paintings of Storyville, which were ruined less than two weeks before he was to exhibit them in 1969. A collection of photographs by E. J. Bellocq depicting Storyville prostitutes was published in 1971 under the title Storyville Portraits.

Films with fictional portrayals of Storyville have included New Orleans (1947), Pretty Baby (1978), and Storyville (1992).

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