Select your sin: Fascinating Storyville directories come to light in new book

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – When locals and tourists alike got to the Storyville red-light district 100 years ago, they had many published guides to help them select their sin of choice.

Book cover photo courtesy Historic New Orleans Collection

Book cover photo courtesy Historic New Orleans Collection

Those blue books for New Orleans’ own Storyville have come to light in a new book, “Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville, New Orleans,” written by Pamela D. Arceneaux and published by the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Storyville was the infamous legal prostitution district on the edge of the French Quarter. It thrived for two decades – from 1897 until it was shut down in 1917. The famous district’s closure coincided with the start of World War I.

So, what might you find in the blue books of Storyville?

You’ll find “quirky” prostitute ads, hangover cures, opulent champagne ads, treatments for sexually transmitted diseases, and much, much more.

The prostitutes were labeled by their race (white or colored), and the brothels were described as “prominent.”

“The blue books arise from an integral and complicated point in New Orleans history, when class consciousness and tourism intersected with race and prostitution through modern advertising,” the Historic New Orleans Collection said in a news release announcing the book. “Because they were originally created as disposable resources, few editions exist today.”

The Historic New Orleans Collection houses the largest collection of blue books.

In “Guidebooks to Sin,” Arceneaux illustrates her decades of research with facsimile pages from 25 guides (15 original Storyville guides plus 10 imitations that were produced decades after the District officially closed).