Belle Brezing is supposed to have been the inspiration for the character Madame Belle in Gone with the Wind. Born in 1860, raised by a drunken, violent mother and a series of stepfathers, she was seduced at 12, pregnant at 15 and married shortly after. Her husband left town after the murder of one of her two other lovers, and before the birth of her daughter.
At 19, Belle became a resident at a ‘bawdy house’, and so excelled in her new career that she started her own enterprise two years later.
She went on to open bigger and better houses until, in 1891, she opened her last and greatest.
In the book ‘Madame Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel’, Maryjean Wall describes the opening night.
“Megowan Street had never seen commotion like Belle’s opening night in 1891. All varieties of horse-drawn vehicles pulled up in front of no. 59, dropping off male passengers wearing formal evening dress. Drivers shouted to their horses. Cabs departed as quickly as they had arrived, the drivers turning their horses sharply back toward the Phoenix Hotel to pick up more fares. In the trickle-down effect the evening had on the local economy, hack drivers made a small fortune in tips on this memorable night.
“Belle had invited physicians, lawyers, judges, horsemen, businessmen, and bankers to this fete. Sweet orchestral strains poured into the street every time the door opened to admit another caller. She had hired musicians for her opening, foregoing her mechanical nickelodeon. Her staff had prepared an elegant buffet. Her bar served the finest wines and champagne.”
Belle was highly successful, though she was also indicted more than any other citizen of Lexington.
She continued to run houses for the sale of entertainment for the next 25 years, until all the houses of disrepute were closed during the first World War by order of the army. By the time they opened again, Belle’s long-time lover and her sister had both died, and she lived out her retirement as a recluse until her death in 1940.
Belle wrote this poem in her teens, perhaps before she was wed.
Sitting tnight in my chamber, a school girl figure
and lonely, I kiss the end of my finger, that and that only.
Reveries rises from the smokey mouth. Memories linger surround
me. Boys that are married or single. Gather around me. School boys
in pantalets roumping, Boys that now are growing to be young lands,
Boys that kiked to be Kissed; and like to give kisses.
Kisses. I remember them: Those in the corner were fleetest:
Sweet were those won the Sly in the Dark were the sweetest.
Girls are tender and gentle. To woo was almost to win them.
They lips are good as ripe peaches, and cream for finger.
Girls are sometimes flirts, and coquettish; Now catch and Kiss if
you can sin: could I catch both – ah, wasent I a happy Girl.
Boys is pretty and blooming sweetly, yea sweetness over their rest!
Them I loved dearly and truely. Last and the best.
Writing by Belle Brezing, Lexington Ky