Born Mary Deubler, in New Orleans about 1864, and she was never married. She (about age 17) fell in love with one Philip Lobrano who was a "sporting man" also known as Schwarz. She was his mistress for about nine years while an inmate in various brothels on Customhouse and Basin, using the name Josie Alton. About 1888, Josie (now calling herself Josie Lobrano) operated a house at No. 172 Customhouse until Storyville was established, at which time she opened the "Arlington". The Customhouse brothel became known for its quarrelsome strumpets and one of the "toughest houses" in the area. Profits from this endeavor made it possible for Josie to assist in the support of several of her family members, who also lived in the house. During this time of brawling and fighting within her house, Lobrano shot Peter Deubler, Josephine's brother. He was eventually aquitted at a second trial, and Josie broke it off with her lover and, again, changed her name to Lobrano d'Arlington. Known at various times as Josie Alton, Josie Lobrano, and Lobrano d'Arlington, this hot-tempered little brunette decided improve her manners.
When the Storyville Ordinance was enacted she opened her house at 225 North Basin Street; a four-story mansion with numerous bay windows, a tulip-domed cupola, fireplaces in most rooms, and, according to Josie's advertising, "the work of great artists from Europe and America and many articles from various expositions." Ten to twenty women were in residence, double that number during the busy Mardi Gras season, available to entertain male visitors visiting this gaudy oppulence. The Arlington was reputed to be "the most decorative and costly fitted-out sporting palace ever placed before the American public." Like most high-class houses in Storyville, the Arlington catered to the eccentricities, specialties, and kinkiest of tastes; featuring "circuses" in which sex acts were publicly performed and providing "specialists" for fetishists and sadomasochists. Once the polite introductions, drinking, and social nonsense in the parlor was over fees were raised and you could do what you wanted.
She operated the Arligton for about ten years gaining the reputation as the snootiest madame in America, amassing a fortune, and spending thirty-five-thousand dollars to have a private residence constructed on Esplanade Street.
A fire in 1905 did extensive damage, and Josie moved down Basin Street to rooms above Tom Anderson's saloon (ever after known as "the Arlington Annex") until reconstruction was completed. He became one of Josie's closest friends and, upon her retirement in 1909, bought a large portion of her business.
After the fire Josie became very moody and introspective. She retired four years later and lived a private life, with a niece, in her Esplanade mansion. She died there on Feb. 14, 1914, just three years before Storyville was closed down and the Arlington sealed its door forever.
She purchased a plot on a small hill and had erected a red marble tomb, topped by two blazing pillars. On the steps of the tomb was placed a bronze statue which ascended the staircase with a bouquet of roses in the crook of her arm. The tomb was an amazing piece of funerary art, designed by an eminent architect named Albert Weiblen, and cost Josie a small fortune. Although from the scandal it created, it was well worth it in her eyes. Tongues wagged all over the city and people, mostly women, complained that Josie should not be allowed to be buried in Metairie. But New Orleans is a city normally lacking of discrimination and nothing was ever said to her about it.
Morales-Arlington Tomb:— One of the most "controversial" tombs in New Orleans, the Morales tomb was originally built for Josie Arlington, the most famous of the Storyville madames. It attracted attention later when a red light was installed on a road behind it. Josie's remains were moved later after her estate was liquidated.
Her mortified family had her body moved when her crypt became a tourist attraction, but the tomb remains exactly the same, including the statue of a young woman knocking on the door. Legend had it that it was Josie herself, being turned away from her father's house, or a virgin being denied entrance to Josie's brothel -- she claimed never to despoil anyone. The reality is that it's just a copy of a statute Josie liked.)
No sooner had the tomb been finished in 1911, than a strange story began making the rounds. Some curiosity-seekers had gone out to see the tomb and upon their arrival one evening, were greeted with a sight that sent them running. The tomb seemed to burst into flames before their very eyes! The smooth red marble shimmered with fire, and the tendrils of flame appeared to snake over the surface like shiny phantoms. The word quickly spread and people came in droves to witness the bizarre sight. The cemetery was overrun with people every evening which shocked the cemetery caretakers and the families of those buried on the grounds. Scandal followed Josie even to her death. Josie passed away in 1914 and was interred in the "flaming tomb", as it was often referred to. Soon, an alarming number of sightseers began to report another weird event, in addition to the glowing tomb. Many swore they had actually seen the statue on the front steps move. Even two of the cemetery gravediggers, a Mr. Todkins and a Mr. Anthony, swore they had witnessed the statue leaving her post and moving around the tombs. They claimed to follow her one night, only to see her suddenly disappear. The tradition of the flaming tomb has been kept alive for many years, although most claim the phenomena was created by a nearby streetlight which would sway in the wind. Regardless, no one has ever been able to provide an explanation for the eyewitness accounts of the "living" statue.
It was here where Josie Arlington operated her house of ill repute and became very rich. The house was known as the finest bordello in the district, stocked with beautiful women; fine liquor; wonderful food; and exotic drugs. The women were all dressed in expensive French lingerie and entertained the cream of New Orleans society. Many of the men who came to Josie's were politicians, judges, lawyers, bankers, doctors and even city officials. She had the friendship of some of the most influential men in the city, but was denied the one thing she really wanted... social acceptance.
She was shunned by the families of the city and even publicly ignored by the men she knew so well. Her money and charm meant nothing to the society circles of the city. But what Josie could not have in life, she would have in death. She got her revenge on the society snobs by electing to be buried in the most fashionable cemetery in New Orleans... Metairie Cemetery.
Perhaps Josie was never accepted in life... but she is certainly still on the minds of many in New Orleans long after her death!
Metairie Cemetery--5100 Pontchartrain Blvd.
Metairie Cemetery--Ladies and parasols
Sources:Renowned Call House Madams
The French Quarter – Herbert Asbury
Storyville, New Orleans – Al rose
The Mascot News
Loyola University New Orleans
Louisiana State University–Archives
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