August 3, 1851
Catham, Ontario, Canada
|Died||July 14, 1929 (aged 77)|
|Resting place||Mount Elliott Cemetery, Detroit|
Clifford was born Johanna Crow on August 3, 1851 in Catham, Ontario, Canada of Irish immigrant parents. Her family moved to Detroit, Michigan while she was still a child. Later, still in Detroit, she married a man named Conrad Steinbrecher.
Widowed in 1886 at the age of 35, Clifford moved to St. Paul. In 1887 she brought two building lots in Washington Street opposite the city morgue and police station. She had two red brick buildings built. Clifford lived in one, no. 145, and started a brothel in the other, no. 147. Washington Street was then the sin district of St. Paul. This was one of the most up-market brothels in St Paul, and employed the best girls The interior of the house was well appointed with plush furnishing and marble fireplaces. The waiting area featured crystal chandeliers and Mumm's champagne was served.
Business was good, and in 1895 records show that she employed 11 prostitutes and 3 servants. A musician was also included in 1900 records. By the 1920s the brothel needed two telephone lines. She was known to accept diamonds in payment from clients, She was reputed to have had several hundred uncut diamonds.
Clifford frequently appeared in court, as did other madams, and was fined. The fine was effectively a licensing fee. She also paid regular bribes to the police to stay open. Clifford was arrested in 1913 in connection with the corruption case against former police chief Martin Flanagan and detective Fred Turner. She was charged with bribery but avoided a conviction by testifying for the prosecution.
Clifford invested her profits in property in Michigan. Clifford ran the business personally until she died of a stroke on July 14, 1929, aged 78, in Detroit while visiting family, and is buried there in Mount Elliott Cemetery.
"The Lay of Nina Clifford"
The windows are grimy and covered with dust
In that old house under the hill
The door hinges rusty, the lock is bust
The spider webs cover it still
No longer do gay lights their welcome convey
Inviting the wayfarer in
To choose from the bevy, his favorite lay
To dally a while and sin
Gone are the sofas and plush covered chairs
From the parlor once happy and bright
No longer do douche pans in bedrooms upstairs
Clank busily all thru the night
No more do fat durghers play and carouse
And some pretty blonds on their backs
For Nina is dead and her once famous house
Is sold to pay up the back tax
Theyre widening the street so theyre tearing it down
The whorehouse that was once the pride of the town
Soon wont be worth more than a fart
Its stone they are taking the morgue to repair
A purpose appropriate true
For many a stiff has been laid in them both
Even as me and you.
A brick from the brothel is mounted in the Minnesota Club with a plaque below that reads "This brick from Nina Clifford's house is presented to the Gentlemen of the Minnesota Club for their great interest in historic buildings". The club renamed it's billiard room after Clifford. The ornate crystal chandelier from the waiting room of the brothel was hung in the St. Paul mayor's office after the brothel was demolished.
The foundations of the brothel were discovered during excavations for the Science Museum of Minnesota in 1998. A group of archaeologists from the 106 Group uneathed many artifacts. From these they concluded that, although the prostitutes earned nine or ten times the average women's earnings at the time, conditions were unsanitary and harsh. The infamous tunnel to the Minnesota Club is a persistent legend, no tunnel was found during the excavations.
Clifford was memorialized in the 1980s with a play, and then a musical, about her antics. It was entitled Nina! Madam to a Saintly City.
- Burgan, Michael. Famous Crimes of Minnesota. Adventure Publications.
- Millett, Larry. Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders. Minnesota Press. p. 309.
- Sazevich, Jim (26 September 2005). "EAGLE ST. NO.222 - Some more history". Roots Web. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
- O'Connor, Robert. "The big fellow and the cardinal". 3am Magazine. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
- Housewright, David. A Hard Ticket Home: A Mystery. St. Martin's Press. p. 230.
- Gangster St. Paul at historictraveler.away.com
- RochesterMN.com: Circle of Parents at www.rochestermn.com
- FSTS 21RA32 Washington Street Residential District at www.fromsitetostory.org
- Nina Clifford’s Brothel at Minnesota Historical Society
- 1997 Excavation of Nina Clifford Site on YouTube from City of Saint Paul Communications Services
- Almanac- Story on Nina Clifford & Brothel on YouTube