Nina Clifford was a madam who ran a brothel under the streets of Saint Paul, Minnesota from 1889 to 1929, when it was closed upon the owner's death. She was the most famous madam in Minnesota history, both because of her success and for the ingenuity she showed in attracting customers. A small cave-complex was built underground, linking the prestigious and exclusive Minnesota Club with Ms. Clifford's secret brothel to allow her clients the privacy they required.
Her real name was Johanna Crow and she was born August 3, 1851 in Catham, Ontario, Canada of Irish immigrant parents. Her family moved to Detroit, Michigan where she married a man named Conrad Steinbrecher. Widowed in 1886 at the age of 35, she moved to St. Paul. Her brothel was neither secret nor in a cave. She had a beautiful red brick building on Washington Street which was then the sin district of St. Paul. The waiting area featured crystal chandeliers and Mumm's champagne was served. She ran the business personally until her death on July 14, 1929 at the age of 78. The house was destroyed in 1937, but its foundations were discovered and excavated by an archaeological team when the new foundations were being dug for the Minnesota Science Museum. The infamous tunnel to the Minnesota Club is a persistent legend, but has never been proved. Nina died in Detroit while visiting family, and is buried there in Mount Elliott Cemetery.
Ms. 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.
- 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 You Tube from City of Saint Paul Communications Services
- Almanac- Story on Nina Clifford & Brothel on You Tube