The lure of 15 China Street: One of Vicksburg’s storied bordellos

Published 2:42 pm Monday, March 21, 2022

Rumors, gossip and speculation no doubt swirled about the goings-on behind the doors of 15 China St., where the music played, pretty girls entertained and fellows’ worries disappeared, if only for a night.

And, while there were likely plenty of tall tales told, especially from the clientele, a couple of things are for certain about 15 China St.

There is documented proof a building at this address once existed in Vicksburg, and thanks to oral history — embellished or not — there is also testimony as to its use. The house at 15 China St. was a brothel.

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“Possibly no other private address has achieved such nationwide recognition as 15 China St. in Vicksburg,” wrote the late Vicksburg historian Gordon Cotton in his book, “15 China and other Tales.”

Cotton’s book stated the Vicksburg house of “ill repute,” which existed for more than a century, rivaled even the legendary House of the Rising Sun in New Orleans — which, one will recall from the song of the same name, was “the ruin of many a poor boy.”

Fortunately, the late LeGrand Capers, who was born in Vicksburg in 1900 was spared this demise upon his visits to 15 China St.

In 2018, an interview of Capers was presented via a podcast produced by The Center for Oral History & Cultural Heritage at the University Southern Mississippi, entitled “Vicksburg Vice — Bars, Brothels and Bootleggers.”

During the interview, Capers talked about how the red-light district in Vicksburg was located on and around Mulberry Street, and more specifically, at 15 China St.

“I heard about … the red-light district and particularly about one celebrated house 15 China that had been in existence since the early 1860s,” Capers said. “It was said the wealthy plantation owners from the Mississippi Delta came for many many years to drink play poker and otherwise divert themselves.”

Capers recalled his own visits to 15 China St.

“When I worked at the Baer (and) Brothers (Dry Goods) Store when I was a young fellow, the girls down there (at 15 China) would call up for a collection of shoes to be sent down,” Capers said, and it was after one of these calls that he was asked to deliver six pair of shoes to the ladies.

“So, I took the shoes down there and the woman tried them on, and I remember it was a very exciting experience for me. Although I had been in there before, see, but I had only seen the women when they were parading around the dance floors and soliciting customers. But this way they were completely relaxed you know. And that’s the only time I believe I went in the bedroom. The woman — we went in there and she had three or four girls and she was trying on the shoes and asking them what they thought about them,” Capers said.

Upon return to the store, Capers said, he was asked if he sold anything. Three pairs, he replied.

Then there were the times Capers visited 15 China St. when he wasn’t delivering shoes.

“In later years when I was a grown man, just like most of us we used to go down, we would call it going down the hill. Some fellows would meet for a night and say let’s go down the hill for an hour or so and sometimes we would just sit around there and buy some drinks and put some money in the player piano,” he said. “As long as you put some money in the piano and keep it playing or bought a Coke or a glass of beer or something, you could sit around there an hour or so without making any dates with girls. It was just kind of social, but you had to spend something. Young fellas spent very little. They would go down there and take a dollar with another fella, and they would spend three hours talking with the girls.”

Capers said the red-light district was closed during World War I, “to protect the morals of the soldiers who came here to the city of Vicksburg from Hattiesburg.”

After the war, most of the houses never opened again, Capers said.

“The exception was the famous number 15. It opened and closed several times with different landladies until finally in the late 1930s it was run down and ugly,” he said.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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