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Column: Memories of Machismo and a Midnight Ride to Mabel's

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Severo Avila

Severo Avila is Features Editor at the Rome News-Tribune.

Since moving to Rome several years ago, I’ve always heard stories about Rome’s famous brothel, Peggy’s.

Many locals have heard of the famous house of ill repute run by a lady called Peggy Snead.

But there was another similar establishment in Rome called “Mabel’s.”

I’m always hearing little anecdotes from Rome residents who are old enough to remember when Peggy’s was up and running and some even hint at being intimately familiar with the place. Of course many won’t admit publicly that they partook of its services and the...charms...of the ladies who worked there.

But I’ve never really heard anything about Mabel’s. I guess it’s always been overshadowed by its more famous counterpart. Cave Spring native and local historian Margaret Wright Hollings wrote in a 2014 editorial to the Rome News-Tribune:

“While a band of angry wives helped put Mabel (our second-best-known madam) out of business, by parking across the street from her house to take down her visitors’ car tag numbers, nothing of the sort ever happened to Peggy.”

So it seems Mabel’s may not have enjoyed the same popularity Peggy’s did. But I’m sure it has its fair share of stories.

Well I got a little story for y’all about a young man whose experience with Mabel’s is one he hasn’t forgotten for many, many years.

In around 1966 or 1967 my friend Terry was about 16 or 17 years old and was living in Cedartown.

He said that on one occasion, he and four other teenagers (all male) were hanging around and talking about their bravery and life experiences (no doubt embellishing a bit).

“One conversation led to another and the subject of women came up,” Terry says. “Oh, we was big talkers, we were. It was decided that we would pay a visit (to Mabel’s) in Rome.”

One of the older boys — who Terry won’t name — had been told of the general location of Mabel’s, that it was on 14th Street in Rome. He was told that it had a chain-link fence around it and that it was customary for patrons to enter the driveway on the right side of the house and drive around back to park.

“Well we checked our available cash and it seemed that it should be adequate for a short visit,” Terry said. “It seemed as though almost everyone knew about the place except me. The 18-mile trip to Rome seemed to take only minutes as I was in the back seat ribbing and joking with two of my best friends. Oh we were Big Dogs that night, maybe even had a beer each.”

So Terry and his friends arrived at their destination a little while later and sure enough it was fenced in.

They drove around back. He said there were all excited and grinning and talking about what they were gonna do.

His friend parked his car next to several cars that were already in the yard.

“We sat there a few minutes to collect our nerve, watching others go in and out the back door of the house,” Terry recalls. “That night we were walking 10 feet tall.”

The boys sat in the car for a while longer trying to decide who’d go in first. One friend said “Terry, you go.”

“I ain’t going in first,” Terry said. “You go.”

“Not me,” said another.

“Me either,” someone else shot back.

Well this went on for about 30 minutes and do you know not one of those boys could work up the nerve to even get out of the car?

They had driven all that way and talked themselves up just to back down when it finally came down to it.

“That night our egos and bragging fell by the wayside,” Terry said. “We fired the old Ford up and headed back to Cedartown. We were chickens. Wimps we were. On the return, we were sinking a little lower in the seats than we had been on the way there. It was kind of quiet on the ride back home.”

Terry laughs about it now and says that’s his closest encounter with the world’s oldest profession.

“As I look back now that I’m an old man, I kind of wish at least one of us had opened a car door and headed for the back door of the house,” he reflects. “No doubt in my mind that the rest of us would have followed.”

Severo Avila is features editor for the Rome News-Tribune.