Richard Hyatt: Book tells of demise of Athens' red light district

June 21, 2013 

Generations of University of Georgia students enjoyed many a hot time at Effie's, and it took a well-planned fire to put the legendary house of ill repute out of business.

Effie Mathews hung out a red lantern in 1919 and she survived for more than 50 years. She never advertised; she didn't have to. People just knew.

I had heard her name but didn't know her story until an old friend included it in an enjoyable book on campus life as recorded by student journalists at the Red and Black.

Carrol Dadisman doesn't dwell on the prurient side of campus. But Effie wasn't ignored by the school paper and isn't overlooked in "Dear Old U-G-A," available now at www.amazon.com.

Dadisman, a former executive editor of the Ledger-Enquirer, is the retired publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat. He graduated from Georgia in 1956 and was editor of the Red and Black in 1954.

Those relationships inspired a 384-page book that establishes his love of his alma mater and his passion for telling a story.

It isn't burdened with footnotes and timelines. Dadisman uses the pages of his old school paper to walk us through the 120 years since it was founded. He originally planned a history of the newspaper, but when certain patterns developed he retooled.

He was aware of Effie -- the queen of Athens' red light district -- but was surprised to find Red and Black editor Quimby Melton Jr.'s front-page fight against prostitution in 1942.

"I wondered how enthusiastic his peers were for such a campaign. But I think Quimby was a strict moralist all his life. … I don't think Effie's would have been mentioned in the student paper in any other context in the 1930s," Dadisman said.

President Harmon Caldwell supported Melton and boasted the houses would be closed within a week. A decade later, Caldwell was gone but Effie's wasn't. Editor Bill Shipp again reported a shutdown.

"The scarlet ladies of Barrett Street have packed their belongings and taken to the road," he wrote.

The end came in 1974, after 18 raids in eight years. The city bought the three bawdy houses and burned them in a fire department exercise and 1,082 souvenir bricks were put on sale. Each numbered brick was identified as "A Piece of Old Athens."

Dadisman didn't mention Effie's in his original draft, but decided it was so legendary that it should be included. But neither journalism nor law enforcement caused Effie's demise, he decided, citing a 1990 Red and Black feature that quotes historian Nash Boney, who believed Effie was a victim of the sexual revolution.

"In the earlier days a lot of students went there for their first experience. Later they didn't have to."

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at www.twitter.com/hyattrichard.

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