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Belle Brezing

Belle Brezing online exhibit (title)

More Portraits of Belle 1 | 2 | 3 | 4


Belle Brezing (aka: Belle Breezing, Belle Breazing)

 

Mary Belle Cox was born on June 16, 1860, in Lexington, Kentucky. She was the second illegitimate daughter of Sarah Ann Cox, dressmaker and occasional prostitute. A year later, Sarah Ann Cox married George Brezing, local saloon owner, and Mary Belle and her sister Hester's last name were changed to Brezing. The Brezing marriage was frequently abusive, with drunken rages and infidelity eventually leading to their divorce in 1866. George Brezing left Lexington a year later. After a short affair with a man named William McMeekin, Sarah Ann changed her and the children's names to McMeekin and began to refer to her self as a widow.

 

In 1872, a year after her sister Hester had married and moved out of the family home, Brezing was seduced by a 36-year-old man named Dionesio Mucci. Twelve-years-old was the age of consent at the time in Kentucky, and there were no legal ramifications for Mucci. The relationship lasted at least until 1874, when Brezing was given a scrapbook by Mucci for Valentine's Day. By age 15, Brezing was pregnant, and having sexual relations with at least three men: Dionesio Mucci, James Kenney, and John Andrew Cook. Brezing married Kenney, September 14, 1875. So notorious was Brezing's reputation at the time, the Lexington Daily Press ran a mocking wedding announcement. Just nine days later, Cook was found dead outside Brezing's back gate, shot in the head with Sarah Ann's derringer, and with love notes from Brezing and a photograph of her in his pockets. It was ruled a suicide, but papers at the time argued it was murder. Shortly after Cook's death, a memorial poem written by Brezing appeared in the Lexington Daily Press.

 

James Kenney left town a few days later; there is no record of she and Kenney ever getting divorced, but there is no evidence they ever contacted each other again. Brezing's only child, Daisy May Kenney was born March 14, 1876. Two months later, Brezing's mother died, and she and Daisy May were evicted. Daisy May was placed with a neighbor, Mrs. Barnett. At some point during the next two years, Brezing became a prostitute.

 

On December 24, 1879, Brezing began to work for Jennie Hill, a madam who ran a brothel out of the Mary Todd Lincoln house at 578 West Main St. Brezing worked there for two years until she had saved enough money to start her own house and assume the position of madam. During this time, Daisy May continued to live with Mrs. Barnett, with Brezing supplying a stipend for her support.

 

Brezing opened her first brothel in a row house at what is now 314-318 North Upper St. Around this time, Brezing was indicted on the charge of "keeping a bawdy house." Kentucky Governor Luke P. Blackburn (1879-1883) pardoned Brezing and the indictment was dismissed. This was the closest Brezing ever got to serving jail time. Brezing miscarried a child during her first year at the house. It was also discovered that Daisy May was developmentally challenged and would have to be institutionalized for the remainder of her life. Daisy May Kenney entered a Catholic run institution under the name Daisy Barnett.

 

Brezing opened her second brothel in 1883. She purchased a free-standing house at 194 North Upper St., not too far from the row house. In the late 1880s, mounting public pressure began closing the brothels along North Upper St. With a loan from William M. Singerly, Brezing bought what would become her most famous brothel.

 

Brezing opened her third brothel at 59 Megowan St. (currently the southern corner of Wilson St. and N. Eastern Ave.). It was lavishly appointed and decorated in almost a parody of the cluttered Victorian style. The area around the house was referred to as "the hill," and Brezing wasn't the only brothel in the area, but certainly the most expensive and popular. Brezing attracted clientele from all over the nation who visited Lexington for its horse breeding and racing industries. During this time, William "Billy" Mabon entered Brezing's life. He became her male companion until his death in 1917. He worked for the Water Company in Lexington, and was the brother-in-law to Colonel Richard C. Morgan.

 

In 1895, 59 Megowan's attic space caught fire, and Brezing took the opportunity to expand the house to three stories, redecorate, and add a side entrance. The house was painted white to cover the fact that different colors of brick were used in construction. It was also around this time that Brezing became addicted to morphine.

 

During the Spanish-American War in 1898, soldiers billeted in Lexington visited Brezing's house and spread her reputation even further around the country. She eventually even appeared as the character Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind. Margaret Mitchell's husband, John, attended Transylvania University and worked as a writer for the Lexington Leader. Although it was always denied, once even in writing, research after Mitchell's death proves that the stories Mitchell heard from John about Brezing were the models for Watling. Anne Edwards' 1983 work, The Road to Tara, discusses the link between Watling and Brezing. (1)

 

During World War I, U.S. Army again billeted and trained soldiers in the Lexington area. But this time, the temperance movement was in full swing and public opinion was focused on "vice." Under orders from the Army, the brothels on "the hill" were closed in 1915. In 1918, they slowly began to reopen, but Brezing never did. Classified an "incurable" and receiving morphine under a doctor's prescription, Brezing lived quietly in 59 Megowan St. She died August 11, 1940 of advanced uterine cancer, at the age of 80. Her fame was still wide-spread; her obituary appeared in Time magazine. Belle Brezing is buried in Lexington's Calvary Cemetery, beside her mother.

 

After Brezing's death, an estate auction was arranged for the benefit of Daisy May. Huge crowds attended the sale and it required three days to auction the contents of 59 Megowan St. (now 153 N. Eastern Ave.) The house was sold some months later. In 1973, a fire gutted the third floor of the building. It was decided to demolish the house rather than rebuild. Another auction was held, to sell architectural details. Even the bricks were sold as souvenirs.

 

Note: The correct spelling of Belle's last name is "Brezing." During her lifetime, "Breezing" became an accepted spelling, and Belle used it herself from time to time. "Breazing" also slipped into usage. Some bank accounts also had her legal name as "Mrs. James C. Kenney," which was occasionally spelled "Kinney." When Brezing traveled, she often registered at hotels under the Kenney name. Her name and date of birth are both incorrect on her gravestone.

 

Note: The information for this biographical sketch was derived from E. I. "Buddy" Thompson's Madam Belle Brezing, the only full length work on Brezing.

 

1. Edwards, Anne. The Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell. New Haven, CT: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

 

The Belle Brezing Photographic Collection, 1868-1983 Special Collections and Archives, University of Kentucky.

The entire collection is available in digital form on Explore UK.

 

For reproduction and use information, contact Jason Flahardy, UK AV Archives.