Monday, July 17, 2017

A House of Secrets with Michelle Griep

A Gilded Age Brothel

I’m not a novella writer—not usually. I’m the sort of writer who loves to pen an epic tale spanning hundreds of pages. But when CC&C blogger Gabrielle Meyer suggested I submit an idea for the Of Rags & Riches Romance Collection, I had to say yes because she asked me at just the right time. What time is that? Well, grab your coffee mug, my friend, and I’ll tell you the story . . .

I’m a Minneapolis girl, but every now and then I wander across the river to St. Paul. I live just on the other side of the Mississippi from Summit Avenue, one of the oldest, wealthiest streets in town. Summit is dotted with famous homes, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s to the largest mansion in Minnesota, the James J. Hill house. Among all these riches, however, there is a dark tale of intrigue. 

The day Gabrielle contacted me about writing a rags and riches story, I’d just returned from a walking tour of Summit Avenue where I’d learned about Nina Clifford, an infamous madam. Apparently Miss Nina was a madam who ran a brothel in St. Paul from 1889-1929. But this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill bawdy house. She built a brand spanking new brick building to house her girls. The waiting area boasted crystal chandeliers and only the best champagne was served to clients. 

Still, as fancy as it was, technically brothels were illegal. So, how did Madam Nina get around that little detail? With her savvy marketing sense. It’s rumored she connected her brothel by a tunnel that linked to the exclusive Minnesota Club, a haunt of politicians, wealthy businessmen, and academics—which meant no one could see who was partaking of the brothel services. It also ensured that she wouldn’t be shut down because of the potential for the publicity of who’d been frequenting her business. 

Quite the dirty little secret, eh? 

I thought so. So, while it’s never been proven, I wondered what if there really had been a tunnel. What kind of men would use that service? What kind of men wouldn’t? Therein began the idea for A House of Secrets.

Here’s a blurb: 

Ladies Aide Chairman, Amanda Carston, resolves to clean up St. Paul’s ramshackle housing, determining to renovate the worst of the worst: a “haunted” house, but when she enlists the aide of her fiance, city attorney Joseph Blake, they uncover secrets neither expects—which may mean the end of their relationship . . . or their lives.

About the Author: 

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She is the author of historical romances: The Innkeeper’s Daughter, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, The Captive Heart, Brentwood’s Ward, A Heart Deceived, Undercurrent and Gallimore, but also leaped the historical fence into the realm of contemporary with the zany romantic mystery Out of the Frying Pan. If you’d like to keep up with her escapades, find her at or stalk her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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Your Turn: What is your favorite story about your hometown? Have you ever heard a little-known secret about your town? Have you visited St. Paul?


  1. Unfortunately it's a whopping no to all three of your questions, but this story sounds super interesting! I'm looking forward to reading it!

    1. And I'm looking forward to having you read it, Melissa!

  2. Thanks for hosting me at CC&C today . . . it's great to be here. I'll try to behave.

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  4. How interesting! Having read the story, I enjoyed learning about your inspiration for House of Secrets.

    There is a story where I live about a woman who survived by living in caves during a Civil War seige. I don't know the whole tale but I look forward to finding out!

    1. And there you have your next story, eh?

  5. I was a teen of 15 when I learned that a particular two stories house had a red light on the porch for a specific reason. The house was taller than it was wide. It sat at the intersection of Highway 90, east bound, and McCarty Rd. Highway 90 East is also known as The Old Beaumont Highway -- stretching from the Now I-10 East -- from somewhere near the Port of Houston Ship Channel to East Texas / Southeast Texas. Not many people remain alive that know the history of this stretch of highway. I only remember snips of rumors of bars aligning both sides of the road and Honky Tonks where some (now famous) country & western musicians frequented to supply the live music entertainment: From I-10 to Magnolia Gardens to Sheldon to Crosby, Mt Belvue, Highlands, Dayton, Liberty and so on.

    I often wondered about those who were trying to become famous in the country music industry and the local people who may have sought to listen and look for friendship. Trying to make a living, and maybe find a way out of what was considered the "seedy" side of Houston.

  6. We have a haunted church steeple here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The story is in Thirteen Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey by Kathryn Tucker Windham. I've never seen the lights but others swear to it.

  7. I have been near St. Paul but not to the actual city. Got a horse near there. The neighboring town has some wild history and we have the Chinese massacre here.

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  9. My hometown is thought to have been a part of the Underground Railroad. I haven't seen them but there are several homes that had underground tunnels that were supposedly used by those seeking freedom. One of our citizens was a Methodist minister who was the great granddaughter of Harriet Tubman so our little town is rich in the history of slavery and emancipation!


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