a prostitute. Hollywood has given us the good hearted Irma LaDouche, the long-legged
Pretty Woman, and now, the flighty Mighty Aphrodite. But a tiny, pudgy, apron-garbed
grandmother as Queen of the Night? That vision is left to reality.
people around Batavia tell stories about Edna Gruber, the city's most famous madam.
Tales about her generosity, her compassion, her love of children. Her foul mouth,
her year in jail, her link to the Mafia. Edna Miller, who plans to write a book
about her notorious grandmother, does not want to hear other people's stories.
Who needs them? Those are their stories! They're not my stories.
Basically, they're just heresay, the retired English teacher declared.
Miller's memories of her grandmother are much more personal. Much more painful.
Much more mixed into a pot pourri of emotions that at age 63 Miller is still trying
to temper, and at times rationalize. Forty-three years after madam grandmother's
death, Miller is still confused. Unsure whether to condemn or accept the woman
who gave her everything...and nothing.
Consequently, it's difficult to
decide if this is another story about Edna Gruber, the whore house madam, or Edna
Miller, the granddaughter she raised within the halls of prostitution. Perhaps
it is simply a story of a Genesee Country family. Another story of how children
are manipulated by events, or, more graphically, how children are powerless to
control the events that hammer in around them.
Edna Gruber started scrubbing
floors in a barroom after quitting school when she was 13. Born in Buffalo July
28, 1892, she came from a very deprived background, Miller said. Edna married
Joseph Gruber when she was 15. Their daughter, Florence, was born a year later
It's a mystery how Edna Gruber got into prostitution, Miller said.
In fact, she knows nothing about her grandmother from 1908 to 1916.
story is that she was raped, Miller said. Supposedly, Gruber was determined
to never allow a woman to go through that experience.
Batavia's Central Hotel in 1926 and renamed it the Palace. The red brick structure
at 101 Jackson St., just south of the New York Central Railroad tracks, had five
rooms downstairs, nine bedrooms on the second floor and six unused rooms on the
In 1935, Edna Miller was 3 years old and, for some unknown
reason, already living with her great-grandmother, Katharina Russell, in a house
next door to the Palace Hotel. That year her mother, Florence, died in an accidental
fire in Sandusky, Ohio. Her father, Charles, did not live with the family, which
also included 5-year-old brother Bill. When Edna Gruber brought her daughter's
body to Batavia for burial, she also brought Bill; while the children lived with
Katharina, it is obvious that Grandma Gruberor Gobby as they called herwas
the adult in power.
One day Miller's estranged father arrived in Batavia
looking for his wife and children. Gruber took him to St. Joseph's Cemetery. You
want to see your wife? Well, there she is. Gruber pointed to the headstone.
She never recovered from my mother's death, Miller said. She
raved endlessly about how wonderful and beautiful she was.
wanted to take his children back to his native Danville, Ill., where he was living.
Gruber would have no part of it. When Charles refused to leave, she had him beaten.
If you don't get out of town, you won't make it out of town, Gruber
She had the connections, Miller said. She was
a possessive person. People were possessions. She worked hard for what she wanted
and she got whatever she wanted. She was a very strong woman and a very determined
Charles left and only saw his children sporadically, except
for one year-long contact from March 1941-42 when Edna Gruber was sent to prison
for operating a disorderly house (see sidebar: Edna goes to jail).
He came back and ran the house wide open for a year and no one tried
to stop him, Miller said. In '42, when Edna was 10, her great-grandmother
died and she and Bill went to live with Gruberback from prisonat the