Oasis Bordello Museum

Hello, sailor!

Actually, in this case, it would be more appropriate to say “hello, miner!”

Though Nevada is notoriously the only state in the U.S. with legal prostitution, this does not mean they are the center of such activities. In fact, as recently as the early 1990s, the mining towns of northern Idaho were notorious for their bordellos.

You can find out more about Idaho’s history with the oldest profession at the OASIS BORDELLO MUSEUM– 605 Cedar St., Wallace, ID.

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Wallace, Idaho is a small, seemingly-typical mining town of historical prestige.

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You would hardly guess that it had such a long standing, steamy reputation.

When thinking of establishments such as The Oasis, we usually assume this is from the turn of the 20th century. The Oasis Bordello was just one of the bordellos in town and it’s a surprise (at least, it was to me) to hear that it did not close down until the late 1980s. On top of that, it was NOT the last one to leave town. The U & I Rooms (which, despite being illegal, were listed in the phone book!) closed in 1991.

Now the town is bordello-free. At least, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

For those not familiar with the term “bordello,” most would say it is interchangeable with the term “brothel.” Basically, it is a place where a man could go pick a pretty girl and pay her for… favors of his choice.

This particular bordello, and perhaps all the bordellos in the area, was strictly run. They were under contract (legally as “maids” and whatnot, mostly) and had a very rigid code of conduct. They were not allowed outside of the building except for their weekly doctor’s visits or if they were going out of town on their days off. These girls were not the leopard print clad, drug addicted, potentially disease-riddled streetwalker stereotype that may pop into many people’s minds when they think of such professions; rather, they were more comparable to what one might today call an escort. One “maid” used the money to put herself through college to become a welder (now THERE’S a combination you don’t hear about everyday!).

The bordellos were also major contributors to the town. The Oasis and other bordellos even donated money for the high school band uniforms one or two years.

Everyone in town knew about these places, including (unofficially) law enforcement. However, between their financial contributions to the town, the out-of-towners they brought in to the area, and the apparent lack of sex crimes otherwise (rape, etc.), most people appreciated their presence.

Though there are no photos allowed of the museum itself, the gift shop and basement have plenty of fun displays and interesting history; you are free to wander, look, and photograph this while you wait for the guided tour, which starts every half hour.

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Radio once owned by the late movie star Lana Turner, who was born in Wallace (yet surprisingly, this is the only local reference to her that I have found)

The Oasis started as a hotel and saloon in 1895. Because records of such things are not particularly well-kept, it is unclear when exactly it became a house of ill repute, but one thing we do know for a fact was that the working girls fled the house suddenly in January of 1988 due to a tip of a potential federal raid (which did not actually happen, it turns out).

We know this because the girls grabbed what they could carry and ran, leaving behind most of their belongings; when the building was acquired by a new owner in 1993, he found everything upstairs just as they left it. This was when the decision was made to turn it into a museum.

Don’t worry, folks, the raciest part of what you will find is simply the knowledge of what the facility actually was. You will not find anything exceptionally awkward on display here. That being said, it is still probably not something you’d drag your young child to (who wants to explain that to a kid?).

I was the only visitor at the time (it turns out not many people in Idaho are out on a Monday morning to tour an old bordello), so I got my own private tour. My guide told me that very little has been changed since and pointed out the few changes that did occur (some personal belongings were actually found in closets or drawers, so the museum set them out to display).

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The upstairs is delightfully 80s with the colors, carpeting, and decor. The madam at the time (a woman called Ginger) had the largest room, of course. There is even a small corner of the door cut out because she owned chihuahuas that she would let run in and out. Next to it is a small block of wood she could place in the door when she wanted to keep them in, which was probably during business hours. Her Atari and game cartridges are still on display here as well.

The kitchen is interesting because there is still a bag of unpacked groceries on the counter, untouched since the desertion of 1988. Don’t worry, no rotting fruit or anything of the sort can be seen or smelled; they probably just left the dry goods to put away later.

The bordello could house five or six girls at a time, and the average girl worked only three to six months at the Oasis before moving on. One or two lived there for several years, though.

I could go on and on, but I want to leave the rest for when you go on the tour. I think I am so impressed with this museum because it is fascinating to see the bordello in its most legitimate state, untouched from its last point of operation (and not in a creepy way). It also was interesting to hear the side of the industry that does not deal with the exploitation or victimization of the women. This would make for a cool documentary or movie.

I highly recommend this museum. It is a perspective-opening experience and reveals a crazy era of the Idaho bordello.

Until next time, dahlings…

 

 

 

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