Wallace, Idaho has a very unique attraction. Are you ready for this ladies and gents? It has a brothel museum. No kidding! Back in the day Wallace was home to many brothels. According to the history of the brothel museum, the sheriff was fine with looking the other way and most of the residents didn’t even realize it was illegal after 1973. It has an amazing history.
During the better part of the early and mid 20th century, mining was very successful in the area. It brought in a lot of men looking for work. Men began to outnumber the women up to 200 to 1. That’s a huge difference! So…brothels were a thriving business! This museum is the only one in the country that commemorates the oldest of professions.
Back in the day, the brothels in Wallace weren’t just places of “business”. They were known to contribute to local police funds and youth functions around town. The other businesses loved them because they bought the finest things and always paid cash. The Oasis even sponsored the Wallace High School’s band uniforms. It was the longest running brothel in Wallace and was run by Madame Ginger. She bought the existing brothel and ran it for over 30 years. The girls were on a rotating brothel “circuit”. They lived…and worked…in the rooms contained in the brothel. The room times were kept with kitchen timers. When you heard your timer go off, you were done and had 90 seconds to clear out.
In 1988, the sheriff tipped off Madame Ginger that the feds were headed to town. Seven girls and Ginger left so quickly they abandoned everything including a sack of groceries left on the kitchen counter. (A little side note I learned from the tour…the feds weren’t even there investigating prostitution. They were there to investigate the crooked sheriff.) Needless to say the world’s oldest profession ended its run in Wallace on that day in January 1988.
The building was purchased by Michelle and Jack Mayfield, who realized they had a unique opportunity. All they had to do was open the door and start charging admission. The Mayfields left the place EXACTLY as they had found it. There are magazines scattered around, lace panties on the dressing tables, makeup and even cigarettes preserved on the bedstands. Each of the ten rooms had a theme and every girl’s things have never been touched. It is all like walking back thru time. The Mayfields got most of their background on the place from the former working girls themselves (including Ginger when she was in her 70s). Shortly after they opened the museum, one of the people taking the tour surprised Michelle by introducing herself as one of them. Many men taking the tour have even acknowledged familiarity with the place. The Mayfields have perfected the art of keeping a poker face at these revelations.
On the bottom floor is a gift shop where you sign up to take the tour. Every hour they take people up the stairs to view the cheap paneling, tiny beds, jukebox and the department store mannequins now wearing the negligees left behind. A listing of items offered (like $15 for 8 minutes of straight, no frills or $25 for 15 minutes of half and half, deluxe), doctor’s names, airline schedules and the phone numbers of local officials adorn the walls of Madame Ginger’s dressing room. To quote Mayfield “This was grocery-store sex”. The women worked 12-hour shifts for two weeks straight, 35 to 40 customers a night. I’ll stop right there and let that sink in……
Location: Wallace, Idaho. Take I-84 out of Boise headed toward Oregon for 252 miles. Take Exit 179 for I-82 toward Umatilla for 30 miles. Take Exit 113 for US-395 for 7 miles. Then take the US-12/US-395 Exit toward Spokane, Washington. Keep left and merge onto I-183 E. Continue onto US-395 for 74 miles. Merge onto I-90 E (entering back into Idaho). After 139 miles take Exit 61 toward Wallace. The Oasis Bordello Museum is located at 605 Cedar St. Phone number (208) 753-0801.
Cost: It is $5 to take the tour. **You have to walk up a steep flight of stairs. There is no handicapped access.**
Lodging and Dining: There are various locations available in Wallace as it is a thriving community.
Special Notes: I wouldn’t take the kids there. They wouldn’t understand and might hear some things you don’t want them to. I would have more pictures, but they don’t allow photography in the actual museum.
There is a lot to do in Wallace. You can look through my other postings to see all the Bucket List opportunities. It is incredible the history of this one town. It is a good idea to just stay an entire weekend and do everything! In two days I checked off a great many things on the list and had a blast doing it. The town is beautiful, the people welcoming and the scenery unbelievable.
I loved this little museum. I was shocked with some stories, mystified by others and took a minute to believe a few. While you are in the gift shop try on a boa, wear a hat, and play the old piano. Get a little crazy…they expect it here!