Tourists Get A Look At Idaho Bordello

WALLACE, Idaho - The girls upstairs in the Oasis Rooms still dress like hookers, and it costs $4 to see them. These days, though, customers can look but they can't touch. The girls are mannequins, and the former bordello is a museum.

It's a strange kind of tourist trap, combining a cartoon version of sexuality with Wallace's long history as the sin capital of the Inland Northwest.

"It's a fine line between making it interesting and not being offensive," said owner Jack Mayfield, retired from the nearby Lucky Friday silver mine. "You see more (sexuality) on TV than you do up here."

The museum opened in 1993 and immediately caught people's attention. Mayfield and his wife, Michelle, bought a former house of ill repute whose interior was left intact after it closed in 1988. They added a little history, some folklore and sentimental memories from those proverbial hookers with hearts of gold.

The original Oasis opened in 1895 - museum receipts mention "A Century of Service." It was one of five bordellos that operated along Cedar Street, the red-light district of this mining town 70 miles east of Spokane.

"There were so many men and so few women," Michelle Mayfield said. "Almost any two-story building with a bed was used sooner or later as a bordello."

Prostitution was outlawed in 1973, but the houses remained open. When the Oasis was raided for the umpteenth and last time in 1988, the working girls grabbed their purses and little else.

The house never reopened - leaving a sort of still-life rendering of the world's oldest profession, circa 1980s.

The first floor, which serves as the museum gift shop, offers a glimpse of 19th century prostitutes - the "soiled doves" who were often the only women in boom towns. Visitors can leaf through a biography of 19th century hooker Molly b'Dam, who tended the sick before dying at age 35 in nearby Murray in 1888.

Near the front of the gift shop are steep, narrow stairs to the second floor. It costs $4 to pass through the door with its nine locks, and into the dingy, wood-paneled bordello.

Bordello customers were taken to one of three waiting rooms, where they would be visited by a number of scantily clad ladies, said tour guide Michelle Mayfield.

Prostitution was built into the local economy. Before prostitution was outlawed, the city assessed each house $150 per month to pay for municipal services.

The prostitutes also bought band uniforms for Wallace High School in the 1950s, and a new police car for the city in 1982, Mayfield said.

Anne Seagraves, author of "Soiled Doves, Prostitution in the Early West," said the museum accurately recalls a time when prostitution was accepted as a part of life on the frontier.

"They were surrogate mothers and sisters," said Seagraves, who lives in nearby Hayden, Idaho. "They took care of the men when they were sick."