Monday, January 6, 2014

Notorious Brothel of Cripple Creek

My family just spent a wonderful 4 nights and 4 days in Cripple Creek Colorado at the Hotel St. Nicholas. While there, my bother-in-law took us on several tours around the area so we could get a sense and feel of the place. On Thursday, my sister-in-law took us to the Old Homestead, a brothel that surpassed all others of its time. The establishment was run by a well educated and beautiful woman named Pearl De Vere.

To make the town more safe, Marshall Hi Wilson moved all the dance halls, houses of ill repute and cribs to Myers Avenue which became the red light district. While prostitution wasn't exactly legal, he established a system that benefitted both the girls and the police force. The girls paid a yearly "fine" for their activities that went right into police funds. They also had monthly check ups with a physician to determine they were disease free. Pearl took very good care of her girls, insisting they use good hygiene and providing them with two good meals a day.

Pearl ran her house differently than the other madams. A gentleman had to apply to visit. After she determined his wealth, he was then allowed admittance. If there for the first time, he would be shown to the viewing room, a small room upstairs. The girls would enter the adjoining room and disrobe. He could peer in at them and make his selection. Most evenings began with some form of entertainment in the parlor or music room. Gents could play cards with their favorite ladies, dance or just visit before being led upstairs.

The Old Homestead is filled with all sorts of original antiques and well worth the visit. There are many more stories the curator tells and all very interesting. I was surprised that the rooms were rather small but furnished with rare imports.

In 1897, Pearl died of a morphine overdose. As the use of drugs in these houses was commonplace, no one knows for sure if she merely took a dose  to help her sleep or if she committed suicide. When her sister came all the way from Indiana to claim the body, she had no idea the profession her sister enjoyed. When she discovered Pearl was a madam, she refused to take responsibility for the funeral an disowned any relations to the woman. Prior to dying, Pearl had hosted a lavish party sponsored by a prominent Denver man. He'd bought her a $800 Parisian dress. They argued that night but after her death and anonymous donor sent $1000 dollars and a note that she was to be buried in the dress. She had the most lavish funeral ever with several wealthy business men in attendance and a band that accompanied them to the gravesite.

Hazel Vernon eventually took over running the Old Homestead. She would be known as the longest reigning madam of Cripple Creek. She sold the house in 1905. Even then, the house continued as a place of ill repute. As the mines dried out, business decreased and in 1917, the house became a boarding house.

Product DetailsWhile at the museum, I bought 3 books. One was a romance by Anna DeForest that was written in 1997 and featured the town of Cripple Creek and the Old Homestead. I'm reading Golden Dreams now and while it's typical for the time written, it's still a good romance. The best part is how she incorporated the history of the area into her story. It's no longer in print but the copy I got was signed and I think you can still find a few older copies at Amazon. The other two books were research books addressing the Old Homestead and Myers Avenue.

5 comments:

  1. I've heard of Cripple Creek. I think it is used in several old western movies. Thanks for the interesting post.

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  2. Terrific post! We did a fabulous trip to Colorado in October but didn't get to Cripple Creek. We saw tons of fabulous stuff but reading this, wish we'd had time to visit CC.

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  3. It seems Pearl didn't take care of herself as well as she did her girls. Or maybe, as you say, she didn't know the dangers of morphine.
    This sounds a little like The Chicken Ranch in Texas, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, except it came a little later. But the madam tried to take care of her girls.
    Isn't there a big casino in Cripple Creek? I believe that's where some of my Texas friends go to spend some time and gamble.
    I'd definitely go visit the brothel.
    Thanks for the first-hand report from Cripple Creek.
    Oh, and wasn't it a big gold mining place at one time, too?

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  4. Tanya, you'll just have to go back and visit CC. I want to go back in the spring or summer when it's not so cold and explore the mines. And Celia, the whole town is one big casino. The main street is home to at least 9. There's a really big one as you first enter town where we had the best breakfast. I played the penny slots and came away $2.00 richer.

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  5. Tanya, you'll just have to go back and visit CC. I want to go back in the spring or summer when it's not so cold and explore the mines. And Celia, the whole town is one big casino. The main street is home to at least 9. There's a really big one as you first enter town where we had the best breakfast. I played the penny slots and came away $2.00 richer.

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