The Oasis Bordello Museum in Wallace
Word had spread around Wallace that the Feds were on their way in, and the town’s bordellos had to close up fast. Under the vigilant eyes of Madame Ginger, the working girls of The Oasis grabbed what they could carry and left everything else behind. Their departure marked a sudden and unexpected end to prostitution in Wallace. The year was 1988.
For the next five years, until being sold in 1993, The Oasis was locked up and undisturbed. The building’s new owner found everything inside the former bordello just as Madame Ginger and her girls had left it — clothes, toiletries, personal items, drawings, Atari systems, price lists, liquor, even the now-rancid food in the refrigerator. He realized almost immediately that he had a ready-made museum on his hands. And the Oasis Bordello Museum was born.
It goes without saying that, in 1988, prostitution in America was completely illegal, even in out-of-the-way Wallace, Idaho. But Madame Ginger had been careful to make generous “donations” to the police department, and was one of the town’s prime philanthropists. As such, she was popular with locals and could even call upon the law for assistance, when needed. For all intents and purposes, The Oasis was a legitimate business… and what a business it was! With five girls working sixteen-hour shifts, profits were estimated to clear a million a year.
And that’s despite the competitive prices. Even those of us who’ve never, ahem, procured a Lady of the Night understand that $15 for an eight-minute session isn’t bad. During our fascinating tour of the Bordello, we found the price list posted up in Madame Ginger’s bedroom. Eight minutes was “the basic” session (let’s not kid ourselves, guys, that’s plenty of time). But there were other variations; you could go up to an hour, have a bubble bath, or purchase extra positions. The basic fare only included missionary.
The tour was compelling, often hilarious, occasionally sad and completely surprising. I had been expecting a staid, informative presentation of the prostitution racket in Idaho’s mining towns; not a bordello as it looked while still operating. We saw the girls’ music collections (Lionel Richie, Diana Ross), their reading selections (almost exclusively romance novels, which broke my heart), and wardrobes. We saw where they bathed, where they ate and, of course, where they worked.
Madame Ginger had expected to quickly return and resume business, but the FBI stuck around for years conducting a wide-ranging investigation into Wallace’s corrupt sheriff. When the Feds finally left, times had changed and bordellos were no longer a welcome enterprise in Wallace. With the money she had saved, Ginger moved to Coeur d’Alene and lived out the rest of her years in style.
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I just had to Google A-200 pyrinate liquid… learned that it is LICE KILLING SHAMPOO. This was both an interesting and sad look into a way of life most don’t think about.
Holy smokes! What a great experience, especially as a glance at what the 1980’s was really like. Sounds like Madame Ginger was a contemporary of Miss Mona from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!
What’s up with the WHS marching band uniform hanging on the closet door? LOL
Madame Ginger was a big supporter of the local community and also helped the Wallace High School. The school insisted to have a uniform submitted to the museum to show their appreciation.
Ginger (madam) purchased them. ginger was very helpful for our community
The madam would sponsor the local high schools and PAY for their uniforms
Eesh … why do I find mannequins so creepy?
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Thanks for the great post. I grew up in Wallace, and I was in the fifth grade when the feds raided the town. I’ve toured the bordello once, but plan on doing so again with my husband this Labor Day weekend when I go for a visit. Plus, I hope to base my second novel on some sort of scenario that involves Wallace’s scandalous past.
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I was in the Air Force stationed at Fairchild AFB in Spokane. Only 19 in 1962 but had a car. We were all under 20 years old and I was still a virgin. Knocked on the door of the Oasis (at street level) and we were allowed to come upstairs. I think all of us were virgins. I had the car and out-ranked all the others, so when the paraded all the girls in front of us I had first choice. I picked “Jet” a beautiful dark-haried lady. Had a great time “arount the world” for $10. One of my greatest memories.
I liked your comments in the section about the Oasis. It inspired me to post my memories of losing my virginity in Wallace. In my case, it was at the Luxette rooms. Check it out, if you like. I wonder how many guys lost their virginity in Wallace. Probably a lot.
Ken, you beat me by 11 years! I was working on the Wallace court house during the summer of 1972 for a Spokane based contractor. We had a half dozen or so painters & two of those painters were me(2nd year apprentice) & my dad(foreman). My dad would leave the Ryan hotel, cross the street & go up the stairs to the “U & I” cathouse. He was strung out on a gal up there that went by the name of “Jackie”. Me & my buddy Gary would go over to Sweets diner/lounge after work to play the pong game(1st electronic game). Gary was always nagging me to go up & see my dad when he was in the U&I & I finally relented & we took in the U & I for a visit. Good looking gals in the U & I for sure. Even the Madame looked pretty hot despite being an older woman(about 40 or so). I really thought that I would be the oldest man alive today that had been in a Wallace cathouse. It was a different world back then & often wish I could go back in time to relive it!
One of the old girls who worked there came back for the tour. When she got to her old room she grabbed the black pegisus statue next to her old bed flipped it over and grabbed her tips out! LOL All of the lamps the girls would keep their money in which is why those doll lamps are in there. 🙂 This tour is worth it I just loved it I took my Husband and then we went to 1313 resturaunt and bar. I can not wait to go back! So fun to learn history! 🙂
The first time I visited Wallace was some time in the late 70s or early 80s. How I heard about the bordello was when I was in the military the Army Times came out with a off limits list all over the united states. When I got out I had to see for myself. In the oasis I got the privilege of meeting a blond bombshell named Tanya. I think she was the nicest female I have ever met. She charged me $75.00 for one hour. She was terrific. I tried to find her a year later, and found out she married one of her clients. God Bless her
They should hire some of the ex prostitutes as tour guides, they probably know more than anybody on what really went on. I can still see that lady in my mind that I visited many years ago. Haven’t visited the museum yet, but its on my bucket list. Thanks
I grew up in Wallace. While home from college during the summer of 1971, I lost my virginity to a lady at the Luxette Rooms, two doors down from the Oasis. I never did go to the Oasis but did go back to the Luxette as well the U & I rooms and the Lux rooms over the next several years. It was part of my “coming of age.” Somewhere in the 90’s my wife and I toured the Oasis Museum. Like I said, I had never gone to the Oasis but the tour did evoke great memories. Yes, my wife was and is aware of my past.
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I stumbled across this article, I worked there in the early to mid 80s, that life style long gone…..the rooms look exactly as they were. My room was the red room…the beads have been there since 1980. I loved Ginger she was an amazing woman, infact the girls I worked with were all amazing…..we worked three weeks on 2 weeks off and most came from other parts of the country but to all the “visitors” we would tell we came from somewhere in Idaho…..I’m so glad the museum is there, although most don’t agree with that lifestyle we all were good women. The men were put through an inspection prior to the party checked for pubic lice and would be ” milked” looking for a discharge anything that didn’t look right we did not entertain. We seen the local dr once a week for check ups .We sat around the kitchen table played cards, ate laughed cried while waiting for business, during the day we would get dressed and nap, but after 6 pm Ginger didn’t allow us to nap we were busy until 4 or 5 in the morning.In the downstairs area was storage, lots of old stuff Ginger didn’t want or the girls left behind, the TV and chair that was Gingers room we really didn’t go in there except on Saturday night pay night. We paid half our earnings to the house as well as 100 week room and board, we had a cook and a door person we were expected to tip them each week as well 50-100 depending on the season. They were local women not working girls.
I have a bunch of posters from the Luxe id be curious to see of you know any of the girls in the photos and any stories about them.
hey Kathy, I was just there today. only thing they said different then you was, girls got sixty% and ginger got 40%. also that the girls had 3 wks on 1 wk off. im curious, who paid for the bouncers and maids? I assume ginger…fascinating place!!
I keep meaning to stop (been through on I90 3 times) but something always comes up. This year for sure- I have some time planned in Spokane.I worked with a guy who graduated from Washington State in the early 60’s, and he said that “pilgrimages” to Wallace were a regular feature of college life. He said that some fraternities would schedule a road trip as a reward for new initiates. (As pledges, they weren’t allowed to go, even on their own.)
Hey Brian, no it was 50/50.. Ginger paid the the door lady and the cook, we didn’t have a bouncer we typically could handle anybody who got out of hand. We did work 3 on 2 off…I lived in California had a home and bills to pay one week at home would not have been enough, those were the days that you could call the airlines and reserve tickets in any name. What memories, I forgot we also had traveling salesmen that visited selling jewelry and clothes they traveled the circuit between Wallace and Nevada.
My great Aunt Emma Spencer was a Madam in Folsom Ca during the war & she had a bath house where she made the men bathe before entering “the big house” My dad could tell some stories for sure. She was elegant & well read & now her old house is an historical monument in Folsom!!I loved reading all thisSharon
had a great time when studying at the university of Montana in the early 1980’s. they didn’t hurt anyone.
I think it was 1976 when Ginger came into McCollum Ford in Spokane to buy a car. I waited on her and helped her select a new T-Bird with all of the bells and whistles n a light green if memory serves. Anyway I go to take a credit application and she gets really reticent when I ask her about her employment. It was obvious she was extremely uncomfortable. Long story short she refuses to complete the credit application and promises she will be back. Sure enough about a week later she shows up with the cash in fives, tens, and twenties and has one of the girls along to drive her old car back to Wallace. If I remember right a loaded bird was about 7 or 8 grand and it took a while to count the money. She was a nice lady and we did a lot of laughing that day. I had a standing invitation for a freebie anytime, but could not see driving all the way to Wallace for something that was readily available in Spokane…
I love the background you told us and the pics. my dad found some information about my great-grandma was a madam in my home town and the house that my dad lived in as a kid of course when she had this business, my dad wasn;t born yet but she ran a nice house that’s what my grandma wrote in her diary that we found last summer, my great-grandma she lived to be 96 and she was a wonderful lady and I lived with her, I wish she had told me some of her stories. I lived near a army base and navy but at that time only the army guys could be in the town.
There was a comment from a GI from Fairchild AFB. I too was stationed there in 1958-1960. During that time I made the trek 3 or 4 times. My favorite was the Arnnett Rooms and Susannah. Those were the last days I ever visited a “house”. As for the addresses, they were readily available from the “off limits” list published on base and updated every 90 days. Obviously done so the troops could be kept up to date.I met a gal that worked there just before I left Spokane. Her story was that she was working her way through law school. By happenstance, I ran into her at the SFO airport about 5 years later. She finished school and was admitted to the bar. She told me that she enjoyed the work in Wallace, but, as of then, was about to get married and truely LOVED the practice of law. Haven’t heard of her since. God bless her for reaching her dream in life. We should all be so lucky.
Kathy should right your memoirs. I went through the tour and found it fascinating.
In 1982 my dad said if I could eat more ice cream than him he would take me to Wallace for a man treat. Well I won and true to his word took me to u & I. I was shy but she helped me, and my dad then promoted me to a man. I’ve lived in silver valley for while and north Idaho my entire life who would have thought they would make museum of this. Great times
Was there in about 1979 working on waterman system for city they informed us of the lady’s and iff we went they had juke boxes mounted on the wall i played 3 songs but only got to listen to one