Oasis Bordello Museum
If your vision of a Wild West brothel includes 19th century gunslingers and glamorous women in corsets, then a visit to the Oasis Bordello Museum may alter your view. It's a museum that was once a cathouse, and it was open for business until 1988.
That's right. While Nancy Reagan was telling America "Just say no," the ladies of the Oasis were saying "Yes" to any man in Wallace with twenty bucks.
The Oasis became a museum by accident. Its women, convinced that the FBI was about to raid the place, fled in a panic and never came back. Its current owners have preserved it exactly as it was on that night -- so the museum is also a time machine, providing a view of the late 1980s through the unique prism of prostitutes in Wallace, Idaho, right down to the J.C. Penney catalogs on the coffee table and the video store rental list taped to the kitchen wall.
Michelle Mayfield, born and raised in Wallace, owns the museum and was the guide for us, along with a group of tourists. According to Michelle, more than 20 women who worked at the Oasis have returned to see the place, and to give her the details of its operation. "Now I know more than I really need to know," she said. "My head is sort of bubbly with it."
Visitors enter the brothel the way that its clients did, up a creaking set of stairs and through a triple-deadbolt door. In the front room, a mannequin dressed like the house Madam lounged on a couch, hand resting on the joystick of an Atari 5200. The Madam played Atari all night long, Michelle said, and her console TV is still piled with her favorite cartridges: Space Invaders, Breakout, and Pac-Man. Nearby, the brothel price list is taped to a wall for easy reference, written on a sheet of yellow tablet paper, broken down by sex act and timed to the minute. "Eight minutes, fifteen dollars, straight, no frills," a woman read off of the list. "What does that mean?" One of the men on the tour laughed. "No guys ever ask that question!"
Michelle opened a door and we all peered into the linen closet, which was lined with four decks of shelves piled with small, fuzzy rugs. The men, she said, were encouraged to take a rug with them and throw it across their prostitute's bed. It made clean-up easier.
Next on the tour were the prostitute's rooms. Each had a showroom dummy dressed in lingerie left behind when the women fled. Stockings, bras, and frilly panties hung from mirrors and lamps; vanities were cluttered with cans of hair spray, boxes of press-on nails, and an occasional bottle of NyQuil or box of Vivarin. Each room, we noted, had a wash bucket, a paper cup dispenser, and a can of air freshener.
In the brothel's bathroom, a glamour dummy in a shower cap soaked in a tub of packing peanuts. Seven different medicine cabinets -- one for each prostitute -- were mounted on the walls. The bathroom had a tub and a toilet, but no shower or shower curtain. It served the needs of all of the women in the house.
The kitchen at the Oasis was also its nerve center. "This entire wall was covered with local names and phone numbers," Michelle said, but when she and her husband bought the place, he quickly painted it over. "He wouldn't let me see it." Next to the now-blank wall was a line of wind-up kitchen timers, one for each sex room. "When the bell rang, the maid knocked on the door and said, 'Time's up!'" Michelle explained. Then Michelle pulled open a drawer filled with gears and springs. "They were so busy they wore out the timers."
According to Michelle, a woman at the Oasis could make as much as $2,000 a week. This prompted a chorus of low whistles and "Oh my"'s from our group.
In the broom closet, along with bottles of Scope and cans of Lysol and carpet cleaner (see "linen closet" above) were several dozen red light bulbs, still in their corrugated paper packages. Most of the bulbs in the brothel were red, Michelle said. "The red light gives you a nice glow."
Michelle said that the town was against the idea of the Oasis Bordello Museum at first. Now, however, it trumpets its sex trade heritage with businesses such as the Red Light Garage and The Best Little Hairhouse beauty salon. Michelle is proud of her role as the brothel's historian, and encourages everyone to visit, although, "If there are children on the tour, I don't show them the price list."