Oasis Bordello Museum perfectly preserves Idaho's hidden history of prostitution

Posted at 7:22 PM, Jul 05, 2017

An illegal mining-town brothel until 1988, the Oasis Bordello Museum is now a time machine where you can step into the past and view the world through the eyes of a working girl. Owners keep the doors open to invite visitors inside an undeniable part of Wallace, Idaho's rich and complex mining history.

"Each girl saw an average of 40 customers a night," Linda Hornbuckle, a tour guide at the Oasis Bordello Museum, said.

Wallace, located in Shoshone County, is part of the Silver Valley mining district. The district produced more silver than any other mining district in the United States.

Hornbuckle says, as an active mining community during the turn of the century, men outnumbered women 200 to one. 

A woman known as "Madam Ginger" ran the Oasis until it closed.

"Ginger told us herself that most of the customers were out of here in five to eight minutes," Hornbuckle said. 

A price list or "menu" is displayed in Ginger's room at the Oasis. Eight minutes "Straight, No Frills" with one of Ginger's girls cost fifteen dollars in 1988. 

According to Hornbuckle, maids were in charge of managing a set of egg timers kept in the kitchen. Hornbuckle joked the timers weren't kept in the rooms because the ticking could be "distracting" to the customers. Once a timer went off, it was up to a maid or bouncer to make sure the customer was out of the room or would pay more money for services rendered. 

Hornbuckle says Ginger wouldn't hire local women to work as prostitutes. Maids, who cooked and cleaned for the girls, and bouncers were often from Wallace, though. 

Ginger kept five girls on the floor at a time. Most would only work in the brothel for three to six months before moving on. One woman, who went by the name of "Casey", was said to have stayed at the Oasis for ten years.

The women would work 16-hour days, from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m. Girls could make up to $100,000 a year, a profit they split 60/40 with Ginger. A sign in one of the girl's rooms states, "Considering Services Rendered, It is Customary and Appreciated to TIP Accordingly." 

Hornbuckle says the Oasis closed in 1988 after Ginger got a tip that the FBI would be raiding the brothel. She and her girls grabbed a few belongings and left everything else, convinced they could return at a later time. 

"It ended up that the FBI came into town, not to raid the brothel, but they were actually starting an investigation into the local sheriff," Hornbuckle said. "They set up an office, and they ended up staying here for over two years, so the girls really never could come back."

Ginger sold the building, retired in Coeur D'Alene, and the new owner turned the brothel into the Oasis Bordello Museum, which opened in 1993.

Each bedroom door in the Oasis is identified by a different color. Inside the rooms, mannequins sport lingerie left behind by its last occupant. On the vanities, nail polish, perfume, cans of hairspray, personal lubricant and the occasional bottle of NyQuil or Vivarin can be spotted. 

"We did have one girl, she was here the day that they left in 1988... the owner brought her up here for a tour... and she went right to the statue of the horse and she picked it up and turned it upside down and there was still a $20 bill folded and scotch-taped under there," Hornbuckle said. "She had forgotten to take it, so he told him, 'Hey, ya know, I earned this money, can I have it back?' and he told her, 'You sure can'." 

Ginger's room features an Atari gaming system, a set of extravagant feathered wigs, magazines with Nancy Regan's face on the cover and a band uniform from Wallace High School.

"Some people from the Wallace High School brought that over," Hornbuckle said. "They asked if we would hang it in Ginger's room to commemorate the fact that she used to buy those for the school as a donation."

The Oasis Bordello Museum offers guided tours and is featured on the Wallace Chamber of Commerce's website.

Though thinking about what went on inside the Oasis might make visitors blush, the locals refuse to hide what some may consider a shameful past. 

"You see things such as little stuffed animals on the girls' beds," Hornbuckle said. "Even on their lock-boxes, where they kept their money, there's, like, little stickers of Strawberry Shortcake, and it's, like, yeah, they were human beings. I think it does humanize a little bit more, and see that they're normal human beings just like me and you, they just chose to do something different than you would have done. 

The Oasis Bordello Museum is located at 605 Cedar Street in Wallace and is open May through October.