The Birdcage Theater’s “Basement Bordello”

 

Wild times at the Bird Cage Theater in the silver boomtown of Tombstone, Arizona.

DSCN0327 (1280x730)
Tombstone was the site of the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt Earp and his brothers, along with Doc Holliday, had a gunfight with a gang.

The Bird Cage Theater website proudly quotes the NY Times from 1882, when the Bird Cage Theater was new:  “The wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” That’s New Orleans to San Francisco, quite a ways.

At the Bird Cage Theater, stairs backstage lead down to one of the wicked areas. There are some bedrooms where prostitutes entertained customers, and they are right beside poker tables. The poker players must have heard a lot of embarrassing noises from behind the prostitutes’ doors a couple yards away from their card game.

The poker games went round the clock. You’d sign up and have to wait a day or so for your spot to open. Someone would go and find you when it was your turn.

This basement is shown in two small photos on the home page, on the right. They are not labelled, but here’s how to find them: where the text reads: “recently, six more rooms …” the photo beside it shows one of the prostitutes’ bedrooms. Below it, you can see a table and chairs where men, and maybe women, played poker. Wild and wicked, indeed.

Roller Skating in the Old West

In History of Wyoming, T.A. Larson writes that roller skating rinks operated in Wyoming cities in the 1880s. They were popular with adults as well as youngsters, and in the eastern U.S. as well. I suppose most rinks in Wyoming had wooden floors, the same as most sidewalks of the 1880s.

Wyoming has cold winters, but the plains have few ponds for ice skating.  Indoor roller skating rinks provided fun all winter long. Imagine — cowboys roller skating on their trips to town.

Buried Treasure from 1856 America: Part Two

The discovery of the buried 1856 riverboat Arabia and its 200 tons of cargo began with a house call to repair the refrigerator of “some old character” whose name has been forgotten. Refrigeration company co-owner David Hawley showed up for that repair in the 1980s and recently told me the man had three walls covered with newspaper and magazine clippings: one wall of UFOs, another of Bigfoot or something similar, and a third wall with clippings about sunken steamships. This last was the only one he “could get into,” he said with a smile during my visit to the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

David Hawley read old newspapers and maps to find the nearby Arabia. He was joined in his treasure hunt by his father Bob, brother Greg and family friends Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell.

In 1987, they visited the owner of a farm, a retired judge, and told them they believed there was an old steamboat filled with cargo deep below his field, a half-mile from the Missourri River. (The river shifted course after the steamboat sank.) To their surprise, Judge Sortor said he knew, and that his ancestor Elijah Sortor had known when he bought the land in 1860. The story, and the exact location, had been passed down through the generations.

The next step, said one discoverer, was like playing the board game Battleship. Test drillings encountered the hull, and to find the perimeter of the boat, the men used a magnetometer and planted orange flags in the soil.

Farm field with outline of the 171-foot-long buried boat.

The water table was only ten feet below ground, thirty-five feet above the main deck. Massive pumping was required so that the hole would not fill with water.

20,000 gallons of groundwater per minute were pumped out.

First, they found wood from the ship, then a shoe. The contents of the first barrel dazzled them. It was packed with beautiful china.

 

Arabia Steamboat Museum

Arabia Steamboat Museum
One discoverer recounted in the museum’s film that the family went home and stayed up late into the night, thrilled. They knew they would find 200 tons of cargo from 1856. He said on that night he realized that this collection should not be sold piecemeal or broken up. Judge Sortor, the owner of the land, agreed.

The treasure included everything a frontier settler, rich or poor, might expect to find in a store. My previous post describes the find, some of which is on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum.

Once unearthed, the artifacts needed to be preserved, and quickly. The discoverers, some of whom owned a refrigeration company, installed huge coolers in caves. Some dug a hole (80x20x10 feet), put in artifacts, and kept a garden hose turned on for two and a half years while they contacted museums for advice. The solution was polyethylene glycol.

How much did all this cost? A cool million.

One discoverer described this project as a joy for the family and friends. I visited the museum twice, and each time the lights came up after the movie, a member of the Hawley family stood in front to welcome us and answer any questions. That’s how I got to chat with David Hawley and ask him about the day he learned about sunken steamboats and buried treasure.

Fashion Plates are Pages!

Scarlett O’Hara scandalized polite society a few times in Gone With The Wind.  She opened her own lumber mill and later staffed it with convicts from a local prison.   Money was scarce in war-torn Atlanta, but proper ladies had proper jobs, like painting china at home and selling it.  Scarlett pooh-poohed that.

Magazines were very popular entertainment in the days before television.  Illustrations in were often printed on smooth, heavy paper, called plates.  (Does anyone remember books with Plate 1 and Plate 2, instead of Fig. 1 and Fig. 2?)

Fashion plates were illustrations showing the latest styles, and often showed well-dressed women in (ladylike) action.

This hand-tinted fashion plate from "Les Modes Parisiennes:  Peterson's Magazine," includes a bride. 1866.
This hand-tinted fashion plate from “Les Modes Parisiennes: Peterson’s Magazine,” includes a bride. 1866.

This was printed as a black outline and dropped off at a woman’s house, and she added the color with paintbrushes.  This was a way women could work at home, because it was not considered acceptable for a woman to work in an office with men.

Later, the term “fashion plate” came to mean a woman who wore stylish clothes.

Idaho and the Key to the Cosmos

Its bordello museum had just closed for the winter, so I almost did not stop in Wallace.

The Wallace depot now houses a railroad museum.  The interstate behind it skirts the protected historic downtown.
The Wallace depot now houses a railroad museum. The interstate behind it skirts the protected historic downtown.

The Coeur d’Alene was the most productive silver-mining district in the United States.

Lake Coeur d'Alene has scenic bike trails and an annual IRONMAN Triathlon.
Lake Coeur d’Alene has scenic bike trails and an annual IRONMAN Triathlon.

Every downtown building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wallace, Idaho

I was hoping the Oasis Bordello Museum would be open, despite what I had read.  I’m writing about the red-light district in another mining town, Cripple Creek.

It was cold and windy, so I warmed up with a latte and friendly conversation with the coffeehouse owner.

I took a stroll, and was I in for a surprise.

The arrow points to a manhole cover.

Click here for the logic behind the mayor’s 2004 proclamation and to learn more about Wallace and the Coeur d’Alene area.

“Give Me a Ring Sometime”

From Champaign County Historical Museum. Photograph taken by Dori ([email protected]).

Before 1900, some Western cities had telephone service, but most folks who lived on farms or ranches had to go into town to use the phone.  Telephone poles and lines connected towns, but it wasn’t until later that they extended to individual rural homes.  Stores and saloons in towns installed telephones for the townspeople to use.

This very common early phone was mounted on the wall, so a caller had to stand to use it.  There were bells, a stationary mouthpiece, and a receiver you held to your ear.  To begin, you turned a crank on the side to generate electricity.  I believe the caller turned the crank when the conversation was over, too.

The telephone pictured has a dial for phone numbers, but other ones did not have this.  You spoke to a person, an operator, and he or she connected you.

In When I Grew Up Long Ago, Alvin Schwartz writes that callers tended to raise their voices when they spoke, not because they had to, but for psychological reasons, because the people were blocks apart.

In the late 1800s and later, a “call” was the term for a visit.  “Callers” were visitors, and “gentleman callers” were often suitors.  The phrase “telephone call” meant a visit conducted by telephone, and it has stayed in our language over a hundred years.

January 1 — 150 Years Since the Emancipation Proclamation

The newspaper's headline indicates an article about the Emancipation Proclamation.  By H. L. Stephens, untitled watercolor, c. 1863.
The newspaper’s headline indicates an article about the Emancipation Proclamation. By H. L. Stephens, untitled watercolor, c. 1863.

January 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary that the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.  This declared permanent free status for all slaves in Confederate states at war with the U.S.  These slaves were not liberated until the Union Army regained control of their area.  Later, freedom for all was added to the constitution in the Thirteenth Amendment after a fight for it to pass Congress, which was dramatized in the recent movie Lincoln.

Slaves gathered in churches on that New Year’s Eve to wait until midnight.  This link mentions this as well as the slaves’ previous New Year’s Eves, which were sometimes sad occasions:

http://www.interpretermagazine.org/interior.asp?ptid=43&mid=11612