Friday, May 14, 2010

A Visit to A Bordello

Last year on Labor Day weekend my husband and I wanted to get out of San Antonio. Nothing more planned than to explore a town that wasn’t the one where we lived. I’d heard about a bordello museum in San Angelo (about 225 miles away) and that became our destination. Before the 4-day weekend was over, we’d visited 6 different museums or historical sites but for this post, my focus is on Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum.

A bit of history from the tour: the two-story building on Concho Street was constructed in 1896. A short time later, Miss Hattie moved to San Angelo and married Mr. Hatton. When she discovered he quite liberally imbibed in alcohol, she divorced him. The divorce settlement granted him the lower floor of the building and she got the upper floor. Access was via a separate door and staircase at the east end of the building.
In 1902, Miss Hattie opened her bordello. At the top of the stairs was a parlor furnished with chairs and sofas and it opened into Miss Juanita’s parlor. Miss Juanita was not a prostitute but a woman who entertained the gentlemen with song and dance using a phonograph while they waited for the woman of their choice. At any one time, five or six women worked there. Each had their own room and decorated it as they pleased.
The dining room was used only by the women and Miss Hattie hired a woman to cook and clean for the ladies. The sheets were changed daily and their meals were prepared in a 6’x8’ kitchen. Miss Hattie’s Bordello was the first building in San Angelo to have running water, electricity to the upstairs and glass windows. The claw foot tub was extra long and considered big enough for two. Off the entry parlor runs a long hallway with the ladies’ rooms on either side. At the end of the hallway is a small balcony.
Miss Blue’s room provided proof that she was aptly named because all the decorations were in shades of blue. Because of its location adjacent to the bathroom, the room also had a tub and hot water heater.
Originally from New Mexico, Miss Mable came to San Angelo to work and earn money for her husband’s consumption treatment. Vivid colors, serape blankets and black lace fans decorated her room.
Miss Kitty was popular enough with the local ranchers that she received bequests of a ranch from the wills of three different ranches. To this day, one ranch has remained under the control of her descendants.
Miss Rosie loved the color red, especially for her shoes. From a window in her room ran a catwalk to the San Angelo National Bank. Not only would the girls use this as an escape route during police raids, upstanding citizens would go into the bank for meeting with one of the bank officers but really they were paying a visit to the bordello without advertising the fact.
Miss Goldie was the star attraction and commanded $2.00 for her favors—exorbitant for the times. (Most of the other ladies earned a quarter to half that fee.) Because she was the highest earner, her lodgings consisted of a parlor and a bedroom. A lace curtain separated the rooms. Among her clients were many military officers.
Since she lived elsewhere, Miss Hattie had an office and parlor set aside to conduct her business. The gentleman’s waiting room was used for card playing, dominoes and conversation after they’d visited the ladies. Entertainment of quick-witted banter and harmonica playing was often provided by Elmo, a regular visitor never had money to partake of the ladies’ favors.
Over the years, the prostitutes changed and four different women owned the bordello and the right to be called Miss Hattie (think the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride). The bordello was finally closed down by a Texas Ranger-led raid in 1952.
During the 1970s, the museum was opened and now it sits above a jewelry store. Employees of the store run the tours and report the bordello is haunted—they’ve heard footsteps overhead or on the stairs, lights burning that were turned off and coins left on bedspreads. As a special incentive, those buying a wedding ring set at the jewelry store get the rental of the upstairs for a bridal shower included.
Some of the original furnishings remain and the upholstered sofas with wood trim and iron bedsteads were quality pieces at the time of initial use. As I walked the narrow hallway and learned about the women who lived in those small rooms, I thought of the difficulties that led them to that life. The one bit of solace was that Miss Hattie sounded like a madam who looked out for her girls and offered them nice surroundings.
Similar museums exist in other cities and in other states. If you might want to write about a soiled dove and want a peek at what life was like for such a woman, don’t pass up the chance to visit one of these museums.

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