The Oasis Bordello meets the 10 Commandments
"Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue."
François de la Rochefoucauld
On my most recent trip, I spent a couple of days in Wallace, a small city in the Idaho panhandle. The whole town is on the US National Historic Register, and has many extremely well preserved buildings dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I found the town quite interesting, and the residents extremely friendly. It is really a nice place to visit.
One of the many notable buildings is the Shoshone County Courthouse. Constructed in 1905, it is considered a good example of neoclassical revival style. Interestingly, I found that Alabama (see Reflection 6) is not the only place where you will find the10 Commandments at the courthouse. The Shoshone County Courthouse has them prominently displayed on a monument on the front lawn. This monument is a relatively recent addition, having been put in place by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1970.
No big deal I suppose. Sooner or later some Idaho resident may take sufficient offense to make this an issue, and the monument may have to come down, unless it is somehow protected by the town's historic registration.
But what is interesting is that a mere two blocks away is the Oasis Bordello Museum, a museum and gift shop located in what was once one of the town's brothels. Obviously, brothels were not unusual in old mining towns. The difference with the Oasis is that somehow it survived as an operating bordello until 1988. This in spite of the fact that prostitution was illegal in Idaho for many years prior to 1988.
For 18 years, the 10 Commandments (including the 7th) on the Courthouse lawn and the Oasis Bordello somehow coexisted. Considering the population of Wallace is a little under a thousand, it is quite unlikely that most of the population were unaware of it. And for a city of this size to support its own whorehouse, I would think that a significant proportion of the population would have to be regular customers.
It is quite improbable that the legal community in the Courthouse were did not know there was a brothel in the middle of the business district. And it does not require great imagination to think at least some members of this community may have been customers.
Very close to the Courthouse is the police station; a short three block walk to the brothel going out the front door. The back door is only two blocks away, and does not require passing the 10 Commandments. Is it remotely possible the local police did not know about this illegal activity? Or is it more probable that at least some police force members took advantage of a "professional" discount?
And on the very same block as the Oasis is the Wallace City Hall, just a few doors down. Did City Hall not know, or were they just happy to get the appropriate business taxes? And did local politicians not pay the occasional, or regular visit?
What about the members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles? Do we really think they were ignorant of what went on in the rooms above the saloon at 605 Cedar when they put up their monument, and in the 18 years following? And were various Eagles amongst the customers over the years?
Personally, I have no problem with the existence of brothels, bordellos, whorehouses, ranches, or whatever else you want to call this particular form of business. I think they should be legal. But they aren't in most places, and were not legal in Idaho through most of the Oasis's existence. And you cannot remain in business for over 90 years without customers. It seems to me that at least some of those customers probably were intimately involved with the erection of the 10 Commandments on the Courthouse lawn.
If you are ever travelling on Interstate 90 through northern Idaho, visit Wallace. It's well worth spending a day or more there. The people are very friendly, and you can get a strong sense of the history of the American West. While you are in Wallace, include the Courthouse and the Oasis on your walking tour. And consider the relationship, if any, between public expressions of piety and private behaviour.
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