It’s finally here! My book,
Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business Doing Pleasure,
is now available!
And this is the back cover:
It’s finally here! My book,
Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business Doing Pleasure,
is now available!
And this is the back cover:
It’s been about a week and a half since I read from my work at the Wallace Brewing Company’s Orehouse Tasting Room. It was a packed house: the News Press claimed there were “more than fifty” attendees, but during the question/answer period afterward I counted sixty-four people in the standing room only audience. I was grateful for the opportunity to share some of my in-progress writing in person.
So this post is for those who missed out for one reason or another. Below is a transcript of what I read. For a blog bonus, I’ve added pictures.
Thank you to Chase and Cathleen for hosting this event and inviting me to participate. Thank you to the Wallace District Mining Museum, who funded much of my research.
I wish I could have met Dolores. That wasn’t her given name, of course. She was born Mary Giacolone and she died Maria Greer. But for most of her life, she was Dolores Arnold, savvy businesswoman who ascended from working girl to madam of a successful brothel franchise in Wallace, Idaho from 1943 until the late 1980s. Dolores’s story, like her identity—an invented persona she assumed for forty years—is a mix of fact and fiction that became its own reality. Dolores knew that stories repeated often enough could blur together and create a believable myth. She harnessed that power to create a world here, a world where the sex industry could be relatively safe and widely supported by the vast majority of the community, despite its illegal nature.
I’ve conducted more than seventy-five interviews during the course of my research and almost every single person I talk to repeats the following phrases: “The houses offered relief for single miners and kept local women from getting raped. The women were clean and didn’t solicit around town or on the streets.” But especially: “The houses were good for the local economy; they gave so much back to the community.” It’s no accident that these phrases are the univocal chorus around town to this day. They are the result of Dolores’s forty-year reign as queen. One woman I interviewed characterized the brothels as “The United Way of Wallace,” adding that she thought there should be a statue of Dolores in this town (Stewart).
Dolores had striking beauty, even well into old age. “People were in awe of her,” one man told me, “she could have been a movie star earlier in her career” (Higgins). I think people responded to her unguarded, empathic demeanor and the confident way she carried herself, all of which she expressed through her eyes. Taller than the average woman, Dolores had long dark hair and a wide smile. She sensed the motivations of others and noticed details overlooked by most people. Those who knew her describe her as charming, warm, funny, graceful, and elegant. She made everyone feel special. She also had a reputation for strict professionalism in all of her business dealings, prompting a higher standard of excellence among subordinates, colleagues, clients, and community members.
If I could talk to Dolores today, I would ask her what her childhood was like, what drew her to Wallace and what influenced her decision to exchange sex for money. I would ask her what she learned along the way. I would also ask her if she ever had mixed feelings about owning and managing an illicit business commonly perceived as immoral and exploitive, despite its widespread acceptance in Wallace.
Like many women drawn into the sex industry during the 1940s, Dolores suffered a traumatic childhood. Her parents were Italian immigrants who met in New Jersey. Dolores’s father worked in a glass factory there at the time of her birth, and in the early 1920s they moved to Spanaway, Washington, where they bought a farm worth $2,600 in 1930 (1920-1930 US Census data). Dolores’s mother died when she was just six, leaving her widowed husband to raise Dolores and her three siblings, including younger sister Janet and two younger brothers. Before Janet died, she met with Dick Caron to talk about her childhood. During this conversation, Janet said Dolores and her siblings were left to raise themselves after their mother’s premature death, and they often dealt with “adverse conditions” as a result. They found out later that their mother had relatives they never met. Janet assumed they stayed away because they didn’t want to feel obligated to take in the kids. They “were better off for being alone,” Janet claimed, “made us tough.” It did not, however, make them close. While Janet did not interfere with her sister’s life, she also didn’t support it (Caron notes).
Just a year and a half after Dolores’s mother died, the stock market crashed, and the country plunged into the Great Depression. Dolores did not finish high school and moved to Wallace in 1943 at the age of twenty-three, after working in the shipyards at Bremerton, Washington, where she was a “Rosie the Riveter” (Caron notes, Barnard Stockbridge Collection, Mogenson, Morrison, and Truean). She’d heard that Wallace was the place to go if she wanted to take advantage of a particular arrangement here that could be lucrative if approached in the right way.
According to Gary Morrison, a Wallace boy who befriended Dolores in the 1960s when he delivered groceries to the Lux Rooms and considered her “like a family member,” Dolores’s move “was a business decision.” Morrison said she explained it this way:
I made up my mind that I could do that. Once I agreed that I could do that and just set that part of me aside, and said, okay this is business, I’m not going to whine about it, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. That’s what I’m going to do. Once I’d decided that I could accept that, I got in the car and I drove to Wallace. Somebody had told me about Wallace, having these—I had to hunt around and ask people, I didn’t know where the houses were.
She began working on the floor at the Lux Rooms, above where the Sixth Street Melodrama is now.
Timing contributed to Dolores’s successful career: she arrived at an opportune moment for the sex industry, after the introduction of penicillin, which cured most sexually transmitted infections, and before the eruption of AIDS (Roizen). During this era, the brothels were open 24 hours a day, doing “booming business” serving military men (Mayfield, Gordon). Even though Wallace was officially off-limits, sailors and airmen frequently visited. They came from Farragut Naval Base near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington. To get around the off-limits designation, military men would buy a bus ticket for Missoula, Montana, and get off in Wallace to visit the houses without leaving a paper trail that would get them in trouble (Filer). They were not allowed to wear anything but their issued uniforms and madams wouldn’t let them upstairs unless they were in street clothes, but they found a way around this obstacle as well. A cleaning business accessible from the alley behind Cedar Street was known to rent civilian clothes to enable them to visit the brothels while maintaining the appearance of propriety (Filer).
It’s unclear how long Dolores worked before she was able to buy the Lux Rooms because there are multiple conflicting stories about how she came into the means. One man told me she tried to get a loan from the bank but was turned down (“AH”). There are rumors asserting that she received the money from Hank Day, the prominent mining executive she had a relationship with (Higgins). Another man said Dolores told him she “saved every bloody dime. And put it in the bank” (Morrison). Others guessed she invested in mine stocks (Posnick, “JA”). The written record shows that she and Lonnie Greer bought the Lux Rooms from Mary Albertini in 1953 for $7,000 dollars [clarification here: they bought the *building* from her, not the business…].
Dolores built her business into a classy operation, which she expanded in 1968, when she bought the Jade from her friend Loma Delmonte and turned it into the Luxette. Dolores worked hard to create the image of community caretaker and was almost universally admired around town. The walls of her personal room at the Lux, where she entertained especially privileged guests, were adorned with 18 karat gold fleck paint imported from Italy for the price of $200 a gallon and her closet was full of fur coats (“Tommy”). Dolores began the practice of advertising by giving away Playboy-style pinup girl calendars personalized with her business name and other houses followed her lead by passing out similarly styled matchbooks. “In today’s era,” one local businessman told me, “she would easily be a top executive in a large corporation. She was that good. She was instrumental in forming a consortium with the other madams to buy the community stuff” (Higgins). Dolores worked to promote prostitution as a profession as legitimate as anyone else’s (Hulsizer, Houchin, Michael).
Dolores was friendly and outgoing yet known for her discretion, which was partly what kept her in the good graces of the community. She hosted private parties for local civic organizations like the Gyros. Despite one exception that several people noted, there was no sex at these parties, which operated in accordance with the “underlying and rarely spoken agreement” that they “wouldn’t fall into some kind of a debauchery, you know, a big orgy that then would be talked about in the community for the next century,” as one man put it (Morrison). Dolores is also in a regional newspaper saying, “People always think the worst of these places. But we do it right” (Henderson). “Doing it right” probably contained some sexual innuendo, but she was also referring to background checks and doctor’s visits. When the women first arrived to work at the houses, police officers took their mug shot and fingerprints, sent copies to the FBI and Immigration, and received a rap sheet back. The officers would then call the brothel managers with the information to ensure they weren’t employing underage girls or anyone who appeared to have connections with organized crime (Jacobson). “Doing it right” also referred to discretion: the working girls “would never come up to a guy around town and say that she knew him,” one woman told me, adding, “they kept their personal life personal and their business life professional” (Schonhanes).
Most of the people I’ve interviewed make sure to mention how the madams tipped generously for deliveries and bought most of the raffle tickets for various fundraisers. Although there’s no doubt that Dolores was generous, she was also very aware of public relations, and she purposefully appealed to the classic “heart of gold” stereotype. She was the biggest contributor around town, renowned for winning all the raffles and then turning the prizes into donations, passing along her Demolay turkeys to families in need (Morrison). Dolores notoriously bought the school’s band uniforms, in part, rumor has it, in exchange for an agreement that they would no longer march around the streets to practice early in the morning.
The madams and women who worked in the houses emphasized the positive. Men and women alike repeat that the houses were symbiotic with the town, which operated according to a “live and let live” system of morality. The madams circulated sayings that explicitly connected their work to family and community values. For example, “Dolores often said that she saved more marriages than any clergyman ever did.” (Higgins). The madams donated money in visible ways to local government, schools, charities, and churches. They knew that word of their works would travel if they maintained a consistent image.
And word did spread. A New York Times article discussing the temporary closure of the houses in 1973 notes how Dolores gave baskets of food to the families of the [ninety-one] miners who died in the Sunshine Mine disaster the previous year (“5 Brothels Shut”). Another newspaper story claims that “Dolores Arnold and her contributions to the town of Wallace are legend, and most of the legend is true,” although one “rumor—that she has solid-gold bathroom fixtures in her apartment at the Lux and Luxette Hotel—needed clarification. Gold plate, Dolores explained, not solid gold” (Henderson). This article, written during the 1980s, also corrects a popular legend about her Cadillac that nevertheless continues to be repeated: “The house madam seemed amused by another story that she orders a new Cadillac in Spokane every year and pays for it in cash. ‘That’s a lie… My Cadillac is 14 years old’” (Henderson). One story often told locally involves a robbery or fight at one of the houses, resulting in a court case. Dolores was called as a witness, and at one point, the lawyer asked her which way the door in the brothel opened. She said to him, straight-faced, “you know damn well which way that door opens” (“FG,” Higgins, Achord). According to another version of this story, it wasn’t Dolores but a girl who worked for her, and she was fired because of her lack of discretion (Magnuson).
One of the more popular services was said to be the bubble bath (“Betty,” Mooney, “Paul”), even though it was also one of the most expensive. Terry Douglas, who maintained the “coin operated amusement devices” in the house’s bars and jukeboxes, related a story about his boss giving him money for a bubble bath experience, which he’d been hesitant to try out because of the cost. Douglas closed his story by saying with a smile, “And I’ve never forgot it. And we’re thirty years later.”
I’ll just go ahead and leave it there for now. To read more about the houses in and around Wallace through the years, you can visit my website: abusinessdoingpleasure.com. Sign up to receive future posts via email and stay updated on the project, which will be published as a book next year. For now, I have overview DVDs on sale for $10.00. Please feel free to ask me questions or share your stories! I’m grateful to be able to share this work with you and it’s such an honor to open for Keith, whose writing I admire very much…
A week from today, I’ll be reading an excerpt from my work on the history of sex work in the Silver Valley! Please come join us at the Wallace Brewery (610 Bank St., Wallace, Idaho) on Wednesday, January 13, beginning at 7:00 pm.
I’m actually the opening act for the Idaho-raised author, Keith Lee Morris, who will be reading from his recently released novel, Travelers Rest, a surreal and time-bending story set in a fictionalized version of the town of Wallace. I just started reading it last night and I’m already hooked by his observations about the characters and chilled by his description of Wallace as a snowbound bermuda triangle.
For anyone who hasn’t yet read Morris’s work, I highly recommend you also check out his earlier novel, The Dart League King, which is set in a fictionalized version of Sandpoint, Idaho.
This reading is going to enable a lot of opportunity for us to talk and hang out (and I think play darts and pool) afterward. PLUS, the Wallace Brewery has excellent beer at very reasonable prices (personally, I love their Vindicator IPA and Huckleberry Shandy).
Also of interest to readers of this blog, the theme of the Brewery is distinctly brothel-oriented, including lots of the old Playboy-style calendars Dolores Arnold used to give away as party favors. I’ll have copies of my DVD for sale (more on this in a couple of days!) and Morris should have copies of his books for sale that I’m sure he would be happy to sign. So if you’re local-ish, come down, enjoy a drink, and chat with us about Wallace portrayed in both fiction and nonfiction!
So, lots of big developments lately…
I visited Dolores Arnold’s grave in Tacoma, Washington this week. She’s buried next to her mother, who died when she was six, and her sister, who died last fall. Here are pictures:
I felt sad and humbled when I got there and saw how small the grave marker is. It’s about the size of a book or iPad, understated for a woman who was the most famous and beloved madam in Wallace’s history. The grounds at the Calvary Cemetary were very well-kept. Standing there on the damp ground I could smell cut grass, wet dirt, and fallen leaves. Planes flew into and out of McChord Air Force Base just to the Southeast. Birds chirped. It tried to rain but eventually gave up.
Some of you might not have heard yet: this summer, I resigned from my job as a professor to move back to Wallace and focus most of my time on the book. It was a big decision and definitely the right one for me. Needless to say, access to primary sources was pretty tough when I lived 2,400 miles away in Virginia. It was also difficult to build face-to-face relationships with research participants from across the country. It’s been great to live back in the valley again. I just picked up a job that will allow me to work on the project a lot more and this week I’ve been working on a book proposal for publishers. Wish me luck!
You might have noticed some small changes with my site. My new web address is “ABusinessDoingPleasure.com” although findheatherlee.com still forwards to it for at least another year. I changed my domain name because I think I finally settled on a book title. I also formed my own company, so now I’m officially the manager at findheatherlee media, llc. That’s kind of exciting. Next comes a Facebook site for the project (stay tuned for the chance to win a prize for liking the page)…
I’ve also begun to advise the writing club at the jr./sr. high school. As a result (thanks to Val), I found out about this writing tracker-motivator app called Writeometer that is pretty cool. I love how you can set your deadline and then see how many words per day you need to write to get there. Or you can enter in the words per day and then hit the calculator button to see how many days it will take to complete the project.
And finally, after much written correspondence and a phone conversation with the folks at the FBI, I am happy to announce that they will be sending 950 pages worth of information about the 1991 raid. Most of that is a report for the prosecutors written by one of the special agents who was investigating the case. It was looking like I was going to have to pay a huge amount of money for the files (and Dean Cooper at the 1313 offered some really helpful support—thank you so much!) but after talking with a researcher at the FBI over the phone, I decided to reduce the request to 950 pages in order to speed the processing and limit the amount of information that would be heavily redacted. When I originally put in the FOIA request, I’d hoped to see the evidence they’d gathered for the trial, but the researcher said it had been “dispositioned,” which means that it was either destroyed or returned. Regardless, I’m really looking forward to checking out the agent’s report and will post an update as soon as it arrives.
Well, that’s about it for today. In the future, though, I’ve got a special post coming up. I’m trying out something a little different for this one. This summer, I met up with Seattle-based escort Maggie McNeill for a conversation about sex work. She writes a popular blog called The Honest Courtesan, and we met up a couple weeks before Amnesty International came out in support of decriminalizing sex work, a decision with which she agrees. The profession has received a lot of negative publicity in the meantime (people often conflate sex work with trafficking) and I think Maggie’s perspective balances things out a bit. I recorded our conversation and am trying to get it into podcast shape, but it was a long talk, so that may take me a bit longer. In the meantime, go check out her site and look forward to more here soon.
First of all, let me just say this: the FBI didn’t close down Wallace’s houses.
That’s the official story around town, despite the fact that the last brothel, the U&I Rooms, stayed open until just a few weeks prior to the raid. People say that the intervention of the federal government was just the final nail in the coffin, that the real reason the century of brothels ended was a result of AIDS and the lousy economy.
In a move that locals would later describe as “overkill,” the FBI sent 150 agents into the Silver Valley and raided almost every bar in Shoshone County (and, accidentally, one or two from Kootenai County as well) from Cataldo to Mullan on this day in 1991.
What most people here say is something like this:
It had nothing to do with the FBI. That’s why they went after the bars, because they’d come to town to put the whorehouses out of business, but they were going out of business anyway. The feds had to recoup their expenses, so they decided to go off in a different direction…. It had nothing to do with the FBI. It had to do with AIDS. (Gnaedinger)
John Posnick, who used to run the Silver Corner, told me he thought the FBI was looking for a drug ring as well. John and Sue Hansen also agreed with this interpretation. Sue added that the way she understood things, an agent tipped off one of the women working at the U&I, “in a moment of weakness,” warning her that they should probably get out of town before the raid went down.
The official story from the FBI remains to be written, although judging from what appeared in the newspapers and the trial, the story is consistent there, too. Federal officials focused on gambling and racketeering rather than prostitution, and did “not so much [target] the machines as the local authorities who had allowed them to flourish” (Egan, “Gambling Raid”). Of course, it’s also not so simple as that…
During the raid, FBI agents took more than a half a million dollars in cash from the bars and “seized all the video poker machines” (Egan, “Gambling Raid”). Of course, locally we know that—as a result of the infamous yet informal “phone tree”—some of those slot machines didn’t actually make it into federal hands because some people were able to rush a few out before the agents could make it to all the bars in the Valley as they moved from west to east. The government kept the money and the rest of what they took unless the bar owners or operators could prove in court that the earnings weren’t the result of illegal activity.
About a month later, in an article titled, “Gambling Raid Angers Mining Town” (Special to the New York Times, 20 August, 1991, A18), Timothy Egan wrote:
it wasn’t exactly a surprise when, on the morning of June 23, Federal agents from all over the West raided virtually every bar here in Shoshone County and found more than 200 video poker machines.… What is so perplexing to residents of the panhandle of north Idaho, and to outsiders as well, is why the Federal Bureau of Investigation used such a show of force….
Not since the late 19th century, when Federal troops were sent here to battle union organizers, have so many Government agents moved so heavily against one community in the region.
The FBI’s interest was the result of disgruntled sheriff’s deputies going to the FBI with concerns about corruption. Sheriff Frank Crnkovich was tried twice for racketeering by the U.S. Justice Department’s well-funded Public Integrity Division.
When I asked Crnkovich’s defense lawyer, Sam Eismann, what his main argument was, he said:
They [the prosecution] had all this fancy gear. So the jury could listen to all the [surveillance] tapes, high-tech stuff. So in my argument I stood up and I said, “Well, I’m sorry I don’t have all this high-tech equipment, I can’t afford it, I guess the government can. But what this case is really about is,” and I wrote on the board that “Frank’s a scapegoat.” And it stayed there during the whole argument, you know, and a couple of jurors after the trial said, “That guy was nothing but a scapegoat.” So if you can put out a little keyword like that in some trials it helps.
Some others were prosecuted along these same lines. Terry Douglas, who began working for Prendergast Amusement in 1978, put his own case this way:
Now, I bought the business March 14, 1989. Three-fourteen-eighty-nine. And then on six-twenty-three-ninety-one, twenty-seven months later, the feds tried to blame me for a hundred years of gambling in Shoshone County.
And even though Crnkovich was not convicted (the first trial ended in a hung jury, while the second trial ended in acquittal), according to his lawyer, the whole episode
broke his spirit. You go through one of these graft and corruption cases, for some reason, it doesn’t matter if you’re found not guilty. It haunts them the rest of their lives. It’s just amazing to me. It just totally changes them. I think you go into a phase where you just want to be undercover because you’ve been through this whole public spectacle, and I bet you think everybody’s staring at you and talking about you, all this stuff, you know, even though you’re not guilty.
Eismann explained that he’d told one of the prosecuting attorneys,
what you really ought to do is get up there and get to know these folks. Get to know why they do what they do. Get to know the history of the community. Get to know why they have to have poker machines in their bars to survive. You know I said, ‘It’s a different world up there, and maybe that will help you understand this, and maybe we can get this case dismissed.’
“I don’t need to do that,” the Justice Department’s lawyer responded, “I’ve tried these cases [before] and I’ve never lost one.”
Apparently the trial didn’t discuss the women who worked in the brothels in too much depth, but they did talk about the houses as a part of the community’s willingness to accept illegal activity:
We went into what the gals did—the community accepted them up there. They served a purpose, I think, in the old mining days. And they gave band uniforms. They bought the police department a new police car. But it wasn’t the result of any graft, it was just being good to the community, really, for allowing them to be there. The madams did good public relations. I think something like that probably was necessary in the old days, you know, it kept the local gals safe. That’s what some of the old-timers told me.
Regardless of whether or not there was money exchanged, the graft allegation was not confirmed, and the interpretation more in line with the local community understanding is this: yes, the madams and the gambling contributed a lot of money to the community, in both official and unofficial ways, but it didn’t amount to corruption. Many people confirm the existence of a “golden fund” for the city that came from illegal activity, but it was a consensual sort of thing—there was no extortion nor secrecy about it. It was just the way things had always been done, and it was the expectation of the community that it would continue to go on as long as there was money in it.
During their two year surveillance investigation, the FBI apparently bought one of the brothels and was operating it themselves. The rumor is that this is how they caught one of the supposed pay-offs, that there is someone on video accepting an envelope from one of the madams. I don’t know if this is true or not, because I don’t yet have a copy of the trial transcript (if it exists) nor any of the FBI’s evidence or investigative documents.
The trial was well covered by the local papers, and I’ve been able to learn a lot from the people who were personally involved locally, but I’m trying to obtain a copy of the trial transcript and investigative records so I can discuss this whole episode with a bit more accuracy. In closing, I’ll share some of my Freedom of Information Act Request I submitted today:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The date range of this request is January 1987-December 1995….
On June 23, 1991 there was a large FBI raid on the bars in the Silver Valley in northern Idaho. According to New York Times reporter Timothy Egan, it was the largest ever federal raid in the rocky mountain region. The raid, which had been preceded by a prolonged undercover investigation, involved 150 federal agents and targeted the towns of Wallace, Kellogg, Smelterville, and Mullan, Idaho….
I would like the opportunity to improve the historical accuracy of my book project and enrich its discussion of these events. Please search the FBI’s indices to the Central Records System for the information responsive to this request related to:
All available records and documentation leading up to the June 23, 1991 federal raid and two subsequent trials of Sheriff Crnkovich. Judge Edward Lodge presided over the trials, which took place in Moscow, Idaho. Dan Butler and Nancy Nukem were the prosecuting attorneys for the Department of Justice, and the late Sam Eismann was the defense attorney for Crnkovich.
When I interviewed Eismann in 2010, he told me that the investigation began sometime between 1987 and 1989, after five sheriff’s deputies took records from the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office and brought them to the FBI’s office in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho or Spokane, Washington. Eismann claimed that the FBI conducted a two-year investigation prior to the raid. I am particularly interested in following up on his assertion that the FBI “bought a tavern” and “bought a whorehouse up there…. And they had that all with videotape and were catching pay-offs and stuff…. And there were some people on there that shouldn’t have been, like law enforcement people…. a couple guys rolled over and said there was graft and corruption and payoffs….”
Eismann further claimed that “a few days before the trial, they [Butler and Nukem] brought in like 60 or 70 audio tapes and probably 40 or 50 video tapes and I had to review all those at the last minute to see what was on them.” Eismann recalled listening to these tapes, especially “some of the phone calls on the day of the raid. Like one person would call somebody: ‘Oh the FBI’s in town.’ And the other person would say, ‘Well don’t say anything, this might be taped,’ and then he’d still blab on, you know, it was really something.”
[Name omitted here], who pleaded guilty in an associated case, told me relevant names of informants for the prosecution in connection with the investigation include: [names omitted] (“confidential informant number 5”)…. If copies of their depositions and/or the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office records they provided are available, I would like to see these as well.
Thank you very much for any information you can provide regarding these subjects, which I am exploring for scholarly and educational purposes…