Wallace, Idaho has a history of indulging in vices and lasciviousness. Since its establishment members of the local government engaged in the illegal prostitution and gambling activities produced as an outlet for miners in the community. This led to continued government corruption that perpetuated into the mid twentieth century. From 1963 to its unexpected closing in 1988, Ginger Murphy ran The Oasis Rooms. When Murphy bought The Oasis, mining and prostitution were declining in profits and popularity. Due to this government corruption and other allegations of prominent members in the community, it was not until 1973 that the town ordered all operating brothels to shut down. Each brothel took down its business signs, hid from the public eye, and operated in secret. Consequently, the brothels of Wallace flourished until each shut down decades later.
The Oasis brought in profits near one million dollars a year and on a good weekend each woman could earn upwards of two thousand dollars. Before the Oasis closed in 1988, Madam Ginger employed anywhere from five to eight women. Each woman worked for two weeks and had two weeks off, completing shifts from two in the afternoon to six in the morning and averaged anywhere from thirty-five to forty customers a night. The turnover rate of women was high. Most of the workers traveled across the Northwest and would not stay for more than a few weeks in Wallace. Competition for a spot at Madam Ginger’s was tough because she paid her women a 60/40 cut, unlike most madams who paid 50/50 of the profits. Madam Ginger took good care of her employees. Each woman was subject to weekly doctors’ visits to screen for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Ginger employed “maids” who not only kept house but watched out for the women’s safety. They would set the timer for the clients, drop profits into each woman’s lock box, and use the reverse peephole in each room to check on the women in case they heard anything out of the ordinary. Until 1988 this was the norm for the women employed.
In Wallace, the FBI investigated the town and its questionable operations often. On June 23, 1988, an informant tipped off Madam Ginger and her eight employees to an FBI raid. As this was a common occurrence, the women packed a bag and left the brothel with most of their possessions left behind. They expected to be back to their temporary homes within a few weeks but the FBI had ongoing investigations that lasted longer than normal. Madam Ginger abandoned the building until local Jack Mayfield bought it years later and discovered the rooms were left just as they had been the day the women left.
Today, The Oasis Bordello Museum provides an inside look to the women’s abandoned bedrooms and personal items including lingerie, eight-track tapes, and various toiletries. The museum gives the visitor an inside look into the lives of these women and a glimpse of what it was like as a sex worker.