A stranger in America; Miss Laura’s House of Prostitution
By : Hatem Dhouibi a.k.a CooL.BuRn
Everything in this life has a history. The trees have their own history, rocks and stones have history, human beings have history. Yes! Every single one of us has his or her own history, but, only few of us make their history worth being told, worth being taught, worth being said, as when we will leave this life for eternity, history will remain.
Legends, fairytales, all are a part of some history. It doesn’t matter if they were heroes or serial killers, their stories will be told. We all can make history from where we stand. I have heard about King Henry and Queen Elizabeth, I’ve learnt about Haile Selassie, I read for Martin Luther King and I recently learnt about Miss Laura.
The place seemed different to me, it was kind of isolated, its shape is different from the other houses around the town, its color is different, it’s green. It used to be a house of prostitution referred to today as Miss Laura’s Social Club, the first house of ill repute in Fort Smith, Arkansas located at 123 First Street. A movie about Miss Laura has been recently released on December 30, 2017 entitled “Step into Miss Laura” directed by Devon Parks.
As I stepped in the house, I felt the atmosphere, I can tell that there used to be some real action in this house. The house is composed of two floors, a reception sitting room by the entry, in front of it is another big room with a library and music equipments, then up ahead is the bar-restaurant. The place was well set same as it used to be those days, the trimmed roof, the wallpapers, the colors, the stained-glass windows…etc. I went upstairs and its all rooms with names, each guestroom door has a transom bearing a lady’s name as if it was her office but instead of the desk is a bed. Her desk, her bath tab, her usual dress, may of Miss Laura’s things were still there.
On the border between what was the known United States and Indian Territory, Fort Smith was one of the historic Old West towns. Being a border town invited the business of prostitution into the town.
Built in 1896 as the Riverfront Commercial Hotel, the house at 123 First Street was bought by Laura Ziegler in 1898. Zeigler borrowed $3,000 from a banker to buy the building. She renovated the building and opened it as a brothel in 1903. She repaid her loan in only seventeen months, it was a successful investment apparently. Miss Laura was on what was known as “The Row” in Fort Smith, an infamous red-light district, and her ladies were known as the healthiest and most sophisticated in Fort Smith. After “the night of the lingerie parade”, Ziegler has sold the house to Bertha Gale Dean, known as “Big Bertha”, in 1911 for $47,000. Little is known of Ziegler after that.
The area soon deteriorated into a slum, and the house became a haven for drunkards and drifters. Despite the decline in the area, the house at 123 First Street remained a brothel through much of the early twentieth century. Bertha Dean ran the brothel until her death in 1948. She left it to Jules Bartholemy. The building was eventually abandoned. In 1963, the local government announced that, unless a buyer was found, the house would be demolished. Donald Reynolds bought the house and saved it from demolition. The building was selected in 1973 for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, and restoration began in 1983.
Walking around the place, going into the rooms, looking ups and downs, left and right, I could feel that there used to be more beyond prostitution. Pictures of Miss Laura were all around, that look in her eyes says that this lady had a plan, this lady carry on history, but no one could tell me what I needed to hear, so may be one day.
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