Feeling alive in Deadwood
Deadwood Travel Blog› entry 1 of 4 › view all entries
January 28th, 2008 – by: strutter
It is in the Badlands that most of the nefarious deeds of Deadwood took place, including drinking, gambling and prostitution. Insurance records from the late 19th Century give historians a fairly accurate idea of where the famous old "dance" halls once stood.
Some of the nefarious activity took place in brothels above main street businesses until 1980, when federal agents stormed the businesses and arrested the prostitutes. The impact on the local economy nearly rendered Deadwood into a ghost town. Prostitution attracted a large number of hunters and oilmen from near and far, and without their revenue Deadwood businesses began to collapse in a domino effect.
In the late 1980's seven intrepid individuals formed the "Deadwood, You Bet!" committee in an endeavor to legalize gambling. After unsucessfully lobbying state legislators, the members resorted to standing in parking lots collecting signatures on a petition drive. Over 30,000 signatures later, gambling was legalized in Deadwood making it the third city in the United States behind Las Vegas and Atlantic city to allow gambling.
Though gambling has proven to be a controversial issue, there is no arguing about the economic impact it has had on the town. Not only has main street been revitalized from an economic point of view, the revenue from gaming taxes has spawned the largest ongoing historical preservation project in the country, the town itself is one of the few communities in the United States listed as a National Historic Landmark. Over the past 18 years more than $200 million in public and private funds have been invested in infastructure improvements and historic preservation efforts.
Still, the problem persists of asking five different front-line employees where infamous brothels like Pam's Purple Door were located and you'll invariably get five different answers. From my personal investigations, I have found the correct location to be above what is currently known as the Wild West Winner's Club, though the locked door that resides there is painted a drab green, you can see the original purple door in all its glory at the Adams Museum.
The Adams Museum was founded by the early Deadwood entrepreneur W.E. Adams and dedicated to his wife, daughter and granddaughter who all died within two days of one another of differing complications. The impact it had on Adams was evident in the sorrowful entry he scribed in the family bible:
"I, W.E. Adams, who married Alice May Burnham, December 22, 1880, had hoped we would both live to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and now, after 45 years of married life, find myself deprived of my loving wife and both of my dear daughters. I feel like one forsaken and do not see ahead of me in this world much, if any, happiness. I do hope I shall have the physical and moral strength to follow the teachings of my dear mother, who passed from this earth in 1877 in Minnepolis, Minnesota, and when I join my wife and daughters in the great unknown, I hope none may say with truth I did not keep the faith, for their memory is very dear to me."
W.E. Adams, ADAMS MUSEUM COLLECTION
But Adams did find happiness in the world only two years later when he married the young Mary Mastrovich Vicich. It was at his new wife's suggestion that he built the impressive Adams Museum. Adam's generosity can still be felt today, as he demanded assurance that the Museum would be free to all future visitors, though donations are accepted (and appreciated).
When Adams passed away, his young wife had the Adams Mansion in which they lived (bought from Nathan Franklin, of the prominent Deadwood family the Franklins) and all of the furniture securely stored. Nearly seven decades later, visitors now have the opportunity to take guided tours through the house as it was at the turn of the century. There is even a jar of cookies in the kitchen that were baked by young Mary, though they probably wouldn't taste very good at this point.
The first time I took a guided tour through the Adams House I was blown away. It's literally like stepping into two other worlds: the world as it was 100 years ago, and the world of the priviledged and wealthy. Despite being completed in 1893, the house was constructed with modern amenities like electricity and telephone lines that were rare even in large cities like New York. I think a trip through the Adams House and Adams Museum should be a mandatory stop for anyone passing through Deadwood.
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