Off Limits

The hole story

We tried to pitch her on the idea after the Federal Marriage Amendment rally at the State Capitol on February 20, but she was too busy shouting down members of the Pink Bloc and an activist carrying a sign reading "Musgrave Licks Bush." So now we implore Miller: Do it for your country, for the red, white and blue.

From sluts to slots: The ghosts of Cripple Creek's legendary prostitutes must make room for a casino, which has taken over the circa 1896 brothel that's been operated as the non-profit Old Homestead Museum for 46 years. Already the dining room -- which recently sported a madam's pink chandelier -- is off limits, and now museum supporters, who use the building rent-free and at one point had tried to buy it for $350,000, are intent on saving the remaining nine rooms and such vintage artifacts as a hundred-year-old condom.

"I argued against this with the owners," says Charlotte Bumgarner, the museum's volunteer director. "I'm scared the casino people are going to destroy the inside of the building to redecorate."

Ethan Wenberg
A match made in heaven.
A match made in heaven.

But a spokesman for the Wild Horse Casino just says "Whoa!"

"There's been a lot of rumors, but we want to get the truth out," says Steve Siegrist. "We want to preserve the building -- and we'd like to see the museum open even more." Wild Horse, one of seventeen gaming enterprises in Cripple Creek, already owned the building next door to the old bordello; it acquired the Homestead in July 2002. When the 367-machine casino opens this spring, Siegrist swears, his company will use the museum's dining-room office, a dilapidated space he likens to "a broom closet," only for as long as it takes to launch the second phase of the operation, which could include building a structure above the Victorian brothel "to help preserve it from the elements."

Bumgarner concedes that the operators "said that eventually we'd get it back." But museum supporters aren't resting easy. They fear that if the casino expands again -- say, to one of the bedrooms that still have antique, $100-a-roll English wallpaper -- more than the sexy spirits will suffer.

According to Larry Manning, Cripple Creek's director of planning and historic preservation, the building's owners don't face review on anything done in the interior, and the only obstacle to expansion "is the court of public opinion."

"If we lose this, we're losing one of the landmarks that gives this area its historical meaning," says Cathy Knis, a Cripple Creek graphic designer.

Despite its racy past, the building -- one of only a handful of vintage brothel museums across the country -- is a point of civic pride in this town of 1,250. The annual Pearl's Follies, named after Cripple Creek's most notorious madam, raises thousands of dollars to support the museum. This year's fundraiser is set for March 5, and Siegrist insists the Wild Horse owners will be there to boost the bordello.

Otherwise, those lusty ghosts could get screwed -- again.

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