On this blog we have cover a variety of different places from private residences to hotels and camp sites to castles and movie theaters but we have yet to talk about a brothel. That changes today as we talk about the longest running brothel in United States history. The Dumas Brothel was established in Butte Montana back in 1890 and was open as a brothel until 1982. And while the doors maybe officially closed to the public, there are still a few spirits left behind that haven’t stopped living their afterlife at the Mercury Street building.
With all the miners coming into Butte to work, it wasn’t long before a red light district created to help the miners spend their money. The Dumas Brothel was originally built to be a brothel that catered to all types of clientele by Canadian entrepreneurs, Joseph and Arthur Nadeau. The main floor of the 3 story building was constructed to have larger rooms that could open into each other so that madames and workers could host large parties easily. In the hallway there were large windows that would display the workers available to meet with clients. The second floor of the building had large suites with a large balcony across the front of the building where politicians and wealthy businessmen were entertained. The basement level was where the more common folk and miners were entertained. The older prostitutes and not as pretty prostitutes were sent to the basement to work. The basement was comprised of forty three cribs. A crib was a tiny room that had a bed and sink. These cribs were used round the clock and shared by women who would work in shifts in these rooms. There were underground tunnels that led to the brothel’s basement so that men could visit the ladies discreetly without outsiders seeing. The area behind the brothel was called Pleasant Valley, Venus Alley, or Piss Alley. Shootings, stabbings, beatings, and robberies were common place in the alleyway. The basement was shut down and sealed in 1942 when the federal government officially shut down brothels. The upstairs parts remained opened as the Dumas Hotel to still be able service the wealthier clients.
In 1917, one of the basement prostitutes fell in lover with a miner named James. He sent her a love letter but was killed days later in mining expansion. In her grief, Sarah killed herself within the brothel. Later on in February 1955, Elinor Knott, the Dumas’ madame at the time, decided that she wanted to leave the brothel behind and runaway with her lover. She packed her suitcase and prepared to leave. Unfortunately her lover came and she was discovered the next morning dead in her room. Her death was ruled to be natural causes but that didn’t stop rumors of suicide or murder to circulate. After Elinor’s death, Bonita Farren became the madame. She, too, died in the brothel shortly after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
With how long this building was open and working as a brothel, I am not surprised to hear about the many reports of hauntings that been collected over the years. The building has been featured on Ghost Adventures and Haunted Collector. People have reported seeing shadow figures and apparitions through out the building but most reports say that the basement is the most haunted section of the building. Upstairs, many people say that feel overwhelming sadness and have heard a woman crying. A woman has been seen sitting on the foot of the bed. Items within the building have a tendency of moving by themselves. Mists have been seen floating through the basement. Voices are heard throughout the building. Cigar smoke can be smelled. Doors will open by themselves. People have claimed to be touched or feel like someone is holding their hand. Men dressed as miners have been seen a few times in the basement. Three teenagers broke into the building in 1990s but were quickly seen running back out of the building. They said they were scared off when china dishes were being thrown down the stairs at them by unseen hands. People have claimed to see a woman with a suitcase walking down the staircase but she disappears from sight before reaching the final step. An artist that was staying at the hotel felt compelled to paint the same woman over and over again. The woman was in her forties, wearing a hat and a coy smile. When the artist left the building for good, she never painted the woman again. The current owners believe that the artist was possibly painting Bonita Farren’s image. One of the paintings is now set up in Bonita’s old room.
The current owners are trying to turn the building into a museum to show what life was like in Butte, Montana for those in that line of work. I hope that they are able to open the museum soon so that the spirits that linger there know they haven’t been forgotten. I do know that they occasionally offer tours of the building. If you get the chance to tour it, please let me know about it. I would love to hear more about the history and see photos of the inside. Why do you think the spirits linger here? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.