The Whorehouse

Fort Smith, Arkansas has a handful of attractions. One is the historic district,
“lined with Victorian jewels, Federal and Craftsman style homes”. The Internet guide suggests stopping by Miss Laura’s House, which sits adjacent to the train tracks and across the street from the Arkansas River. There you can pick up a self-guided tour brochure and be on your way to a 22 block architectural extravaganza. So we stopped in to the historic landmark, which doubles as the city’s welcome center, to pick up the guide. Miss Laura’s was a successful brothel from the 1880’s until 1924, when prostitution was outlawed in the state. We were greeted at the door by Ray, an older woman, a volunteer who launched us on a tour through the house pointing out in a tremulous voice the various artifacts and memorabilia pertaining to the lives of the 7 young women who lived in the brothel. We saw doctor’s certificates of good health (the girls were checked monthly, Ray boasted, more than once), a re-creation of a girl’s room (very pretty and girl like), complete with a mannequin dressed in 20’s garb. We saw stained glass and photographs of the girls themselves; Ray pointed out every cup and trinket and each carried a story. After 45 minutes in 3 rooms, our tour was over. We asked where the historic district we had read about was and Ray didn’t know, but asked Cloe (pronounced “Clo”), who was born and raised in Fort Smith. She didn’t really know, either, but pointed in a vaguely northeast direction. We thanked the ladies and left, in search of mad architecture. We eventually saw a sign but the promised Victorian jewels were few and far between. We decided to jump on the highway and head west.

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