Lecture explores history of world’s oldest profession
Appeal Staff Writer
Contrary to popular lore, famous Virginia City prostitute Julie Bulette was not a madam, and wasn’t even the highest class of prostitute, though she was loved by many.
Kristin Hamlet, a local actress and Old West aficionado, said that Bulette’s fame came as a result of exaggerations of the cowboy culture.
“She had medium status as a prostitute,” Hamlet said. “She was a step up from a crib girl, but she didn’t make as much money as the parlor girl.”
She said Bulette ranked below other females in the “entertainment” business, including actresses, dancers or hurdy-gurdy girls.
Hamlet will perform “Roses and Thorns: Madams of the West,” at the Gold Hill Hotel on Tuesday. The dinner and lecture are $15, with dinner beginning at 5 p.m., and the lecture at 7:30 p.m.
Hamlet will talk about real Virginia City madams “Wild” Rose Benjamin and Cad Thompson, as well as those in Gunnison, Colo., Denver, and other boomtowns.
“It is an introduction to the madams who came west with the cattle drives, miners and soldiers,” she said.
The presentation will also include a few songs from “Calico,” the 1999 musical by David John and the Comstock Cowboys, in which Hamlet played two roles, that of a saloon girl and a pregnant farm girl who was left at the altar. Assisting Hamlet in her Tuesday lecture will be Sharon Rushton, who also played in “Calico.”
Hamlet has performed since she was a child in the late 1950s. In addition to her role in “Calico,” she has performed with the Gold Hill Theater Troupe and in “Annie Get Your Gun” at Piper’s Opera House. She and Rushton have put together a troupe, called “Red Light Ladies of Madam’s Parlor,” that will do presentations, re-enactments, historical skits and some song-and-dance theater. They hope to be part of the Carson Rendezvous in June.
In the real world, Hamlet is a quality assurance technician at the Starbucks plant in Minden.
Her interest in the world’s oldest profession began when her mother told her that her grandmother had worked as a legal prostitute in Elko.
Hamlet discovered that the madam of the house her grandmother worked in was Jeannette Scott, who was said to be the granddaughter of Belle Starr, a well-known prostitute and criminal of the Old West.
“Prostitutes were famous for being first in and first out” of a boomtown, Hamlet said. “Borasco and bust; when the money went, the prostitutes left.”
She said in some ways prostitution in the 1800s mirrors the legal version in Nevada today.
Streetwalkers existed then, Hamlet said, and they carried around a blanket wherever they went. When they got a customer, they just put the blanket down wherever it was convenient.
“Now, streetwalkers work near hotels that charge for their rooms by the hour and have the customer pay for the room,” she said.
The prostitutes in the houses are considered a much higher class than those who walk the streets in Las Vegas and Reno, just as the parlor ladies in the Old West had higher status than those carrying blankets.
“It all depended on how good-looking you were, how smart you were and where you worked,” Hamlet said.
Hamlet supports legal prostitution and said that although some of the girls she has known had emotional problems and other things that led them to the profession, others put themselves through college with their earnings.
“They’re as diverse as any other group of people,” she said. “These places give an opportunity for these girls to work in a safe environment,” she said. “They’re safer than on the street.”
If you go
WHAT: Lecture, “Roses & Thorns: Madams of the West” by Kristin Hamlet
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Dinner begins at 5 p.m.
WHERE: Gold Hill Hotel, 1540 Main St., Gold Hill
COST: $15 for dinner and lecture
CALL: (775) 847-0111