Cathouse museum — Why not? |

Cathouse museum — Why not?

Terri Harber

Former employees of the Mustang Ranch are suggesting the site of the now-defunct cathouse be made into a museum devoted to prostitution memorabilia.

This was the idea that received the most attention last week at a U.S. Bureau of Land Management meeting where focus was on what to do with property that once housed the world-famous (some say infamous) Northern Nevada business.

Media-savvy former owner Joe Conforte offered free sex services at his business to people who served in the military and participated in the 1991 Gulf War. A little something he wanted to do for the troops, I suppose.

For interesting promotions — and his overall demeanor — some people believe he is a national hero. His life story of sex, money and mystery could have been created by a pulp fiction writer.

Anyway, no one operating a cathouse in the region now has come up with a similar offer for people in the military during this war in Iraq. Girl Scouts in the area are helping make sure our military people at least get a cookie.

The BLM wants to tear down the property, seized by the Internal Revenue Service from Conforte in 1999. Now aged, he is now thought to be quietly residing in South Africa to avoid the charge of tax evasion, according to an article in last week’s Nevada Appeal.

Using the facility as a place to show Conforte family memorabilia alone as was proposed at this meeting seems a little conceptually narrow. It could display all sorts of prostitution-related stuff, not just items and equipment from Conforte and the Mustang Ranch.

Art objects: They have to decorate these places so people have something to look at while they wait to be served other than the merchandise. Like a restaurant. The array of establishments’ tastes could be interesting all under one roof.

Promotional items: Postcards, shot glasses, matchbooks, key chains, T-shirts, whatever these businesses have used to advertise their existence. Brothels aren’t allowed to advertise in many mainstream ways, such as in newspapers or on TV, so people who run these businesses have to market their establishments in other ways.

I’ve never been in one of these places, but I expect giving away something as a souvenir-public relations tool — especially as a memento of a customer’s visit — regularly occurs and is as old as the world’s oldest profession itself. Some of these places even have gift shops, I’ve been told.

I won’t dwell on some of the items they sell because I don’t think my boss would allow it in this family newspaper.

Guest registers: Could be a very interesting display, but not likely to be included if wandering boyfriends and husbands have anything to say about it.

Furniture: Not just beds or items in the “cribs” of specific hookers could be in this section. Chairs, barstools, or other furnishings would work here. This word young people use today to refer to their home comes from the name used to describe a hooker’s work area. I’m probably not the only person who thought the name came from where a baby sleeps, but I am incredibly naive when it comes to the tastes of Generations X, Y and Z. The group of people with whom I supposedly belong, K (Kinda old and tragically out of touch), have many likes and dislikes way beyond me.

Work clothing and accessories: It wouldn’t take up that much space because they’re hookers. I’d imagine their uniforms are flashy, but often very small.

Hall of Fame: Some of Nevada’s working girls are more famous than others. If Acne Alice, Bad-breath Bertha or Pug-ugly Pauline were famous (These people have nicknames for work, all more attention-getting — and alluring — than these), perhaps sets of their sheets or pages from their customer receipt books could comprise a themed area.

The Meretrix Online Virtual Prostitution Museum can be visited on the Internet. It states that it exists in an “attempt to preserve some of the history of prostitution through photos of relics, brothels, prostitutes and much more. …”

Magdalene Meretrix, who runs the Web site, has worked as a “prostitute, escort, phone sex worker, professional submissive, and porn film actress.” She used to work in a Nevada brothel but is now a writer, paid escort and Web page designer who lives in Idaho, according to her biography on Her book is called, “Turning Pro: A Guide to Sex Work for the Ambitious and the Intrigued.”

I couldn’t have made up her name for love, money or a cookie. Mary Magdalene was thought to be a prostitute before becoming one of Jesus’s closest disciples, though that assertion was later refuted by the Catholic Church. And the word Meretrix is Latin for “prostitute.”

It’s not like there’s a slew of prostitution museums welcoming out-of-town visitors, but this virtual museum’s Web site is at

Terri Harber works on the Nevada Appeal’s news desk.