Madams of Central Colorado

“Ladies of the evening” from Madams of Central Colorado wait for a train at the old Buena Vista Depot. They are, from left, Lillian (Bonnie Schwam), Belle Brown (Evelyn Marshall), Cockeyed Liz (Kathrine Perry), Laura Evans (Renee Graner), Silverheels Jessie (Lisa Wagner), Laverne (Whitney Tidwell) and The Professor (Teresa Roorda).

“Madams of Central Colorado” gave the first in a series of three performances recently. The show was, in a word, fabulous and well worth marking on the calendar for the Aug. 10 and Sept. 14 shows.

Shows begin at 7 p.m. at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum, 506 E. Main St.

“Madams of Central Colorado” depicts six infamous madams and/or their girls and their professor (the piano player) who served Central Colorado from roughly 1880 until 1950 when the last house of ill repute, that of Laura Evans, Salida’s best known madam, was forced to close. Evans, at that time, was in her mid-70s.

The set is a lavish parlor, typical of the “houses” of those days, and the audience has the feeling of sitting in the parlor, visiting with the “ladies of the evening” and getting their take on what has been called the world’s oldest profession.

Costumes are stunning and typical of the turn of the last century.

Cockeyed Liz (Kathrine Perry), accompanied by The Professor (Teresa Roorda), perks up the audience with old-timey songs before the show opens, and she and the girls tell tales about their work. The “soiled doves” include Laverne (Whitney Tidwell), Belle Brown (Evelyn Marshall), Silverheels Jessie (Lisa Wagner), Laura Evans (Renee Graner) and Lillian (Bonnie Schwam).

Each of the characters portrayed were real women who worked as prostitutes during the early history of Central Colorado, with the focus primarily on Buena Vista, Salida and Leadville. None of the monologue is fiction, and Laverne’s monologue was transcribed from an interview done by Fred Mazzulla in the days when prostitution was a going business.

Their conversation includes frank, but tasteful, explanations of what it was like to be “in service to man” and why girls chose that profession, often in spite of religious backgrounds and higher education at a time when the subject of sex was virtually unspeakable.

They also tell of often unknown acts of charity these ladies performed in their communities, even though they were shunned by the “better” people.

How did they not get pregnant? How did they prevent venereal disease? What did they do if they chose to terminate a pregnancy or to give birth? These are some of the questions that are answered as the audience joins the ladies of the evening in the parlor.

It is truly a show not to be missed as the shady side of some little-known Colorado history is revealed. Information was compiled by Kathrine Perry.

The content is not suitable for children younger than age 13.

Tickets are $15 at the door or online at BuenaVistaHeritage.org. Reservations are recommended because it usually sells out. The show is now in its 12th season, but each year it is just a little different, so it’s “new” even if you’ve seen it before.

Proceeds go toward restoration of the Chaffee County Courthouse, built in 1882, which is the location of the museum.

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