CENTRALIA, WASH. - Centralia's history is for sale at dozens of antique stores. But only at The Shady Lady can you find a one-of-a-kind experience. It's up the stairs and through a locked door.
A museum dedicated to one of this city's worst kept secrets.
“The clothing you'll notice is very modest,” says owner Holly Phelps. “The ladies were not allowed to show a lot of their body, leaving something to the imagination.”
Phelps's bordello museum celebrates the so called soiled doves who have been part of Centralia's history as far back as 1890.
When we share the museum, people are really interested in the history, and the prettiness of the furniture pieces and things like that,” said Phelps. “It doesn't change the fact that it was a sex business where they were marketing themselves to make a living, to hustle the dollar, to make ends meet. That's still the dark side of it.”
The rooms on the second floor once provided lodging for men from a dollar to a dollar fifty a night.
“Women were optional,” said Phelps.
Stairs lead to hidden doorways and secret passageways between buildings.
“The women were not allowed to walk on the street,” Phelps said. “It was muddy and shameful so they traveled inside the building, from building to building, from block to block.”
Phelps says the museum doesn't look down upon the women who worked in these rooms. It honors their strength.
“Some of the women were heroic. Some were downtrodden. So there's a mystique to it.”
It may all seem like a scene from the wild, wild west, but some of the history here is actually quite recent.
“This is Madame Ruth Rucker,” Phelps says, pointing to a portrait. “She was in business from 1945 to 1966, went to Mountain Baptist Church. She was known as a very active lady in our community."
She also just happened to be married to the local police chief.
“Otto,” said Phelps. “Hard working. Not a lot of ladies arrested in that time. A blind eye. It was a money maker.”
As you might guess, not everyone is happy with the museum.
“We've had a small handful from the Rucker family that just doesn't want to have this over shared,” said Phelps.
That said, there are also members of the Rucker family who are fine with the exhibit.
The Shady Lady Bordello Museum: a controversial collection in a city known for honoring the past.
The Shady Lady Bordello Museum
216 N. Tower Ave., Centralia, Washington
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