For almost 100 years, the unassuming building sat in the busy streets of Butte, Montana. At one time or another, the alleyway behind the Dumas was known as the red light district. A difficult place to run a business, maybe, but the madams at the Dumas Brothel forged their own path through the economics of sex work with steady clientele until the brothel went out of business in 1982.
The Dumas Brothel is an iconic part of Butte’s story as a wild west copper town, miners and entrepreneurs coming from far and wide to get a piece of the lucrative prospecting and mining empire. We like to say that women settled the west, as the men came in droves. It was the women in the brothels that helped civilize the mining camp towns and wild west settlements.
A ghostly spirit of a woman from the brothel still haunts the location to this day, carrying her briefcase up and down the stairs in a forever loop of her last day on earth.
The Dumas Brothel was established in the handsome brick building on what would become Butte’s red light district in 1891. The alley next to the brothel has had many names in the past. Venus Alley, Pleasant Alley, and finally “Piss Alley.” It was known for rough and dangerous people flocking there for sex work, alcohol, robberies, and fistfights. The region was a wild one, and all the while the Dumas watched. A locked basement door in the alleyway served as the entrance for any gentlemen looking for a lady’s comfort that evening. While women working in the brothel didn’t make very much, the madam of the establishment kept up appearances with a front room apartment and elegant decor in the rest of the brothel. The basement, not so much.
A woman known as Elinor Knott was the madam in the 1950s, deciding one day to get out of the industry of sex work and run away with her fiance. One cold night, she packed up her suitcase and waited, but her beau never showed. Her body was found some time later, with natural causes the official cause of death. Whispers around the brothel said that it was really murder or suicide. The case was never pursued to find any culprit, Ms. Knott included.
Employees of the brothel have sworn they see a full-bodied apparition of a woman walking from the upstairs bathroom, down the staircase, and then- she disappears. Is this Madam Knott from beyond the grave, constantly hoping her lover comes to pick her up and run away into the night?
Two more women would take over as madam of the house before the closing of the establishment. First was Bonita Farren, the very woman who found the late Elinor Knott’s body. After her came the final madam of the brothel in the 1970s, Ruby Garrett. It was Ruby who would be convicted of tax evasion that led to the doors closing in 1982 after nearly 100 years in business in the then bustling town of Butte, MT.
Once, an artist rented out one of the apartments as a place to paint, but every time she sat down to work on her art, the face of a specific woman would come to her. Through multiple canvases, the artist put this woman’s visage to paper. Was it the face of one of the former madams? The owner of the building salvaged the trashed canvases from the dumpster and saw a jovial woman in her 40’s with a bat and a coy smile. No one is sure who the woman was in life, but today they say she haunts those who stay in the former brothel.
A full bodied apparition of an ex madam, the bloody history of the alley behind the brothel, and a new lease on life as a museum with tours makes the Dumas an excellent place to find ghostly activity– if you’re brave enough.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.