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Prostitution Biography of Madam Mattie Silks

About the famous Madam Mattie Silks, biography and history of the Queen of the Red Lights.

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Mattie Silks

Mattie Silks, "Queen of the Red Lights" in Denver. Born 1847, died Jan. 7, 1929, true name unknown. By the time she was famous, Mattie was a plump 50-year-old, and although she retained a delicate, genteel air, her short frame and smooth, round face emphasized her girth. She was brown-haired and blue-eyed, and her soft voice was always under control. A woman who kept her temper--and her secrets--well. Born in Indiana, she turned her first tricks in Springfield, Ill. She traveled to Colorado silver-and gold-mining camps to set up her first houses, opened an establishment in Denver about 1876, and operated several notable maisons de joie before buying in 1911 the famous "House of Mirrors" located at 1942 Market Street. Her trademark was a diamond-encrusted cross, which she wore dangling from the neck until her death at age 81.

Her House: A three-story brick mansion with 27 rooms (including 16 bedrooms, 4 parlors, and a ballroom with a 16-ft. round mirror set in the ceiling). The main "parlor of mirrors" featured a huge crystal chandelier, floor-to-ceiling mirrors on all sides, and furnishings of heavy hardwood, mostly maple. Music was provided by the usual "professor" on the piano and a five-piece black orchestra up on a bandstand who played everything from the classics to ragtime. Mattie generally employed an even dozen "boarders," who were considered the most beautiful and elegantly dressed women in Denver. She used a simple sliding scale to determine prices; that is, she charged whatever the traffic would bear. Champagne went for from $5 to $100 a bottle--depending. A trip upstairs with one of the ladies cost anywhere from $10 to $200. On a $10 trick, Mattie kept $4. She provided rooms, meals, and laundry. The girls bought their own gowns.

Specialties and Eccentricities: As in most expensive parlor house, the rule was to "be a lady in the drawing room and a whore in the bedroom." It was pretty much "anything goes" once the doors were securely fastened upstairs, but down below all was proper and correct. Mattie would tolerate neither cursing nor smoking by her girls. The customers were always to be treated as gentlemen.

In the main parlor there were many overstuffed chairs with ottomans on each side. The girls were allowed to sit only on the ottomans, not on the chairs, and never on the laps of the guests.

Mattie herself left the best testimony about her philosophy and operating methods in a short interview she gave to a Denver newspaper in 1926 (at age 79).

"I went into the sporting life for business reasons and for no other," she said quite matter-of-factly. "It was a way for a woman in those days to make money, and I made it. I considered myself then and I do now--as a businesswoman. I operated the best house in town and I had as my clients the most important men in the West.

"I kept the names of my regular customers on a list. I never showed that list to anyone--nor will I tell you the names now. If a man did not conduct himself as a gentleman, he was not welcome nor ever permitted to come again. My customers knew I would not talk about them and they respected me for this. . . .

"My houses were well kept and well furnished. They had better furnishings than any of my competitors--gilt mirrors, velvet curtains.

"I never took a girl into my house who had had no previous experience of life and men. That was a rule of mine. . . . . No innocent young girl was ever hired by me. And they came to me for the same reasons that I hired them. Because there was money in it for all of us. . . ."

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