By Beth Dodd:
If ever a girl knew how to throw a party, it was Pearl De Vere. The best remembered of Cripple Creek’s madames, de Vere offered the finest in entertainment to gentlemen of means at her elegant parlor house, the Old Homestead, during her short time in the gold camp. While the more “proper” women made their children cover their eyes when Pearl passed by, the men certainly enjoyed seeing her driving through town in her beautiful clothes, at least when their wives weren’t around to scold them for it.
Though little is known of her background, Pearl De Vere is thought to have been born in Chicago, Illinois around 1862, and raised near Evansville, Indiana by well-to-do parents. She migrated to Denver while still in her teens, and by the age of 14 or 15 she was working there as a prostitute. She was known in Denver as “Mrs. (Isabel) Martin”, although it is believed that she was not actually married then. When business in Denver slowed during the Silver Panic of 1893, she left for the new boomtown of Cripple Creek.
When Mrs. Martin arrived in Cripple Creek, she had already made a small fortune from her services to the wealthy men of Denver. Now age 31, she was strong-willed and smart, and had good business sense. She changed her name to Pearl De Vere, and began working as a prostitute in the gold camp. Within months, she had purchased a small frame house on Myers Avenue and opened her own brothel. While she was an “overnight success” in Cripple Creek, her family back in Indiana believed she was working as a dress designer and seamstress. Of course, De Vere was busy providing lavish entertainment for the wealthy men in Cripple Creek rather than sewing for their wives.
The ladies at De Vere’s parlor house were said to be the most beautiful in the gold camp. They wore fine clothing, received monthly medical exams, and were well paid. Pearl herself enjoyed being well-dressed, and felt no need to be coy about her good looks and fine wardrobe. Although no pictures of her exist today, she is said to have been a beautiful slender red-head. Almost every day, she drove herself around town in a small open carriage led by a team of fine black horses, dressed in a different costume every time. Pearl’s ladies and the other “working girls” also liked to shop on Bennett Avenue, and the “good” women in town complained. In response, Cripple Creek’s marshal restricted the working girls, allowing them to visit the shops only during off hours. There was also a $6 monthly tax for each girl, and the madams were charged $16 a month, but this did little to limit the popularity of the parlor houses. In defense of Cripple Creek’s bawdy red-light district, some even argued that the presence of the working girls actually made it safer for the “decent” women to walk on the streets!
Pearl De Vere surprised everyone in Cripple Creek when she married C.B. Flynn, the owner of a mill, in 1895. However, even as a married woman, Pearl continued to run her profitable business. Not long after they were married, both Pearl’s brothel and Flynn’s mill burned. The fire ruined Flynn financially and he left Cripple Creek to take a job smelting iron and steel in Monterrey, Mexico. Pearl remained in Cripple Creek to rebuild her business. Her new two-story brick house was called “The Old Homestead” and opened in 1896. Pearl spared no expense in decorating her new place. She imported velvet wallpaper from Paris and bought fine hardwood furniture, expensive carpets, damask curtains, electric crystal chandeliers, and leather-topped gaming tables. The house even had a telephone, an intercom system, a phonograph, and two bathrooms with running water. Hand painted screens were scattered throughout and paintings of scantily dressed women adorned the walls.
De Vere and the four beautiful girls who worked for her drew rich clientele from as far away as Denver. To gain entry to the house, a guest had to pay his entrance fee to a maid at the front door. References and reservations were required. A night at The Old Homestead cost $250 back when $3 a day was considered a good wage for a miner. Champagne and fine food was prepared by a chef, while a pianist played music in the foyer and fresh flowers perfumed the air. De Vere’s staff of seven kept the liquor flowing and saw to it that delicious dishes were always available. While visiting The Old Homestead, if a client could not decide on a particular girl to spend his evening with, he could enter the viewing room on the second floor where he could look down into the parlor where all the girls were gathered. Once the client decided on a woman, she would be brought up to the viewing room so that the client could make a final decision.
On June 4, 1897, De Vere hosted a very extravagant party sponsored by a millionaire admirer from Poverty Gulch. The townspeople watched as cases of French champagne and Russian caviar were carried into the parlor house. Pearl made her grand entrance in an $800 Parisian shell pink chiffon gown adorned with sequins and seed pearls as a band from Denver played. Some sources say that the admirer who paid for the party also bought her gown. The two reportedly had an argument, after which the gentleman stormed back to Denver, and Pearl told her girls that she was going up to bed. She had been drinking heavily and took some morphine to help her sleep that night as she often did, a common practice at the time.
During the night, one of the girls checked on Pearl, who was lying on her bed still wearing her pink ball gown. She was breathing heavily and the girl could not wake her. The doctor was quickly summoned, but De Vere died early on the morning of June 5, 1897. The coroner reported that Pearl died of an accidental morphine overdose. Most newspapers reported this as a fact, but at least one insinuated that Pearl had killed herself. Most historians dispute this however, noting that Pearl was at the height of her success and had no reason to take her life.
De Vere’s family was notified of her death and her sister came by train from Indiana. Having believed for years that Pearl was a dressmaker, she was shocked to learn her sister was really the madame of the most infamous pleasure house in Cripple Creek. She refused responsibility for Pearl’s remains and immediately left. After De Vere was abandoned by her sister, it was found that her estate did not have enough money to bury her properly. It was suggested that Pearl’s beautiful pink French gown be sold to pay for her burial, but before this could be done an anonymous message was received from Denver with $1,000.00 and directions that she be buried wearing the lovely pink gown. De Vere was given a big funeral parade on Bennett Ave, led by the Elks Club Band. Her rose covered lavender casket was escorted by four mounted policemen. Carriages followed filled with working girls from Myers Ave. De Vere was laid to rest in Mount Pisgah Cemetery, her grave marked with a wooden marker.
In spite of her notoriety, DeVere was soon forgotten as life in Cripple Creek moved on. It wasn’t until the 1930s when Cripple Creek began to promote tourism that people again became her story. Her grave had been lost in a weed filled corner of the cemetery, with her name nearly eroded off her simple wooden marker. A campaign to replace the marker resulted in the donation of the white marble heart-shaped stone by the Wilhelm Monument Company which now rests atop her grave. The original wooden marker is at the Cripple Creek District Museum. The Old Homestead continued to operate until 1917, and later serving as a boarding house and a private residence before becoming a museum in June of 1958.