Central City kicks up its heels with Madam Lou Bunch Day

39th annual bed races, beauties, and bunches of fun!

By Patty Unruh

Comedian George Burns once quipped, “Don’t stay in bed, unless you can make money in bed.”

Sorry, George, Central City “housekeepers” in the 19th Century came up with that notion before you did, and on June 15 that historic town tipped its hat to one of its more enterprising historical figures, Madam Lou Bunch.

The annual event kicked off at noon on historic Main Street with the Double It Down Band, followed by several rousing festivities, including a Sporting House Girls Revue, a shotgun wedding with Central City’s own Wild Bunch, a parade, pedigrees, and of course, the famous brass bed races. Events continued into the evening, with a party at the Gold Coin Bar in the Easy Street Casino and the Miners’ and Madams’ Ball at the Century Casino. Locals and city folks mingled and mangled with miners, madams, Victorian highbrows, Sporting House Girls, and Dandy Dans.

Bed racing was the much-anticipated event of the afternoon, with hundreds of eager spectators lining the street to cheer as twelve teams competed for cash prizes and bragging rights. Each team was comprised of one guy and one doll riding and the other guy pushing the wheeled bed. Both dudes wore red long johns, and the rider was also clad in a red and black-striped night shirt. Each team was timed to the tenth of a second as they careened along a course than ran the length of Main Street, rounded a barrel, and halted to quickly switch the “pusher” and the “pushee.” The men also had to trade wearing the night shirt before starting back up the street. One team veered dangerously close to the crowd, but a quick-thinking gent helped them get back on course in the nick of time.

Shirley Voorhies was the bed race coordinator. She said it was her first time to put the race together, though she had helped Sandy Schmalz with it in the past. Schmalz retired as coordinator last summer after 38 years.

Lou Bunch Day began in the mid-1970’s, when much of Dutchess and the Dirtwater Fox, a Western romantic comedy starring Goldie Hawn and George Segal, was filmed in Central City. The story goes that a bed racing scene was cut out of the movie, but that Hawn, the original Sporting House Girl, began the tradition that carries on today with the same scarlet-covered brass bed.

Lou Bunch Day emcee Sandra Hines noted, “We are trying to get Goldie to come back next year.” She filled in the crowd on some Central City history. Back in the 1800’s, it was “the richest square mile on earth,” a gold mining town bustling with miners and madams. Pine Street was the location of the red light district; legend has it that Lou Bunch was caught in bed with the mayor by the mayor’s wife and run out of town on a bed.

Lou Bunch was the last operating madam in Central City. She was born in 1872 and came to Denver at age 17. Rather than making a living through conventional means, such as being a seamstress or teacher, she chose the oldest profession. A re-enactor portraying Madam Bunch explained this as a matter of economics.

“Teachers and seamstresses made only one dollar per day,” she said, but she could make six dollars a day entertaining men – leaving it to the audience to do the math. Lou learned her trade under Madam Mattie Silks on Market Street in Denver. There were three types of “houses” in that day, she explained: the crib, which was nothing more than a small cubicle, often dirty, the slightly nicer parlor, and the boarding house. Lou married gambler and womanizer George Bunch, characterizing their relationship with these words: “I brought the money in, and he took it out.”

In 1900 Lou had a child, then moved to Cherry Creek, giving up prostitution. Sadly, her child died at age ten, and George disappeared. So Lou got back into “the business” in Central City and had two ladies who worked for her. She is fondly remembered for turning her house into a hospice and, along with her girls, nursing sick and dying miners through a tuberculosis epidemic.

Another part of the festivities that excited many was the appearance of Candace Stevens and the debut of her Double It Down Band. Stevens grew up in Gilpin County and graduated from Gilpin County High School in 2000. Formerly known as “Cockeyed Lil,” Stevens was a finalist on American Idol six years ago, coming in ninetieth of about 14,000 contestants, according to emcee Hines.

Stevens tended bar at the Gold Coin Bar for twelve years and owned a beauty shop in Central City for four years. She left Gilpin in 2011 to pursue music and now lives in Golden. A single mom with three kids, she still cuts hair, but her dream was always to sing on stage. She was delighted to come back to Gilpin.

“It’s amazing to be back in my home town,” she enthused. “I’m on Cloud Nine.” Stevens, who had been part of the Sporting House Girls 16 years ago, revealed that she had pulled her cover band together in only eight weeks. Double It Down wowed the crowd with Stevens’ gutsy vocals and mixture of rock and blues in the style of Santana and Journey. Cheyenne, her ten-year-old daughter, joined her on one song, showing hints of her mother’s vocal power.

The Sporting House Girls’ revue included several song-and-dance numbers featuring shady ladies with such provocative stage names as Gypsy Fyre, Dusty Dawn, Porsche Hotrod, and TNT, a/k/a Terribly Naughty Tisha. The vamps lured their fellas with a slinking of black feather boas, lacy net stockings, and saucy red garters. Sheriff Woody, portrayed by Russell Woodcock, and John “Doc” Holliday, portrayed by Art Waybill, were featured along with the Girls.

Costumed characters also paraded up Main Street; soldiers, miners, chorus girls, madams, lawmen, Indians, and dignitaries smiled and waved as they displayed the banners of their organizations.

Of course, no parade would be complete without the darlin’ donkeys from Laughing Valley Ranch near Idaho Springs. Herman Gaines, as Pete the Prospector, related the importance of donkeys or burros to the miners. Those miners who were first to the assay office got to claim their land and gold mine, so it was very important to have a donkey that could really dash.

Hines filled in the crowd on the pedigrees of each Sporting House Girl, Dandy Dan, and madam. Some of the illustrious girls included Miss Behavin’, Delta Flush, and Fiona Firestarter. Among the “Dans” were Marshall Bill Buckskinner, Big Hat Cody, Rick Willy, and Dr. Angel Angle. The madams included Miss Barbara Barter, Desiree Youwanna, and last, but never least, Madam Lou Bunch.

Special honors went to Oscar and Deb Barlowe as honorary Dandy Dan and Madam of all time, and to Al Kidd as an honorary Dandy Dan. “He left us earlier this year,” Hines told the crowd, recalling that “he did everything for the community.”

The Sporting House Girls organization sold beer, commemorative pint glasses, jello shots, and  garters. For a donation, patrons could also get a kiss from the girls.

Miners and madams with a case of the munchies could feast on buffalo bratwurst, elk bratwurst, Italian sausage, hot dogs, and spicy shrimp kabobs provided by Century Casino.

The Gold Coin Bar in the Easy Street Casino hosted a party that evening called “Taking Down the Ceiling.” Spokesperson Ann Dodson explained that the original concept was that in mining days, miners would put gold nuggets in a spittoon for fallen miners. Many years ago, the tradition began of flinging weighted dollar bills with a tack through them onto the ceiling. The money is not taken down or donated, but whoever succeeds in sticking a dollar to the ceiling gets an invitation for free drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

Following the party, the Miners and Madams Ball was held in the ballroom at the Century Casino and included a contest for the best Madam, Sporting House Girl, and Dandy Dan costume. Entrants were also judged also on poise and personality.

Lou Bunch Day is part of Central City Days and is sponsored by Central City Local Events, a non-profit organization. Money collected is used for local events.

The following is a list of the award winners at the Madam Lou Bunch Day 2013:

First Place: Johnny Z’s Casino, 80.3 seconds, $300 and a trophy. Team members: Ricky Page, Krista Marsh, Eric Webert

Second Place and Best Costume: Famous Bonanza, 83.9 seconds, $200. Team members: Colin Godin, Kerwin Brogado, Amber Eaton

Third Place: Golden Gates/Golden MG Casinos, 85.1 seconds, $100. Team members: Aaron Stillwell, Matt Glassman, Rosemary Mintuz

Worst in Bed (time): Tommyknockers Brewery, 117.6 seconds

Youngest Team: Central City Opera, total age 69 years

Oldest Team: Bull Durham Casino, total age 116 years

Other race team participants:

Dostal Alley

Century Casino #1

Century Casino #2

Reserve Casino #1

Reserve Casino #2

Reserve Casino #3

Miners’ & Madams’ Ball:

Dandy Dans (stage names):

1st Place: Sheriff Woody

2nd Place: John

3rd Place: Colonel Backup

Sporting House Girls (stage names):

1st Place: Cockeyed Lil

2nd Place: Spanky McLouse

3rd Place: Porsche Hot Rod

Madams (stage names):

1st Place: Emerald Fyre

2nd Place: Madam Feathers Galore

3rd Place: Madam Lou Dizzy Dee

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