By Lindsey Theis. CREATED Jan 14, 2014
Omaha, NE-A new restaurant and bar in Old Market is taking a lesson from old Omaha. Wilson and Washburn, at 14th and Harney took it's namesake from Anna Wilson and Josie Washburn, two ladies of the evening from the early 1900's in Omaha.
"Back then they called the brothels comfort stations,so that's where our tag serious comfort station comes from," owner Jeff Luby says.
Anna Wilson (May 27, 1835 - October 27, 1911) was a madame that arrived to Omaha in the late 1800's with her longtime partner, Dan Allen. Allen was a gambling maverik, and when he died Wilson wanted a way to be independent, Luby says. Helen Washburn, named Josie by Wilson, was about 15 years younger. Wilson was somewhat of a mentor to her.
"They were business women," says Molly Gruber, Education Outreach Manager with the Durham Museum.
Gruber helps run tours in the Summer of Omaha's sordid days. It includes going up 9th street where a number of brothels and parlor houses were. They've all since been torn down.
The system was a cast system, the highest level of prostitutes being in parlor houses. Then brothels, then cribs. Anna Wilson owner a parlor house and brothel, but it was what she did with her money that made her even more infamous in Omaha history.
"Anna made her money through prostitution originally, but what she did in her later years was actually land investment, real estate. From that, that's how she made her money. She passed away with a quarter of a million dollars. And gave every penny back to the city of Omaha in some way shape or form," Gruber says.
When Wilson died, she gave her life savings to the city, along with her 25-room mansion parlor house, which was used as a hospital.
Washburn seemed to be less fond of the life and industry, Gruber says. Josie tried to get out of it at one point, marrying and then being left by a cheating husband.
"She was destitute and Anna was the one that picked Josie back up, got her on her feet again, and set her up at the Queen of the Underworld in Lincoln, Nebraska."
Luby sticks to his love for the history of the Omaha madames. He has a first edition of Josie Washburn's book on the wall at the entry way.
"We're both entrepreneurs. Different business, but two of the oldest professions- slinging booze and um...comfort," he says.
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