Day 208: White Owl Howl

White Owl, South Dakota, is a community where not much happens—during the day, that is. White owls are creatures of the night and in folklore are often associated with the spirit world. Perhaps not surprisingly, people have reported seeing ghosts in the area, sometimes in the form of a white owl. The Greek goddess Athena is often shown with an owl perched on her shoulder. White Owl isn’t far from Sturgis—where a huge motorcycle rally is held every year—so Laetitia took her group there to visit the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame.

One of Sturgis’ most famous residents was Alice Ivers Tubbs, better known as “Poker Alice.” She was the well-brought-up daughter of a conservative English schoolteacher. Her father brought the family with him when he came to the United States to teach, first in Virginia and later in Leadville, Colorado. Her mining engineer husband liked to gamble, and she came along first as an observer and then as a player. She became a highly skilled poker player, and when her husband was killed in a mine explosion, she supported herself as both a player and a dealer.

In 1891, she moved to Deadwood, South Dakota, where she met and later married a housepainter form Sturgis, with whom she had seven children. They homesteaded a ranch near Sturgis until her husband died of tuberculosis. She briefly married again, but she was unlucky in marriage, and her third husband died after a short time. She operated a saloon and brothel that was still in business during the roaring twenties. In 1926 she was sentenced to prison for running a disorderly house. Since she was age 75 at the time, the governor pardoned her. She died four years later. The Poker Alice House in Sturgis is now a bed and breakfast.

Back in White Owl, Laetitia and her group stopped at Dillon’s for happy hour. The bartender had a story about one of the town’s most notorious citizens, a young woman named Madge. “Madge came here from Chicago. She has a Harley, which fits in pretty good around here, and she goes over to Sturgis every summer when they have the big rally. She has a small house and seems to support herself with some kind of Internet business. She pretty much keeps to herself, except on certain weekends, when a lot of men and women pull up to the house on Harleys and party in the hot tub she has behind the house. They aren’t too noisy except when they start the bikes up in the morning. The neighbors, especially some of the widows, would like to find out what goes on at those parties, but her back yard is lined with thick shrubs, so they can’t see anything. What really gets their tongues wagging, though, is when she hops out of the hot tub, where she spends every afternoon, and walks to the store or the Post Office with just a towel wrapped around her. Either way, she comes by here and everyone in the bar loves it.” This story became the limerick of the day.

Madge walks down the streets of White Owl
Clad in naught but a terrycloth towel
Which often slips down
Causing matrons to frown
And the bar crowd at Dillon’s to howl.

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