Day 209: Tattoo Tour

Laetitia and her group crossed the border from South Dakota into Wyoming. They stopped first at Devils Tower National Monument to see the monolith of that name rising 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain, and then moved on to Gillette, Wyoming, arriving in the afternoon.

Gillette is city of about 20,000 people and is the county seat of Campbell County, Wyoming. Since 1920, it has been the site of the annual Campbell County Fair. In the era before television, sideshows were an integral part of many county fairs. They included acts like fire eating, sword swallowing, and knife throwing. They also featured “freaks”—midgets, giants, and two-headed calves—and some had “hoochie-koochie” shows with strippers.

Laetitia and her group had just started their walkabout when another budding novelist thrust a manuscript into Laetitia’s hand. She sighed and began to read aloud:

“Watching as gloved hands moved rhythmically to rock music and deftly removed layer after layer of clothing, young Stella Starburst breathed the strong, but not entirely disagreeable, aroma of the room she had entered secretly to watch her mother work. From that childhood moment, she knew as surely as she knew that Elvis was alive and would one day woo her in a pink Cadillac, that she wanted to be a stripper—not an amateur like her mother, but a well-paid professional with steady work and fringe benefits. Her dream career later became a reality when she reported for work at Lovingwood Furniture Restorations.”

Laetitia was about to comment when an old man on a park bench named Alfie motioned for her to come over to where he was sitting. He had heard the word “stripper” and wanted to relate his own story. He told her about a teenage experience when he and a friend sneaked behind the tent of a hoochie-koochie show. They lay on the ground and lifted the flap enough so they could see the whole thing. The featured performer was “Yvette, La Parisienne,” and she could be distinguished from other members of her trade by her tattoos. When her back was turned to them, they saw that she had a tattoo of the Eiffel Tower on one buttock and Notre Dame Cathedral on the other. When she faced them, she had a large tattoo of the Arc de Triomphe, with the top of the arch crossing her lower belly and the sides of the arch descending down each leg, framing the flower of her womanhood. Alfie told her that it was like a tour of France and an experience he would never forget.

Laetitia thanked Alfie for his story and later it became the limerick of the day.

Young Alfie will never forget
That county fair stripper, Yvette
When she took off her pants
Her tattooed scenes of France
Fascinated the boys of Gillette.

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.

Day 207: Cute in Mud Butte

Mud Butte is an unincorporated South Dakota community near the Black Hills. Laetitia and her group went hiking in Mount Rushmore National Park and went to happy hour and dinner in Rapid City before returning to Mud Butte for the evening. During happy hour the bartender, who happened to live in Mud Butte, told Laetitia a story that he ended with, “Every small town has at least one.” It became the limerick of the day.

Young Rochelle was both shapely and cute
And attractive to boys in Mud Butte
But decidedly wild
And quite often with child
And, some said, a bit less than astute.

Day 206: Hanky Pantry

Lantry is an unincorporated community in South Dakota not too far from Lake Oahe, the large reservoir created by damming the Missouri River. Today’s tour group consisted entirely of fishing enthusiasts who wanted to fish for bass on Lake Oahe, so Laetitia chartered a boat and a guide and they spent the day on the lake. They arrived in Lantry in late afternoon and did a walkabout before going to dinner and their motel. Talking to some of the local residents on the walkabout, Laetitia heard some gossip about a minister who had had to leave town.

Ministers in small towns have a very difficult time, especially if they are young. Some members of their congregation think they work only the hour each week when they are behind the pulpit. Also their lives are under constant scrutiny, and they are often held to a higher standard than other people. Laetitia felt sorry for the minister who was the subject of the gossip, but she wrote the limerick anyway.

White flour handprints on the dress
Of the preacher’s landlady, named Tess,
From a tryst in the pantry
Were a scandal in Lantry
And he soon left town under duress.