No one quite knows when or where Pearl de Vere was born. It is thought to have been around 1862 in Chicago, Illinois and raised around Evansville, Indiana. She was definitely not born “Pearl de Vere”. She arrived in Denver when she was 14 or 15 and was known as Mrs. Isabel Martin, although no one ever saw a Mr. Martin. Young Isabel began working in Denver as a prostitute or “soiled dove” as they were called in Western euphemism. Apparently, she did well in Denver, but in 1893 the Silver Panic hit and business began to dry up. It was time to move.
Cripple Creek was the newest boomtown in Colorado and was where Isabel decided to open her new business. She was 31, strong willed, beautiful and had a head for business. She changed her name to Pearl de Vere and bought a place on Myers Avenue in the heart of the “red light” district. Her girls were lovely and were well taken care of- receiving regular medical examinations and excellent pay. Her business was an overnight success, and her clientele included the most prosperous gentlemen of Cripple Creek. Not just any average miner could come into Pearl’s. There was an application process, and once it was determined the gentleman had enough money he was allowed to come in. If it was his first visit, then he was taken to a view room where he could watch the girls disrobe and make his selection. Evenings generally began in the parlor with the gentleman dancing, listening to music or playing cards with the lady of his choice. Then as the evening wore on, they adjourned upstairs.
Pearl was well known in town and was seen daily driving in an open carriage pulled by fine black horses. She was always dressed to the nines and women envied her and men desired her. However, there was a backlash. The “good” ladies of town were scandalized at Pearl’s outings and that her employees dared to shop on Bennett Avenue alongside everyone else. Special hours for Pearl and her ladies to shop were set so that these “good” ladies didn’t have to brush their skirts against those of “soiled doves”. A monthly fine of six dollars was levied on all working girls as well as a sixteen dollar fine for the madams. However, this did nothing to diminish business.
Pearl did try to live the quiet life, marrying mill owner C.B. Flynn in 1895. She continued to run the brothel, but a fire ran through the camp destroying both her business and her husband’s mill. Ruined by the fire, Flynn took a job smelting iron and steel in Monterrey, Mexico, but his wife did not accompany him. Pearl stayed in Cripple Creek and rebuilt her business into what become known as “The Old Homestead”. It was a two-story brick building furnished with the latest in technology including a telephone, an intercom system and two indoor bathrooms. The interior was lavishly decorated with hardwood furniture, rare carpets and electric light chandeliers. Extravagant parties became the norm at the Old Homestead, with imported tropical flowers and orchestras brought in from Denver. French champagne and fine food prepared by a world class chef was a matter of course. A night at the Old Homestead would run on average about $250. To compare, the average miner brought in $3 a day as a salary.
On June 4, 1897, the party was on at the Old Homestead. This one was in honor of a millionaire admirer from the ironically named Poverty Gulch. The champagne flowed like water and guests feasted on Russian caviar. Pearl was resplendent in a shell pink chiffon gown from Paris trimmed with seed pearls and sequins. Some sources say that the admirer from Poverty Gulch bought her the gown, and that the two argued that night. Whether or not that was true, Pearl had too much to drink, and retired to her room. Unable to sleep, she took some morphine. This was not unusual for the time as most opioids were sold over the counter. During the night, one of the girls checked on Pearl and found her sprawled on the bed and was unable to wake her. The doctor was called, but nothing could be done. Pearl died early on the morning of June 5, 1897. Her death was recorded as an accidental overdose, but one newspaper insinuated it was suicide. Most historians dispute this as Pearl was at the height of her wealth and fame.
Pearl’s family was notified in Indiana and her sister made the trip west. She was shocked to find Pearl with dyed red hair and that she was a madam. She had led her family to believe she was a dressmaker. Pearl’s sister refused responsibility for the body and left in a huff. Unfortunately, Pearl’s wealth had gone into those fabulous parties and there was now nothing left to bury her with. Some even suggested they auction off the $800 ballgown she died in. However, an anonymous donor gave $1000 for the funeral and requested she be buried in the ball gown. Her funeral was a momentous occasion, with the coffin being led by the Elk’s band playing the Death March and escorted by four mounted policemen. Carriages filled with her girls as well as the prosperous business men who had been her clientele followed. The lavender casket was lowered into her grave covered with red and white roses.
The original wooden slab marker is now on display in the Cripple Creek District Museum and has been replaced by a heart shaped white marble stone. People now place gifts and flowers on her grave for help with love matters.
Sources available on request