A new museum exhibit is shining light on the rowdy past of a Carbon County town.
The history of the town of Helper, Utah, is tied to railroads and coal mining. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Helper was home to nearly 6,000 people and had a bit of a shady reputation from the spoils of gambling, brothels and bars.
Stephanie Fitzsimmons, the director of the Helper Mining Museum, has curated a new display that showcases its colorful past.
“That includes the gambling, the brothels, and the drinking, all the bars, the racier parts that we didn’t want to ignore,” said Fitzsimmons. “Basically, Helper was out of sight, out of mind. As long as we didn’t create trouble down here, the law left them alone largely.”
Fitzsimmons expected a lot of negative comments about Helper’s past, but locals are offering fond memories of the town’s past, including its last madame, Babe.
“She was an African-American woman with bright red hair. She stood out in a crowd, even in Helper,” said Fitzsimmons. “She was a responsible woman, she was charitable, she was good to the women that worked for her, and people loved her…and that wasn’t at all what I would have expected.”
Babe’s brothel didn’t close until 1977. Fitzsimmons says good business kept it in business.
The museum also has traditional exhibits, but Fitzsimmons says showcasing the spectrum of Helper’s history is simply an honest nod to its past and present.
“You think of much of small town Utah as being pretty insualted and I don’t think folks are here,” said Fitzsimmons. “Nobody is really in agreement about anything, from politics to religion, to what we should be doing here in Helper. It’s nice, I like that.”
The museum is located at 294 South Main Street in Helper. For more information, visit wmrrm.org.