Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum

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“Skagway’s favorite Saloon, Restaurant & Brothel Museum!”

This historic 1898 structure is described as being a white, two story building with dark trim, and a storefront window. The first floor was and is now a saloon, and the second floor is their 1898 Brothel Museum. This whole building was originally located at 6th and State Street.

Skagway’s year-round population of approximately one thousand residents nearly doubles in size in order to support over the 900,000 visitors that flock to the area via the cruise ships at the hight of the tourist season. One place that is very popular with these tourists is The Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum.

The Red Onion Saloon makes a good profit catering to out-of-towners who come from far and wide to take advantage of the saloon’s historical offerings. The Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum have kept the authentic, atmospheric gold rush ambience of the first floor saloon as well as the second floor Brothel Museum so it is like taking a step back in time to 1898.

The Brothel Museum’s docents, dressed in 1898 saloon girls’ costumes, will take visitors through this Brothel Museum telling stories about the ladies and their lives here. They were much appreciated by many lonely miners.

The tour brings visitors up the stairs where they can see the ten small rooms, which were called cribs. An added plus is seeing the Madam’s bedroom. The good-time ladies who worked here serviced their customers there. Each room had several door leading out of the crib in case of emergencies.

The rooms are also a step back in time, looking like the lady who worked in it had stepped out for a walk. Some of the original relics, possessions of the ladies found under the floor boards and paintings of them are also interesting to look at and study. The owner’s personal collection of antiques are on display as well. The tour is $10 per person and lasts 20 minutes. It includes a Red Onion souvenir garter.

Besides being able to just walk in and take a private tour, The Red Onion Brothel Museum is part of a larger Brothel Tour for tourists, taking in all the historic brothel sites in Skagway District. The Red Onion Saloon Brothel Museum is the last stop of this tour, where tourists participate in a “champagne toast and explore the halls and bedrooms of this celebrated brothel.”

Both the Red Onion Brothel Tour and the larger Brothel Tour advertise that there is a spirit of a female working lady residing here and if visitors are lucky, she may appear! They call her Lydia, one of the girls who worked here back in the day for the two years that the Red Onion Brothel was open here. Ghost enthusiasts are welcome to come with their cameras to try to catch some hard evidence of her. Photos are posted of her on Lydia’s website.



In the late 1800s, the Klondike Gold Rush brought in a boatload of miners. Their needs for drink, gaming and intimate female companionship were big money makers. In Skagway, a variety of businesses offered ladies to satisfy the sensual appetites of their patrons, despite the fact that it was officially against the law. There were 10,000 miners and three hundred prostitutes in town.

Of all the many brothels in town, the grandest, most stylish brothel was located in The Red Onion Saloon. It was built in 1897 and opened in 1898 at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush as a premiere bordello, a casino, and as a high class saloon. The ladies were treated very well as valued assets, and had good working conditions for prostitutes. Their Madam provided for all their needs, their bouncer protected them, and there was a system in place that safe-garded them from being robbed.

Each worker had a twelve hour shift, with fifteen minutes for each client. That means they could have up to 48 clients in a 12 hour shift. Out of the five dollar fee, they kept $1.25. 50% of the $5.00 went to the Madam, and 25% of the fee went to pay for their security, the bouncer.

To earn a $1.25 per trick was good money, as legal jobs that existed at the time for women paid no more than 3.00 a day. The women who worked here made as much money as they could and then left Skagway before anything could happen to them. The turn-over of women was high, but no one was killed by a client who beat them up.

Ten dolls stood up at the bar to represent the ladies who were open and looking for clients. When a miner picked one of the them, the doll was laid down on the bar to signify that this particular lady was busy. After fifteen minutes, if the client didn’t leave on time, the bouncer would come into the room and escort him out.

After finishing with a client, the ladies put their five dollars in a copper tube in the floor of their crib that took the money down to a safe deposit box located behind their doll on the bar. When the client was satisfied, and left the crib, the doll was stood up again with the other dolls to signify that the lady was again available.

The Klondike Gold Rush played out by 1900, and the gold seekers moved on to the next gold rush opportunity in Nome, Alaska. The Red Onion Saloon building became a popular dance hall in the 1900s. After a dance with a lady, the client might go up the stairs for a roll in the hay, though sources say the brothel only was only open for two years during the height of the Gold Rush.

This building was moved in 1914 on rolling logs to its current location, nearer to the railroad station, in a bid to get customers as they came in on the train. The building was used for a variety of purposes too, being in a prime location. A pharmacy, a telegraph station, and WW 2 Army Barracks, as well as a Bakery, a TV Station and a Gift shop called this structure home.

In 1980, once again this structure became once again The Red Onion Saloon. Owner Jan Wrent­more bought a liquor license and renovated the building so it could be up to code for the saloon kitchen. All the copper pipping had to be removed because it was deemed a fire hazard, which meant the wooden floors had to be lifted up to get to the pipes. It was at this time that the ladies precious belongings were found hidden under these floor boards. The Red Onion Saloon and Restaurant opened up once more.

At first, the upstairs area was used for staff changing rooms and an office. The old Madam’s room became a bedroom for visiting artists who performed on the first floor saloon.

However, when cruise ship tourists showed an interest in bordellos, the second floor was turned into their own Brothel Museum, an authentic display of what life was like for the women who worked in this disreputable profession at The Red Onion Saloon.


Prostitution was a hard way to make a living with a lot of risks attached to it, both physical and emotional. You could become pregnant, catch a disease, get beaten up or even killed by a client or jealous boyfriend. If you were lucky, you might only suffer debilitating heartbreak. The spirit of Lydia deeply resents the treatment she got from men.

We wonder what happened to her to be so resentful? Below are some possible reasons.


Often getting married to a man was the only way out of this demeaning work. Sometimes when a lady was promised marriage and it fell through due to cold feet or death, this could send a woman into a spiral of depression and she ended her own life.

Palace Hotel, WA (The spirit of the Lady in Blue killed herself when the man she thought was going to marry her got cold feet).

Birdcage Theater, AZ (The ladies who worked here gave themselves time to find a husband until they turned thirty. Then, they commonly killed themselves).

The Dumas Brothel, MT (Two ladies killed themselves here. One young woman’s beloved died in a mine explosion, and the other lady was stood up by her boyfriend who changed his mind).

The Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum, AK (Perhaps the spirit of Lydia was promised marriage to a man but he backed out perhaps for a more presentable woman. This betrayal could’ve made her resentful).


Spirits who receive bad treatment from others may hold grudges agains the group that caused them pain, and perhaps even their death.

Colonel Michael Swope Townhouse, VA (During the Revolutionary War, the good Colonel was mistreated by his British captors in mean ways. His dislike of British people has come with him as a spirit. He didn’t allow a British woman to buy his townhouse).

Harper’s Ferry Guest House, WV (A resentful male spirit shows his contempt for anyone wearing a Federal uniform that to him represents the Union).

Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum, AK (Lydia became a prostitute to make quick money and then leave Skagway. She unfortunately caught a serious sexually transmitted disease and when it became apparent, she hung herself in her crib. She blames men for giving it to her. Perhaps this was the last straw for her).


Sometimes spirits hang around the one structure where they felt at home and had some peace while alive. They may even continue to do the work they did when they were living. If they killed themselves, they sometimes stay where they felt peace.

Hemingway House Museum, FL (The spirit of Ernest Hemingway, who killed himself, likes to write in his old office in back of the home he loved).

Dauphine Orleans Hotel, LA (Apparently, spirits from all eras are still having “a roll in the hay” with spectral prostitutes providing sex to spectral patrons. Some of them may have died from it).

Old Baraboo Inn, WI (The spirit of a prostitute is still having sex with spectral clients on the second floor. She was killed because of her profession).

The Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum, AK (The spirit of Lydia may still be servicing male spirits, and even has touched a live man who used to stay in her room before the museum was set up).

Spirits sometimes choose to stay in this world and find a way to continue doing their old jobs here, especially if they feel they failed in some way while alive.

Brumder Mansion, WI (The spirits of Sam Pick’s speakeasy crew are still providing protection for the living against ruffian spirits who try to come into the Brumder Mansion through its portals, and to keep an eye on living visitors who come for entertainment or to do spirit investigations).

Levy House, NV (A male spirit here feels bad about the accident that killed a young spirit child, and so he stays with her here, looking after her).

Shanley Hotel, NY (The spirit of a barber keeps his spirit child company here. The spirit child died by drowning in a well which the father spirit may blame himself).

The Red Onion Saloon and Brothel Museum, AK (Perhaps the spirit of the bouncer thinks he needs to stay and protect the spirit of Lydia, like he did while alive. Perhaps he feels bad that he wasn’t able to stop her from killing herself).



Most of the activity is on the second floor, caused by at least one female presence, though perhaps more. Spirits of their male clients may come back for more satisfaction. A male bouncer may still be keeping an eye on her.


Hangs onto wrongs done. The spirit of Lydia can’t forget the pain and brutality done to her by men in her life, and can’t let go of her resentment and dislike the man who gave her a fatal disease that she killed herself over).

While she is friendly with women on tours by caressing their hair, men on the tour are fair game for tricks to be played on them.

Possible Spirit of the Bouncer

Two men who were doing maintenance work on the second floor were pushed down the flight of stairs by a strong presence.

One of the local town leaders has felt twice in the second floor hall way; a strong presence, in sort of a hostile mood.

He apparently doesn’t like male politicians or leaders. I wonder why?

Strong Aroma

A spirit, thought to be Lydia, still believes in using plenty of perfume. She likes the Lilac scent.

The strong aroma of perfume permeates and travels along the second floor hall.

The strong aroma is linked to various cold spots felt on the second floor, especially in the Madam’s room.

Astounding Auditory Activity

Footsteps were heard upstairs, when no one living was there. It could be Lydia or the bouncer.

A spooked employee called the police, who also heard running feet and pounding on the second floor.

This could be the bouncer, reliving an altercation he had with someone.

When the employee and other officers went up to investigate, he saw a shadow go down the hall and slip into the Madam’s Room, but found nothing visible there.


Some unseen presence, probably Lydia, likes to be helpful, and waters the living plants on the second floor, when no living human could’ve done this chore.

A shadowy form of a woman was actually seen watering plants in the Madam’s Room.

Still Working

Spirits of prostitutes may still be waiting for clients. A face of a male spirit was seen in a mirror hanging in the Madam’s bedroom.

Cold patches and areas upstairs have been felt by employees.

One spirit, probably Lydia, didn’t wait to be asked. A musician who once lived on the second floor in the Madam’s old room for a short period, while playing downstairs in the Red Onion Saloon, awoke one night to see a shimmering light in his room.

He then had a very strange and sensual sensation given to him by an unseen presence in bed with him.

I bet he made a hasty retreat down the stairs! Perhaps this is why they no longer put performers in the Madam’s room.

Perhaps she thought she was supposed to seduce him.


Docents, tour guests, maintenance men, police and others have been witnesses to boatloads of paranormal activity which points to a spectral resident or residents or even spectral clients.

Ghost Hunters have done an episode or two here, and found the area where Lydia likes to go quite a bit colder than the rest of the second floor.

Lots of other ghost enthusiasts have brought their cameras to take pictures and hopefully catch something on film. The Red Onion Saloon has posted some of these pictures online. Some of them are rather spooky. Apparently, Lydia likes to admire the really expensive lingerie that belonged to a Madam. Many pictures here show a white light here.



Big Yes Indeed! As long as Lydia needs to find peace in her favorite place in this world, she will stay and try to remember all the good memories that she had here, and perhaps some of her favorite clients who visited her and may still come by for a visit and some fun! Perhaps the spirit of the bouncer also sticks around to take care of her as well.



The Red Onion Saloon is conveniently located in the heart of downtown on the corner of 2nd and Broadway.

alaska saloon



Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr.



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