If you’ve ever wondered about the seedy side of Bellingham’s history, you’ll need to take a walk with the Good Time Girls. A tour company delivered by costumed young women steeped in knowledge about the city’s less-known days gone by, the hour-long tours are full of humor and unforgettable insights.
The Good Time Girls Tours – begun by Marissa and Sarah Holodnick back in 2011 – offer three walking tours for adults: Sin & Gin (Downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven) from July to September, Holly History and the Gore & Lore (Downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven) during October. The main Sin & Gin tours are offered Friday and Saturdays at 4 p.m. The Downtown Bellingham Sin & Gin tours also include spirits tasting at Chuckanut Bay Distillery. And the Fairhaven Sin & Gin tours begin at 7 p.m., and will include a drink at The Archer Ale House.
Take a walk with one of their costumed characters and your understanding of Bellingham’s history will be irrevocably changed as you learn about the characters that peppered the city’s past and the ways they sought to satisfy their desires. During your tour, you have to opportunity to learn about various points of Bellingham’s history during the Prohibition era specifically. And the tour would not be complete if it didn’t include spirit tastings.
I joined the Sin & Gin tour on a walk downtown guided by Marissa McGrath, a social anthropology major who wore heels and a petticoat as she divulged her tour was inspired by the book The Brothels of Bellingham. “I’ll bet none of you knew that Bellingham had a legal, licensed red-light district,” she said. As she walked us to different downtown sites Marissa talked of the 1850s gold rush, and how it brought thousands of newcomers to Bellingham Bay. The community exploded to 10,000 almost overnight and supported a thriving red light district located close to the docks in Bellingham. “Every sex worker was taxed $16.50 every two weeks to pay for their physical and medical protection, and those taxes made up 17 percent of the city’s budget in 1910!” she said with a laugh.
That year everything changed when Billy Sunday, a famous baseball player turned Christian preacher, scheduled a visit to Bellingham, prompting the red-light district to be shut down overnight. Some 20,000 came to hear Sunday preach, and in the wake of his Christian words the legal sex trade went underground. Prohibition would arrive in Bellingham by 1911, when hard alcohol and wine were banned, and locals with a penchant for inebriation had to find their spirits in speakeasys and saloons.
Marissa’s tour is peppered with funny anecdotes you’d be hard-pressed to find in history books. Who knew, for example, that the Horseshoe Restaurant is the oldest operating restaurant in the state, or that it was the only one where prostitutes were allowed to eat? “The tour focuses specifically on the history of women in Bellingham and their important role in building this town,” she said. “We’re particularly interested in giving voice to those women who lived outside of what many considered proper “society,” and exploring their unique stories.”
The Sin & Gin Tour lasts about one hour. To book tickets visit www.goodtimegirls.com or call 360-389-3595.