Photo by Brown Harano Studios of North Platte
Mabel with fur & rose, circa 1950.
At age 2
The Lotus Rooms, 605 N. Jeffers
The Broadmoor at 107 W. Sixth, with Robey's Cash Groceries on the first floor, circa 1930.
Mable Crosslin was born on Feb. 14, 1893 in Grand Island. One wonders if being born on Valentine’s Day had anything to do with her career, because she became North Platte’s most notorious madam.
Mable came to North Platte as a young woman and as she grew older, she ran hotels -- places of ill-repute -- surviving police raids and attempts to clean up North Platte’s “Little Chicago” reputation of the 1920s and 30s.
Records tell us that Mable’s mother died when she was only two. Her father remarried and moved to Oklahoma. Mable lived with her mother’s family, according to the 1900 census. By 1910, Mable had moved to Oklahoma to live with her father and stepmother. She was 17.
“Fiery red-haired Mable was the busty beauty of the family, with diamonds and jewels flashing at all times of the day,” Mable’s niece, Darlene Harder, told me. “She was the CoCo Chanel of her times.”
When Darlene was 23, she and her parents visited Mable in North Platte. During the visit, she remembers her mother and father whispering “Mable’s hotel is a brothel for the railroad crew.”
But Darlene admired Mable’s charm, strength, scruples and elegance.
It is not totally surprising that Mable went into that business. Mable’s aunt was considered the “Wildcat” of her family and another niece had no scruples, Darlene Harder said. And, another niece worked in a “chicken ranch” north of Las Vegas before moving to New York for better pay, according to family legend.
William Kaufman, a brakeman for the railroad, moved to North Platte in 1915. He married Mable on Feb. 26, 1916. Mable was 23. Harder doesn’t know if she was already in the “business” by then, but as soon as she moved to North Platte with her husband she became the proprietor of a rooming house on the north side.
Just a few months later, Mable became involved in the first of many incidents that landed her in the local newspapers.
On April 27, 1916 the front-page North Platte Evening Telegraph proclaimed a “Considerable Mix-up.” A lady named Vivian Doggett was upset that Mable sold her husband “hooch” and she paid Mable a visit.
“From all appearances, there is little lost love between.” the two women, the paper reported.
“Whether the difference in locations and a spirit of sectional rivalry enters into the affair” was not apparent, the paper said, as it reported a long drawn fight between the two women, wherein Harry Doggett, Vivian’s husband, was thrown into the middle of the turmoil.
Mable complained that Vivian “beat her, broke the furniture and cleaned house in general.”
When police arrived, Vivian was arrested and charged with assault, disturbing the peace and malicious destruction of property. And, Mable was charged with six counts of selling liquor without a license.
Shortly after the charges were filed, Mr. and Mrs. Doggett decided to part ways and Henry announced he would move to Omaha. Mrs. Doggett decided she didn’t like that and “opened fire,” shooting him twice, once in the chest and once in the shoulder. But Vivian pled not guilty, blaming all the trouble on Mable, according to newspaper reports.
The trouble evidently died down, and William and Mable moved to the south side, living at 611˝ North Jeffers, according to the 1917 North Platte City Directory. Mable ran the Atlas Rooms while William worked as a brakeman.
On Oct. 16, 1919, the newspaper reported that “Mable Kaufman, proprietor of the Atlas Rooming House, which was raided during Fair Week, was arrested and charged with running a disorderly house.” Mable was found guilty and charged $50 plus court costs.
That was one of many raids for Mable.
When other houses were raided, proprietors usually left town after paying hefty fines, and new women were brought in to run the operation. Not so with Mable. She seemed to walk, with charges thrown out or small fines levied, and business went on as usual.
She did, however, change the location and/or name of her business.
In 1921, Mable and William moved to 605˝ N. Jeffers, where Mable ran the Lotus Rooms. On Oct. 5, 1922 the Telegraph reported in bold headlines, that “Mable Kaufman takes a Poke at Belle Rariden.” Rariden was the former proprietor of the Traveler’s Rooms , and was ordered to leave North Platte after her house was raided. But, she returned to North Platte to close up her business affairs.
Belle approached Mable on the street and accused Mable of allowing her husband to stay at Mable’s rooming house while supplying him with “hootch,” the paper said. Mable punched Belle and then jumped into her “$5,000 Cadillac Coupe” and drove away, leaving Belle to complain to everyone she could, the paper reported.
In 1925, the Kaufman’s ran the Brunswick Billiard Hall on Front St., but lived at the Cody Hotel on the same street, according to the city directory. William and Mable stayed at the hotel until 1927, when they got a divorce.
William left North Platte. Mable moved back to 611˝ N. Jeffers and the Atlas Rooms, this time running it by herself.
In 1929, she bought the building at 107 West Sixth, where she opened the Broadmoor Hotel. In the Broadmoor, Mable became the most famous madam of North Platte.
The building had been a tire store and a produce company. Today, it looks like the second floor was added later. It would not be surprising that Mable added a second floor after she bought it, because she would need it for her rooming house but could use the first floor as a legitimate business.
On Aug. 19, 1940, the Broadmoor was raided and Mabel was charged with selling liquor without a license and running a house of ill repute. Once again she walked. All charges were dropped, the paper said.
Mable got hitched again, marrying Jerome Vosburg in Smith Center, Kan. on July 12, 1946.
The first floor contained many businesses over the years, including car dealers, grocery stores and a battery store, to name a few.
But by 1950, the city directory reported that the entire building was Mable’s rooming house.
On Feb. 17, 1952 the North Platte Telegraph-Bulletin proclaimed that the “Houses of Prostitution Ordered Closed by County Attorney”.
The sheriff and police chief visited the Broadmoor, because high school boys were visiting various rooming houses in North Platte and the public was not happy with it. At this time, North Platte officials started a big campaign to clean up the town. However, it is not clear that Mable closed down her brothel. She continued to live at the Broadmoor Hotel after the big “clean-up” campaign, according to city directories.
On Jan. 29, 1957 Mable filed for divorce from Vosburg, alleging that he “pursued conduct toward her that was extreme cruelty,” the divorce petition said.
Mable told the court that Vosburg was sullen, morose and uncooperative, causing her serious impaired mental and physical health and it was no longer possible to stay married to him.
On April 10, 1957 the court granted the divorce and everything that went with it went to Mabel, including the land she owned in North Platte and Grand Island, cars, the hotel with all its furniture. She left Jerome with nothing but the court costs in the amount of $17.35, the divorce decree said.
Not much is known about Mable thereafter, but they continued to live together until they both died in 1969. Jerome passed away in January. Mable died in July. Both of them were buried in a McKnight family plot -- named for Mabel’s mother — in Grand Island. Mabel and Jerome are in unmarked graves -- the only ones in the family plot that are unmarked.
After Kaufman’s death, a large estate auction was held. A Stradivarius violin was listed on the sale bill. A North Platte resident, Mary Agler, remembers going to the auction with her father. At the time, she had no clue who Mable was, but was impressed with the quality of the items for sale. Agler bid on a bedroom set of mahogany, brand new and still in wooden crates, but the price was far too high for her.
Niece Darlene Harders remembers that Mable built a big stone house in Grand Island, not far from the racetrack. She said Mable bought her gifts and took her on trips.
Many older residents in North Platte remember Mable going to church, always sitting on the end of a front pew. Someone said that Mable had a stable on Rodeo Road on the west side of town where she kept a white horse that she rode in parades. She was known to help kids go to college when they didn’t have the money to do so.
Kaufman was a part of the scene when North Platte was known as Little Chicago because of prostitution, gambling and booze. She was brassy but kind. She made her way in a man’s world, but didn’t forget how to be helpful to others.
Kaycee Anderson is the research historian at the North Platte Public Library. This report was first published in the April 25 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.