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Dave Zweifel's Madison: The Rising Sun a lone massage parlor survivor

Dave Zweifel's Madison: The Rising Sun a lone massage parlor survivor

Recent stories in the State Journal that the Madison police raided the offices of the accountants of the Rising Sun, a downtown “bathhouse,” led me to ask, “Is that place still there?”

Indeed, it is, just upstairs next door to the Shamrock Bar just off the Square on West Main Street and, from what I’m told, still doing a brisk business giving male customers “massages.”

The Rising Sun was around in the same location way back in the early 1970s -- one of just several so-called massage parlors providing services to lonely guys. There were places like the Geisha House, This Is Heaven, Jan’s Health Studio, Charlotte’s Web, Genie’s Magic Touch and a few others scattered around town.

Their presence and rumors that the “girls” bestowed sexual favors became so pervasive that many in the religious community began protesting to city officials, demanding action to close them down. Police Chief David Couper sent undercover cops to see what they could learn and by the time 1979 rolled around the massage parlors even became an issue in the mayoral campaign between Joel Skornicka and Jim Rowen.

Skornicka won, but when asked what he was going to do to close down the massage parlors, he replied that the city had a heckuva lot more important problems to tackle than massage parlors.

A couple of years before, as city editor I sent a young reporter named Mike Stone to visit the parlors to see what he could find. Mike’s line was that he wanted to arrange a bachelor party for a friend of his and was wondering what the friend could get for, say, a hundred bucks (not a small sum 30-plus years ago). The results of Mike’s visits were most revealing.

At prices ranging from $75 to $100, three of the establishments offered sexual intercourse. For 30 bucks the women would masturbate the customer and for amounts in between there were other degrees of sexual contact. The Rising Sun was one of the places Mike visited.

His stories caused even more uproar and the demands to close the places down got louder. Eventually, the police were able to make some arrests. But there wasn’t much that could be done unless the participants were caught red-handed, not an easy task. Eventually, because of pressure from the police and district attorney things got too hot and the places eventually closed down. Except, I guess, the Rising Sun.

I have no idea what goes on there these days. Maybe they just take care of sprained shoulders and sore backs. But there was a time when it was just one of many rip-roaring places that helped Madison earn its nickname, Mad City.