One day, fireman Terry Molloy looks towards the Holy Family Catholic Church from his perch on the roof of the old fire station on Main Street, which he is trying to repair. What he sees astounds him. Papa Lozano appears to be sawing the breasts off a wooden mannequin. Terry gets down off the roof and strolls up towards the church to get a better look and, sure enough, that’s what Papa Lozano is doing.
A few days later, Terry strolls up Company Hill Road and there, in the backyard of the church, he recognizes the mannequin, which has become transformed into a life-size statue of Jesus Christ nailed to a crude wooden cross. He wears a crude skirt and red paint is splattered on the wrists, fingers and knees. Beside him are two more mannequins, equally bloodied with paint, now transformed into Jesus’ two thieves.
Some of Jerome’s citizens are outraged: the statues are too grotesque, too bizarre, too much like a bad LSD trip. They’re right in the face of everyone who walks up the Company Hill Road. A few women pronounce themselves members of the Mary Magdalene Society and take a petition to the Jerome Town Council Meeting asking that they pass an ordinance to remove them.
According to Papa Lozano, the statues are his thanks to God for answering his prayers to cure his daughter. She had injured her back after falling down some stairs. When the doctors could do nothing for her, Lozano prayed to God to make her well. Her cure was miraculous. In the old Catholic tradition, Lozano bought the mannequins from Good Will for $15 each and created a tribute to God.
The statues stay up.
Jerome, 1983: The First of the Big Pot Busts
Three self-proclaimed members of Jerome’s ethics police, Steve S, Don C and Joe M turned their sights towards getting rid of dope smoking hippies. There wasn’t far to turn: when the wind was right, a rich odor of ripening pot plants came wafting towards Steve’s house.
They started investigating, and, sure enough, looking down from the pathway to Richard’s house, were dozens of pot plants hidden from the street by a corral made up of tall, thick bamboo at Glen Baisch’s house. The corral was 300 yards on a diagonal from Steve’s house, just below the main highway into town.
What nerve! What outrage! What to do but call the cops. First an airplane came whizzing over the corral. Then the cops arrested Glen and his girlfriend Lisa, ripped up the plants and shoved them into the trunks of their cars.
Hiding pot plants in bamboo corrals did not originate with Glen. In 1977, police confiscated 1000 pounds of pot in Centerville, Arizona much of it grown behind a bamboo and scrap wood fence. (Verde Independent August 17, 1977)
The big surprise was the one-inch newspaper headline in the Verde Independent, which focused not about the arrest of the grower, but on Ron Ballatore, Chief of Police: “Chief Accused in Drug Trafficking.” (Verde Independent, Oct. 7, 1983)
According to the article, “Jerome residents have accused Jerome’s police chief of ignoring a massive drug trafficking problem in the tiny community . . . One of them said he’s got a loaded gun in every room to protect himself from drug dealers who have threatened to kill him. . .They requested anonymity because ‘it’s only a matter of time before the killing starts. . .’”
Steve S commended the paper for “having the guts and integrity to print the truth regarding the circumstances we have been living under in Jerome. …Let’s all serve notice to the drug dealers. We will not tolerate them destroying the lives of our young people and the future of our community.” Don C said older people were “afraid to even talk about it with their closest friends.” (Verde Independent, Oct. 19, 1983) Joe M commended the paper for its “courageous ad truthful reporting.” (Nov. 4, 1983) Joe M. wrote, “I knew it was only a matter of time before someone wrote the truth about this town. . .”
Other letters accused the paper of inept, tacky, misleading, biased, and shockingly sensationalist rubbish and yellow journalism. Phil Harris, who worked at the Douglas Mansion State Park, said that “the individuals interviewed are well-known all over town as chronic trouble makers who are also ‘up to their ass’ in paranoia, unconstructive criticism, boorish bad manners and arrogant attitudes. Fortunately, they are in an infinitesimal minority.” (Verde Independent, October 13, 1983) Another letter said that only a couple of stupid old fools would be capable of dreaming up the kind of crap the Verde Independent printed.
The crap included a mistake in the number of plants actually found. The original article said that the cops ripped up 473 plants; the next week, however, the paper issued its correction: 87 plants.
In February 1984, Baisch pleaded guilt to a felony charge of possession of marijuana. He was placed on three-years probation, fined $1370, ordered to serve 100 hours of community service work and was sentenced to 14 days in Yavapai County Jail. His girlfriend Lisa pled guilty to a misdemeanor, was placed on probation for two years, ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and serve two days in jail for possession.
Jesus Christ Gets a Marijuana Leaf Crown
The night after the Verde Independent came out with its sensational headline, three men stole into the churchyard of the Holy Family Catholic church. One of the men propped a ladder on the shoulders of the former store mannequin that had been fashioned into the bloody replica of Jesus Christ.
A man climbed up and nailed a new crown on Jesus’ head: a large wooden marijuana leaf that was painted a flamboyant green. Across his stomach, he nailed another sign: “Ballatore.”
The sign disappeared the next day; but the marijuana leaf crown stayed up on Jesus’ head for 6 weeks. Although Papa Lozano came to the church every day to work on its restoration, either he never noticed the addition to his statue or chose to ignore it.
Baisch was only a secondary character in Jerome’s Wild West hippie drama: How to Grow Pot Without Getting Caught. The star that was dead center was James Faernstrom. If Ferne Goldman embodied the hippie ideals of peace, love and good vibes, Faernstrom became the icon of their betrayal.
(Soon to be published in Diane Sward Rapaport’s new book, Home Sweet Jerome, Rescuing a Town from its Ghosts, forthcoming Spring 2014 from Johnson Books (Big Earth Publishing).