Lament for Ghost Town Ruins

Jerome, Arizona’s ruins are slowly disappearing. The grand hulks that became symbols of the ghost town that it became known for—hospital, elementary school, Daisy Hotel and Douglas Mansion—are restored and have become, respectively, the Grand Hotel, Town Hall, a private residence and State Historic Park.

Leigh and Richard weremarried here; kids loved to skateboard here; and the fire department benefits were great. Photo by Bob Swanson (Swansonimages.com)

Leigh and Richard weremarried here; kids loved to skateboard theses floors; and the fire department benefits were great. Photo by Bob Swanson (Swansonimages.com)

The floor of the Bartlett Hotel, the only ruin that remains on Main Street, is filled with coins pitched by tourists at an old outhouse and toilet and rusted mining artifacts. This odd coin toss earns as much as $6500 a year for the Jerome Historical Society.  Behind the shop called Skyfire, the remains of the brick ‘cribs’, home of Jerome’s ladies of the night, were taken down by co-owner Michael Farcas to gain access to the back of the building.  The bricks were neatly stacked.  Then the bricks slowly disappeared.  As Jane Moore commented, it was a ‘crime.’

No cribs, no more. And where did all those bricks go?  (Photo by Bob Swanson)

No cribs, no more. And where did all those bricks go? (Photo by Bob Swanson)

The Jerome that I moved to in 1979 was still forlorn and decrepit looking, needing rescue. Today, Jerome has become modernized. Spiffed up. Gentrified.

This wreck was in old Mexican town below the post office. (Photo by Bob Swanson)

This wreck was in old Mexican town below the post office. (Photo by Bob Swanson)

Money flows in from tourist veins that are as rich as any gold mine. Over a million visitors a year come to shop, party in the bars, gawk at the views, and hear tales of bordellos, gunslingers, and ghosts. The shops are full of art, jewelry, and handmade clothing, award-winning wines and exotic olive oils.

Can this building be saved? It's the old Cuban Queen, symbol of the mining city bordellos. (Photo by )Bob Swanson

Can this building be saved? It’s the old Cuban Queen, symbol of the mining city bordellos. For those of us who lived in Jerome in the Jade/Rosie days, it was their home and magnet/tile making studio.  I still have some of them.  (Photo by Bob Swanson)

The names of many businesses play on the mythology of ghosts: The Haunted Hamburger, Ghost Town Inn, the Spirit Room bar, Ghost Town Tours, and Ghost Town Gear. The Grand Hotel provides ghosts meters to visitors interested in documenting their contacts. The annual Jerome Ghost Walk is one of the most popular events that the Jerome Historical Society produces. It draws many hundreds of people to its re-enactments of historic events.

Many don’t mourn the loss of ruins. Sometimes tourists fell off the old walls. Shopkeepers complained ruins were fire hazards and dubbed them liabilities. Many homes that once went for under a $1000 have sold for over a quarter of a million dollars. In the ghost town years, they were ripe for pickings and vandalism. Up to the 1980’s, residents would find people wandering through their yards, saying, “I thought this was a ghost town.”

The iconic T.F. Miller building was ordered to be torn down by Phelps Dodge in 1953. "Jerome is finished," a mine official said. Kids were paid a penny a piece to clean the bricks. (Photo courtesy: Jerome Historical Society)

The iconic T.F. Miller building was ordered to be torn down by Phelps Dodge in 1953. “Jerome is finished,” a mine official said. Kids were paid a penny a piece to clean the bricks. (Photo courtesy: Jerome Historical Society)

I never tired of walking among Jerome’s ruins. The shards of Jerome’s fabulous mining past were embedded in its abandoned buildings, crumbling walls, and collapsed roofs. Ruins shared visible histories of this once powerful and fabled city—“the richest copper mining city” in the West.  There were ghosts in those ruins; you could feel them.

The old bakery ovens are still hanging around in the back yard of one of my friends, (Photo by Bob Swanson)

The old bakery ovens are still hanging around in the back yard of one of my friends, (Photo by Bob Swanson)

Before new mine owners forbid walking down to the 500-level, I loved walking around the foundations of the housing units for mid-level employees (plumbers, carpenters, electricians). I loved sneaking into the old mining building known as the “Dry” with its rows of empty lockers and broken-up shower stalls. I could easily visualize 1500 miners simultaneously showering up after their shifts and hanging their clothes to dry on pulleys that hoisted them high into the rafters. Vaporous ghosts.

Interior of the Dry on the 500 level.  (Photo by Bob Swanson)

Interior of the Dry on the 500 level. (Photo by Bob Swanson)

For old-timers who return by the hundreds for the annual town reunion called “Spook Days,” ruins were the roots of their powerful attachment to Jerome. “I was only here from 1928-1948, but I feel a strong attachment to Jerome. No other place I’ve ever lived in have I felt that attachment,” said one old Mexican.

Another said, “I was only three years old when I left Jerome, but I remember things. . . I remember my father’s house. I remember the snow. And I remember sitting on my grandmother’s balcony at night, looking down into the valley. I could hear crickets and it was so peaceful.”

Ruins revealed oddities about people who used to live here. One of my favorite ruins was the old homestead where Father John used to live. When he died, he left behind a lot of junk: rusting cars, collections of stoves, and a room full of ladies shoes, singles only. Now what would a priest be doing with so many ladies’ shoes? Father John’s home mysteriously burned the night after he was dragged to the hospital. Years later, the homestead was replaced with the new Gold King Mine, which includes a lot of old pre-fifties trucks, a museum of mining relics and old sawmill from Weed, California. There never was a mine there, much less one that mined gold.

A new town has emerged, full of its own colors and legends, a village of little crime and high spirits. The ghost town is all but gone.

One of my all time favorites ruins, now the cover of Rich Town Poor Town. It was in perfect splay when Bob took the shot. Then it fell down. (Photo by Bob Swanson)

One of my all time favorites ruins, now the cover of Rich Town Poor Town by Roberto Robago, a great book. The ruin was in perfect splay when Bob took the shot. Then it fell down. (Photo by Bob Swanson)

But when the oldtimers die, who will share the memories and secrets of old Jerome? And when the ruins are gone, where will the ghosts hide?

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The Big Spliff: The Kids That Dared D.A.R.E.

About a year after the pot bust of 1985, the Clarkdale Elementary School set up a precursor to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. Mr. Steele, the fifth-grade teacher, brought in a policeman, whom he introduced as Officer Friendly.

My son Max and his best friend Omar, politely listened and watched the videos and movies about how smoking pot led directly to heroin, meth, crack, and cocaine addictions. Alcohol was seldom mentioned. They tried to figure out how the information presented squared with all the adults they knew that only smoked pot and seemed pretty mellow. Although their parents were not involved in the bust, Max and Omar knew about it and accepted their parents’ position that few pot smokers were ever involved in violent crime.

After every educational program, Officer Friendly invited the kids to rat out their families or friends. “It’ll be a secret between us,” Officer Friendly said. Max and Omar had heard the stories about the snitch and the big bust in Jerome, they knew that a snitch was the worst kind of person.

At the end of the semester, the kids were asked to present skits about what they had learned. Max and Omar paired up and were the last to make a presentation.

They went into the hall to get into their costumes. When they walked back into the classroom, Omar had transformed himself into a cliché of the drug dealer—trench coat, big pockets, hat pulled over his forehead, sunglasses, and gold chains. Even though he was not yet twelve, he was almost six feet tall and his size made kids think he was formidable, and not to be messed with. However, Omar had a very tender heart and never got into fights.

Max had changed into a clean shirt, pressed trousers, the epitome of the kind of clean-cut kid you who would never associate with drugs. He was shorter than Omar by a foot and a half, fair-haired and fair-skinned. He had a beatific smile that made him look, well, maybe not quite angelic, but perhaps trustable; a kid every mom could be proud of. Max and Omar were best friends: Omar was the gentle giant and Max was the offbeat sidekick.

“Hey Max,” says Omar. “I just got some dynamite Panama Red. Want to smoke a joint?”

“Oh no, Omar, but thanks anyway,” Max said.

“How about some ‘Maui Zowie’ that my friend just brought back from Hawaii. You hardly ever see that around any more, Max. It’s awesome.”

“Sorry, Omar, I have to say no to Maui Zowie today.” Max smiled.

Officer Friendly beamed. It was just the way he had taught the kids to respond when someone offered to get them high.

“But Max, Max, here’s something I know you won’t turn down. I got hold of an old Thai stick, and man, is that some heavy-duty pot.”

All of a sudden, from under his shirt, Max whipped out an eight-inch long, cigar-thick spliff, rolled in newspaper, which he pretended to light. “Well, Omar, the thing is, I have some of my own.”

After no more than five shocked seconds, the room erupted in a roar as the kids rocked with laughter. The teacher could not be heard over the pandemonium for quite a few minutes and ordered Max and Omar to go to the principal’s office.

The principal was friendly with many Jerome parents and was known in some circles for his own hell-raising ways.

“Look,” he said to Max and Omar. “We know what goes on up there with you hippies, but you don’t have to parade it around. Try and mellow out.”

Max and Omar became heroes. For years, the kids told the story to one another. After all, Max and Omar had “dared” the powers that be. And, maybe more importantly, they got away with it.