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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12 thoughts on “Lament for Ghost Town Ruins

  1. Diane… Michael Farkas tore the cribs down! It’s even in the minutes of a design review meeting that Kathleen Williamson and i demanded that something be done about it, as he had no permission to tear the cribs down! He claimed the structure was unsafe, and in one day they were gone. He was asked to save the bricks and at least rebuild the facade, but obviously that never happened! That was a CRIME!!! I loved those ruins, as did many others!

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    • I totally spaced that out. That is what happened and I’ll correct. It was a crime. I have a great photo of those ruins that Gary Romig took which will probably be in the new book. I would have published it here but it needs scanning, so my publishers have it. Do you know what happened to the bricks?

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      • I think it happened as you said, Diane… the bricks just disappeared one by one. I am so concerned that the fate the old Cuban Queen will be the same if it isn’t saved soon… if that is NOT a project and history worth saving, i don’t know what is. One by one the old bordellos have gone away, as did the old Chinese laundry that the building inspector allowed Phil Tovrea to tear down. Cleanin’ up, tearin’ down… i would like to see some of the old ruins stabilized and left as they are.

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      • I think I’ll post a photo of the Cuban Queen on this blog. . .It should be saved. It would make a great ‘mini’ bordello musuem. Do you remember that Kathleen and friends camped in/near the sliding jail when they first came to town?

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  2. There are days in Flagstaff, especially when the skiers swarm up, that I wish we had some walls for them to fall off of. And, as for any trophy mansions, I guess you can imagine my enthusiasm. Thanks for telling the real story about the destruction of the cribs, Jane. Why is it always true that either greed or profit kill the past.

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    • Greed killed a lot in Jerome. . .maybe beginning with the theft of a large amount of money from the Catholic church, but maybe even before then, when the guerilla pot gardens outside of Jerome got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. . outside ‘developers’ came in, the bucks got big, so did the egos of some of the partners as they ingested some of the more addictive drugs. . .the busts came down hard on the town. Did the greed stop? Not really. I don’t know what stops it. The lure of money, gold, whatever you want to call it, the lure of just plain ‘more’ doesn’t seem to have a counter. My friend Dana Driver once made a bumper sticker and all it read was “GREED’

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      • You are correct. .. that’s how it read and now it’s time to print more. It was a great bumper sticker and quite the comment on the new life Jerome has taken on, so sorry to say. Today I saw 32 tundra swans. . they light here before they fly more north. It means that the snow geese and Ross’ geese will soon be here.. .love to you both. . .D

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      • GREED KILLS. Shorter and better. But on the other hand: SAY NO TO GREED is almost more proactive. It gives us something to do.

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  3. I’ve recently dug into my family history and finding a lot took place in Jerome. My great grandmother Feliciana Cruz lived there along with her first husband Joseph Stamsek and then her second husband Felomeno Enriquez. I also know there is a plaque in the town for the 18 individuals who died in WWII. Joe Stamsek Jr. Is one of them on that plaque.
    And with the divorce documents dating back to 1930, I’ve learned even more about my family in Jerome.
    Definitely looking forward to visiting very soon since I moved to Mesa, AZ this year from Southern California. 🙂

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    • There are many great photos in the Jerome Historical Society and some amount of family history. Call and ask when Colleen Holt, the archivist is around to help you. It’s a good place to start looking for information. Thank you for reading. Diane

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