Farewell Barbara Blackburn. Rest in Peace.

Barbara Blackburn was the reason Walt, Max and I moved to Jerome, Arizona. Greg Driver called today to say she had ‘passed.’

Barbara came to Jerome, AZ  when she left San Francisco in the arms of Dean, who was ‘throwing’ tires—vernacular for someone who repaired them. He was a handsome con man who convinced Barbara he was a talented photographer. She sold her home, bought a little travel trailer, some photo equipment for him, and off they went, landing in Sedona some months after, the money gone up their noses in a lot of cocaine.

A Sedona bartender told her she should look into Jerome. The first day in Jerome, Barbara put $15,000, the last of her money, into buying the Old Bakery and adjacent duplex, where she lived while she began to remodel the old Bakery building. It took her another six months or so to get rid of Dean.

Bakery ovens JeromeVarious_312

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

No Turkeys

We arrived in Jerome at 5 a.m. No cars on Main Street. No people. No sun. No nada. We’re dead-tired, think to catch a ‘motel’ in Clarkdale, which was a empty as Jerome. Turn around to explore Jerome’s ramshackle, twisty streets, for some sign of where Barbara might live. And after about ten minutes we notice a ‘NoTurkeys’ sign in a window.

Barbara greets us with a big smile and a joint. It’s nonstop party for the next three days with the hippies of Jerome. We were enchanted and totally exhausted by the time we left. Barbara invited us to stay with her when we moved.

A Magnanimous Dual Personality

Barbara was the only person I knew who had a dual  personality that she successfully kept together for years and years in San Francisco and Jerome: a banker/CEO/financial wizard by day and at night, a hippie that drank, smoke and dropped LSD, only to show up in straight work clothes the next day for whatever job she held. She was magnanimous, welcoming,  and inclusive to all she met, ready with a smile, cup of coffee, a joint, a meal.

She became CEO for John McNerney’s Jerome Instrument Corporation, and helped propel it into a four million dollar business.  Her special gift was knowing how to make a workplace easy for people to be in

JIC Circa 1980

Front step left: Nell Moffett Second Step: L-R: Paul Nonnast, Ester Burton, Darrell Fellers (Karen Fellers’ son) Third step: L-R: Iris McNerney, Kathy Davidson Fifth Step: L-R Ron Ballatore’s daughter Stephanie; Karen Gorman, Mary Nickerson, Susan Kinsella, Barbara Blackburn/ Sixth step: Lindsey Waddell (John Waddell’s son); Ed Dowling; Randy Murdock; Upper step: Sandra Strong, Carol Nesselrode, Pat Montreuil, Roger Davis Photo taken just after JIC moved from Earl Bell’s old lab near the Douglas Mansion in late 1980.

Barbara’s Acid Punch

She had a gift for making instant friends and weaving them into her life. She was a great hostess and her Bakery home became party central, for any occasion, for any friend that visited.

She was known for her acid (LSD) punch, a special for parties. Two very memorable ones were a JIC company party down at the river and a Valentines Party to commemorate a new office Barbara and I shared.

4 cans large Frozen Pink Lemonade

2 quarts gingerale

2 quarts club soda

2 bottles cheap champagne

1/2 gallon raspberry sherbert

100 hits of acid

The Great Outdoors

Many of our friends will tell you about rafting and backpacking with Barbara into many wildernesses. But our personal favorite was a ten-day backpack down Red Canyon in the Grand Canyon, with Walt and Greg Driver, to whom she was married for ten years. We hiked in the early morning hours; found a shaded cubbyholes to hide in during the heat of the day, played bridge, smoked joint after joint, and yes, dropped acid.

Would love if readers of this memorial would share favorite stories in the ‘comments’ section.

The Jerome Defense Fund

Barbara, Sue Kinsella and I formed “The Jerome Defense Fund” association and solicited donations for defendants of the Big Bust of 1985 to help them pay bail bond and legal fees. We held regular meetings, attended by many of those accused and their friends, and it became something between an information conduit and outlet for grief. We held a benefit dance, called Jail House Rock, with the help of 127 volunteers (twenty-seven of them musicians).

The Main Street stores, without exception, and many artists, made contributions for the large raffle that was held at the dance. We raised over $4,500 and split it among the defendants that needed money, including those who did not live in Jerome. Although it made a very small dent in what amounted to more than $75,000 in legal fees, the heart and solidarity behind it meant a great deal to the defendants.

Leaving Jerome
Barbara left Jerome the way she came in to it, in the arms of a con man that she met in a bar in Baja California. He claimed he was wealthy and owned a helicopter company in Tahoe that removed old growth trees. He had a special gift for cutting her off from her friends. John McNerney commented that he didn’t know any wealthy guys who had bad teeth.What was amazing was that Barbara didn’t find out just how strange he was until two years later when she got a phone call from the cops in Colorado who had arrested him with a car stolen from a dealership in Cottonwood, which he presented to her as a gift.

Last Communication: June 2016

“I have changed my life recently – moved from the mountains of Colorado to a more hospitable climate and one I could afford to live in: Albuquerque.  The medical services and doctors I can get here are wonderful and I am so in need.

Have had 4 stents placed -2 in femoral arteries and 2 in main aorta but yet have I have pulmonary arterial disease and congestive heart failure- both of which will not be corrected –-  “too much damage not enough benefit “-   have bought a sweet little home here in the old residential section of Albuquerque – and no snow!  Am on oxygen 24/7 and will always be – just trying to get my self strong enough  to walk more than ¼ block… it is a different life for me – but as an 82 year old said to me recently “at my age you do one day at a time”  ……. damn smoking finally took its toll

It’s been nice remembering the good days in Jerome.  Greg Driver called a couple of days ago – just to say hello – that was sweet.

Think of you and Walter often – hope life is still good in Oregon….hugs and kisses to you both.”

Razing the T.F Miller Building: Jerome, AZ 1953

In early 1953, speculation ran high that the entire town of Jerome, AZ would be razed. According to a former official of Phelps Dodge, “WITHIN A YEAR – GRASS WILL GROW ON THE MAIN STREET OF JEROME—JEROME IS FINISHED.”[1]

It was an easy time for the mining companies that abandoned Jerome to begin bulldozing town buildings. Phelps Dodge Corporation (PD) and United Verde Exploration (UVX) owned the land underneath Jerome, many lots and buildings on Main Street, the schools and hospital and much of the land surrounding the town for many miles.

TFMILLER rJ-90-285

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)

In early 1953, bulldozing began. First to go was the T.F. Miller company store, which held sentinel at the top of town, facing down Main Street, a handsome four-story building, with its brick and sandstone façade. The building was the lifeblood of the mining community—a symbol of the dominant place it occupied in the lives of its residents. William Andrews Clark, founder of the United Verde Mine, built it in 1899 at a cost of $100,000, a grand price in those days. The large fire of 1899 caused only some warping of the I-Beams on the fourth floor and these were quickly repaired. It had been handsomely maintained. Jerome resident Joe Selna was still operating the commissary in the first part of 1953.

By the end of 1953, only rubble remained.

In October, Phelps Dodge Corporation sold the building to Joel Baldwin, Yavapai County Assessor in Prescott, AZ, for fifty dollars with the agreement that he tear it down. PD said the building was a ‘fire trap’ and that the Con OKeefe building next to was pushing dangerously against it. The Town of Jerome granted Baldwin a demolition permit with the agreement that he clean up the lot after the building was torn down and asked for $200 check as a guarantee. Baldwin sold the materials at salvage prices to a company in Los Angeles.

Baldwin also demolished the Ewing Transfer Building on Lower Main Street. Verde Exploration Ltd. pulled down The Con O’Keefe Building . It looked like the gloomy prophecy about uptown Jerome turning to grass might be coming to pass.

Although the O’Keefe building lot was cleaned up to the satisfaction of the town, Baldwin left a large rubble at the site of the T.F. Miller and Ewing buildings. Town letters of complaint to Baldwin and PD were stonewalled and the Town had to eventually clean up the rubble. To add insult to injury, Baldwin’s cleanup guarantee check bounced.[2]

Robert Sandoval, who was born in Jerome, had this to say in an interview with me: “When the Miller building was demolished, my brother Jesse and me cleaned bricks. They were stacked on pallets, 500 per pallet. We got a penny a brick. We’d use a small hatchet to get the mortar off. We got so we could clean a pallet of bricks an hour. I remember ten to fifteen kids cleaning bricks., even some girls. Everyone had their own pallet

The demolition of those buildings served as a wakeup call for the Jerome Historical Society. During the Society’s December 5 meeting, “Mr. McMillan moved that the secretary write the Verde Exploration[3] and the Phelps Dodge Corporation asking that we be given a chance to discuss the sale of any building that may be put up for sale in Jerome. We don’t want to remove them, but will assume taxation and liability for any damage.”[4] The society also appointed a committee to investigate acquiring buildings in Jerome.

In February 1954, The Society wrote to Verde Exploration asking if they could purchase the Mine Museum building, which they had been renting for fifteen dollars a month. Verde Exploration Manager, Clarence J. Beale wrote that the company would be willing to sell the building at a salvage price of seventy-five dollars and the paid-up rentals would be considered as payment for the lot. The Society voted to send $150.00 to purchase the building.

For the first time, Society took a giant step towards leveraging itself into becoming stewards of Main Street buildings. Board members worked closely together in signage, repairs, promotion, welded together strongly by a single goal— community building on a scale they hardly imagined when they began the society. Night after night, members met to rescue a shipwreck of a town and, at the same time, sail themselves out of the doldrums.

The Society began to replace PD’s threat of grass growing on Main Street with their motto, “The Past is our Future.”

In those days, neither money nor power drove their dreams forward, particularly remarkable when you look at a very wealthy town whose values today seem to be solely defined by money and power.

Excerpts from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City by Diane Sward Rapaport

[1] News Bulletin, Jerome Historical Society newsletter, 1955.

[2] The Jerome Chronicle, Summer 1987, ‘The T.F. Miller company Building; Margaret Heyer Mason, “The 1950’s, “Jerome in Transition”, paper presented for the Jerome Historical Society Symposium, 1982.

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