Goodbye to the Cuban Queen: A Lament for Ghost Town Ruins

Jerome, Arizona’s ruins are slowly disappearing. In March 2017, the roof of the Cuban Queen fell down, an iconic building that the Jerome Historical Society planned to restore.

The grand hulks that became symbols of the ghost town that it became known for—hospital, elementary school, Daisy Hotel and Douglas Mansion—have been 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 were married in the Little Daisy; kids loved to skateboard theses floors; and the fire department benefits here 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 now called Pucifer, the remains of the brick ‘cribs’, home of Jerome’s ladies of the night, were taken down by a previous owner 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

The Jerome Historical Society wanted to restore the old Cuban Queen, symbol of the mining city bordellos. Then the roof caed in. 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 found collapsed and dehydrated in his bedroom at the Catholic Church and 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?

Updated from an earlier blog.

You Know When You’re From Jerome When. . .

A few years ago, Denise Lerette started a Facebook craze in Jerome when she posted, “You know you’re from Jerome when. . .” The responses crowded my mail box and many of them were hilarious. Many were from children of sixties and seventies parents.

Nobody ever stops living in Jerome, even when they’re not there, and many favorite memories begin with, “When I was in Jerome. . .”

I couldn’t top some of the great one liners, so many of them memories of the kids as they grew up in Jerome. Here are my favorites.

Kathleen Williamson
When you breathe deeply and inhale the Milky Way.

Aaron Bacharach
You have to walk two miles just to get drunk or laid.

Had to ride a wooden Radio Flier wagon two miles into town with my mom to get water and then get pulled back home by my mom with jugs of water beside me.

Told tourists that there is a gas station about 5 miles out Perkinsville Rd.

Go trick-or-treating in the Gulch and get grapefruit.

A tourist asks what elevation the deer turn into elk.

Scott Hugues
You remember Pat Bacharach (Montreiul) coming from Perkinsville road, 3-4 feet of snow on the ground, on her little red ‘K-Tel’ skis with little Aaron in tow!!! A vision I shall never forget!

Riding my bike to MUHS in Cottonwood and then catching a ride back to Jerome on the big purple bus!

Jesse Dowling
The house you grew up in started out as a goat shed and was rebuilt with lumber from the burn pile.

You used to hang around the Spirit Room and wait for ‘the chip man’ to give out the expired bags of chips after he delivered new ones

You made extra candy money by selling tourists ‘leaver-ite’—the rare and hard to find mineral that you only find in Jerome…
If you ever swung from the upper park flag pole out over Main Street

Susan Dowling (Jesse’s mom)
When you know that stream of blue and brown water coming from your neighbor’s garage means they’re carving turquoise and pipestone

People in the houses up town can see you sunbathing nekkid in your garden

Mary Nickerson finds a tourist car that didn’t make the turn nose down in her garden.

You hear Kathleen’s goats calling her to come milk them

You walk up the gulch to Petra Lomeli’s store so you can weigh your baby.

The telephone guys and the electric meter readers stop at the bottom of the Gulch to take a pee behind the old dilapidated store.

When the septic was a hole in the ground, shored up with wood and tin.

Know where the old apple tree is up Allen Springs Road so you can have a snack while riding.

Diane Johnson & Cherry Waters
You check the parked cars to see if your friends are at Paul and Jerry’s yet.

You call all the dogs on Main Street by name.

You check the “free box” for your summer wardrobe.

Sally Stricker

You saw Kathleen Williamson riding up town on her donkey and tying her up at the Flat Iron while she went in and had her espresso

Alishia Amber Craig

You know that Jerry pays the town Santa every year with two cases of Budweiser.
long ones in Jerome.

When centipedes in other towns don’t freak you out as much as the mutant foot long ones in Jerome.

Denise Lerette
Watch Zach and Danny ride their skateboards down the hill

You’ve seen this bumper sticker on the back of Lang’s police car—”Bad cop, no donut”

Walk up to bake at Macy’s at about 4 am in the morning after a huge opening at the Exposure Gallery—Paul Nonnast was featured that night—to find the bartender of the function, Benny, peacefully snoozing in the street in front of the gallery!! Now that was funny, Benny!!

And who can forget Katie Lee riding through town on her bike naked in honor of Harvey’s passing. Love Katie Lee!!

Jane Moore, one of the owners of Made in Jerome, made this for Katie for her 93rd birthday.

Jane Moore, one of the owners of Made in Jerome, made this for Katie for her 93rd birthday.

Sonya Wilson
Pllayed hide and seek in the old high school, did magic tricks on the big steps for money for Cheetos and soda, and made the flumes into your own private water slide Woo Hoo!

You go down to Guy’s house, walk in and you dad is there! You say “Dad?!?! What are you doing here?” to which Guy replies “Same thing you’re doing. Now sit down and shut up.”

Rayna Phelps Bachman
Broke into the old bomb shelter in the elementary school and getting drunk for the first time (courtesy of booze Troy Harris stole from his dad). Then being ditched there by Troy, TK, and Steve and being carried to Karrisa Baltz’s house by Ron Barber (the sheriff) so they could call my mom. Ah, good times.

Rode the flumes

Had a huge snowball fight with the cops.

Made out in the glowing rock room at the Douglas Mansion.

Pretty much existing on apricots from all the trees around town because you were too busy playing to go home and eat.

Joe D. Garrett
Swung off the swing set in the park using the rope on the flagpole (probably why it’s locked up today)

You get stoned under the steps in the park or in the abandoned apartments above the park or in the sliding jail or everywhere in Jerome !


Denise M. Ford

The tourist you just served the bloody mary to asks you what you do for a living

Larry comes uptown on a motorized bar stool

Silkie is pouring a beer with a cig in her mouth and a baby on the breast at PJ’s

You use the noonish siren as an alarm clock

Heather Johnson
You remember when there were more tumbleweeds than cars on Main Street

You remember playing “ditch the cops” when you were out after curfew!!

Teri Horinek Von Gausig

You can remember the officer on duty on Sat & Sun would stop the tourist traffic in front of the Spirit Room so we could all pour out into the streets and dance!

You can remember “sneaking” a mattress down the stairs onto Main St. from the old Connor Hotel late at night with Tesa and trying to be quiet about it so that George wouldn’t hear you…..

Noel Fray
Remember sneaking into the old empty hospital on Halloween night to see if you could find any ghosts.

Omar Fray
If you’ve ever had a VW Bus try to park on your front porch.

Remember playing “ditch the cops” when you were out after curfew!!

David Solomon
You’re sitting on your deck or working in the garden and a tourist asks if you work here, in Jerome, like it’s a reenactment stage or something. Not that you could be at your own home or anything. I made up an elaborate story about how we all lived down in the valley and were 9-5ers. People believed it!

Kim Smerek
You’re happy living in the projection room at the high school with one other person, a dog and someone else’s stuff.

Terry Molloy
When you sit on your front porch at night and watch Pedro the donkey stand in the middle of the road stopping tourists in their cars begging for treats…….

Doyle Vines
Remember the days when it was too iced up for traffic to come up the road from Clarkdale, so we sledded down and caught a 4WD back to town

Lisa Hesterman
Katie Lee is standing in front of you with her guitar singing and crying while you’re watching a black and white slideshow of what used to be Lake Fowell (Lake Powell)

Terez Storm
As a member of the Fire Department you set fire to wooden palettes at the Little Daisy Hotel for “live” fire and rescue drills

TK Gustafson
Mailing postcards to someone addressed ‘General Delivery’ in Jerome and having it tacked on the bulletin board in the post office for the entire town to read

Charlie the UPS driver leaving you gallons of fresh milk on his way through his UPS route and then making the UPS truck backfire to scare the shit out of the tourists!


Adam Martin

when you know the name Jim Faernstrom and know where his head stone is

When the D. A. R. E. Cops came to school and only pull you out of class

(Soon to be published in Diane Rapaport’s book, Home Sweet Jerome, Rescuing a Town from its Ghosts, forthcoming Spring 2014 from Johnson Books (Big Earth Publishing).