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.

Kate Wolf Meets Katie Lee: Fires Burning Bright in Old Jerome.

Jerome Arizona Image Series

Photo by Bob Swanson, Swanson Images.com

After a brief introduction, Kate Wolf walked onto the stage of Jerome’s old Episcopal Church with her Martin acoustic guitar, took a measure of her audience, let them settle into silence, and began her concert. No preliminary chat; no guitar tuning. Dusky melodies floated out and curled into the corners of the room, cloaking 150 people in a cozy warmth. Her delivery was melancholy, almost monochrome, the lyrics clear and haunting. After a few songs, Kate talked a little, then began singing again. She was a quiet enchantress, a charisma that came from an unassuming, direct heart. Her audience was spellbound.

Kate was one of a growing number of artists that chose to record independently of the large record labels. I first met her when I began to interview indie artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. She and other indie artists helped spark the revolution that was written about in my book How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording.

The Episcopal Church had just been restored into a beautiful little theater with stained oak floors; wood paneling on the walls, a large stage flanked by heavy, lined maroon velvet theater curtains. The acoustics were so good that Kate did not need a sound system or microphones.

For almost two decades—before the Jerome Historical Society needed it for offices and archives, there were concerts, plays, lectures and historic symposiums. Perhaps the most well known person to grace its stage was Edward Abbey, the great Southwestern writer and wilderness activist, who introduced his movie Lonely are the Brave, based on his novel, The Brave Cowboy.

After the audience bought some of her vinyl records and thinned out, I introduced her to Kate to Katie Lee. Katie was 64 years old, dressed in a wild combo of orange, turquoise, bright maroon, charisma and feistiness writ large. It was as though a doe-eyed fawn was meeting a peacock.

Katie was in her sixties, the reigning elder of some twenty iconoclastic songwriters and musicians that had moved to Jerome in the late sixties and seventies. Shewas an author and folk singer that wrote and sang about the loss of the real cowboys (not those fake Gene Autrey types), wilderness and the tragic drowning of Glen Canyon, replaced by the Lake Powell reservoir, which Katie calls ‘Rez Foul,’ or ‘Loch Latrine.’ Her car license plate reads ‘Dam dams.’ There’s no mistake about how Katie feels about anything. “Tact is a fucking waste of time,” she once told me.

Katie was sharply blunt. “Kate, you’re a hell of a songwriter, but I couldn’t understand all your lyrics. Sometimes you mumble. You need to learn to enunciate. Lyrics are your most important strength, but if nobody can understand them, you are singing to fresh air. Come by my house tomorrow and I’ll help you as I was helped by some of the top professionals in the industry.”

I was taken aback, as used to Katie’s outspokenness as I was. Kate was unfazed, recognizing a critique given from another professional.

The women became instant friends, a mutual spark between two remarkable artists.
Both were fiercely independent women who shared a love of wild flowing rivers and the importance of finding a sense of rootedness in wilderness places. Both were consummate wordsmiths.

Katie arranged for Kate to stay a few more days at the house of a friend of hers across the street. A few days later, at ten o’clock in the evening, just as Katie was getting ready for bed, she heard a knock on the door. A very excited Kate wanted to play her newest song, “Old Jerome.”

The song captures the eerie stillness of a town still waking up to its new identity and the magic hold that it has on almost anyone who has ever lived there.


OLD JEROME
Words and music by Kate Wolf. Copyright 1983 by Another Sundown Publishing Company (BMI). Lyrics reprinted with permission.

Drinking early morning coffee,
talking with good friends,
and walking the streets of rough cut stone

She was once a miners’ city,
now the ghost of a dying town,
but there’s a fire burning bright in old Jerome.

Some have come for fortune,
some have come for love
and some have come for the things they cannot see

Now the grass is green and growing
where the gardens once had died
and the birds sing in the young Ailanthus trees

And they say that once you live here,
You never really go
‘cause she’ll have a hold on you until you die

With her ground moving crazy,
Her fierce wind blowing free
And her ruins standing proud against the sky

Houses cling to mountains
like miners cling to dreams
they hold on so long and then they just let go

And this mountain she’s your mistress,
you’ll ride her ’til you fall
and wash down to the valley far below.

There are stories that tell on Cleopatra
There are stories that never can be told
The wind and the rain sing their mountain lullaby
The copper shines like Arizona gold

And her walls stand strong and silent,
Starin’ out with empty eyes
like beggars blind and lame that do no harm

With their empty rooms that hold
the old town’s memories
and their doorways that reach out like empty arms

In the streets the children play,
climbing up the crooked stairs,
and lovers touch and turn to go back home

And the sound of hammers echo
in the once forgotten halls
and hope stirs in the heart of old Jerome

The moon shines bright on Cleopatra
Where the mines lie sleeping far below
The wind and the rain sing their mountain lullaby
And the copper shines like Arizona gold

“She strolled the cobblestones and got the pictures in her head,” said Katie. “We yakked until well after midnight.”

Katie loved the song so much she etched one of its verses into fresh concrete outside her writing studio and sent Kate a photo of it. In 1987, Katie persuaded the town of Jerome to adopt it as its official anthem. Katie Lee performed ‘Old Jerome’ on the TV special “Portraits of America.” (You can read more about Katie’s books, music and activism at her website: <a href="http://www.katydoodit.com.)

Kate was already infected with the leukemia that would cause her death in 1986. To her mind, she was infected in 1979 after visiting America’s partial nuclear meltdown in one of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Pennsylvania.

“The Government killed her just like it did my dad,” said Katie. “He was healthiest man in the world, but in the fifties, he was living on the edge of the site near Las Vegas where the atom bomb was tested.” (The people and children that were infected with strange cancers from those tests are called downwinders. As an aside, the great activist and conservationist, Terry Tempest Williams, who wrote the introduction to Katie’s book Glen Canyon Betrayed, wrote about how her mother and sister was similarly infected by those same tests in her book, Refuge: an Unnatural History of Family and Place.)

In the year before she died, Kate Wolf’s career began to skyrocket. She was asked to perform at many of the key folk festivals in the Unites States and Canada. Her records were selling in the tens of thousands.

Kate sings “Old Jerome” on her album “The Wind Blows Wild,” released posthumously. You can hear Kate sing the song on https://myspace.com/katewolfmusic/music/song/old-jerome-live-kpfa-berkeley-ca-29077446

Recognition of the fine quality of Kate Wolf’s songwriting continues to this day. Artists such as Emmy Lou Harris and Nancy Griffith have recorded her songs. Since 1996, a Kate Wolf Memorial music festival is been held each summer in Northern California. More information about Kate, her music, and the festival are found at http://www.katewolf.com/festival.

(This vignette will be included 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).