Visitors to the 49th Annual Home Tour of historic homes and buildings in Jerome on May 17 and 18 reported many treats: homes beautifully restored by their owners and furnished as miniature museums of their lives. Because Spook Hall was a hub of this tour, readers might like to know how it got its name how Jerome became a ghost city.
Jerome, Arizona 1953
In 1953, less than a dozen businesses were still open in Jerome, Arizona— two bars, one Chinese restaurant, and two small grocery stores uptown. There was a mortuary near the elementary school, a small grocery store and gas station in the Gulch, and a pig farm out on the hogback.
The town was dying. Less than three hundred buildings remained. A population of 15,000 had dwindled to two hundred and nineteen people, 87 of them children, uncertain of what the future would bring. An eerie quiet settled into the town. No more explosions. No smoke wafted up from the Clarkdale smelter. No trains and whistles. Not much traffic, especially at night. No birds sang.
And into that silence came the question, “What now?”
Spooks of Jerome, Arizona
In 1953, the Jerome Historical Society was formed and opened a mine museum, right where it still is on Main Street.
Society members spent their evenings gathered in the “Salt Mine,” their term for the saloon that had been located in the basement of the new museum. They churned out signs and brochures. They joked among themselves that they were a bunch of spooks. Once the word “spooks” was mentioned, the members jumped on it as part of the theme for promoting Jerome.
They made new hand routed ‘spook’ signage. The letters were white on a black background: “Spook’s Crossing” on Main Street across from the Mine Museum and “Luke the Spook,” their adopted mascot. Society members wrapped themselves in sheets and were photographed with the signs. The photographs appeared in newspapers and brochures.
At the August 1953 meeting, society members discussed plans for an annual event. They gave it an official name: “Annual Spooks Homecoming, Potluck, and Dance” and invited present and former Jerome families. The free event was held in the Salt Mine.
The second Spook Night was held in Lawrence Hall (previously the J.C. Penney store), which the Jerome Historical Society purchased in 1954. The old wooden floor was a wreck and members worked many nights to make new flooring and nail it down. Some of the kids helped strip the old wood. The building became affectionately known as Spook Hall. Although faded, the J.C. Penney sign still remains. Today the hall is officially named the Richard Lawrence Memorial Hall, in memory of Jerome’s postmaster and first member of the society’s executive board, but those of us who live in Jerome call it “Spook Hall.”
The Invention of a Ghost City in Jerome, Arizona
One evening, some society member, nobody remembers who, dreamed up a sign that cemented the words “Jerome” and “ghost city” in visitors’ minds. The sign dramatized Jerome’s dwindling population in a sequence of descending numbers, each with a line crossed through it: 15,000, 10,000, 5,000, 1,000. At the end of the sequence were the words, “GHOST CITY.”
Two signs were made and society members placed one on the hogback road that led out of town towards Clarkdale and one at the top of town. From either direction, the town looked desolate.
The signs were photographed and sent out with a press release that proclaimed Jerome, Arizona as “America’s First Ghost City.” Hundreds of newspapers and magazines picked up the story. Postcards of the image were sold in the Mine Museum.
Jerome Historical Society members that had never worked in an advertising agency had accomplished the most difficult marketing task of all. They branded Jerome as a ghost city.
Magazine and newspaper writers loved the ghost town moniker and readers of their articles never saw the name of the town without it.
Tourists told Mine Museum personnel for decades after that they had come to Jerome because of the ghost town stories. They took photographs of each other next to the signs. The signs disappeared sometime during the 1970s. . .
Thus, the history of a wealthy mining mecca became intertwined with the mythology of a ghost city that never really existed.
Excerpts from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (www.homesweetjerome.net)