Jerome, Arizona Wicked City Amidst Good Hospitality —
The mining town of Jerome very nearly became the state capital of Arizona. And then it fell off of a mountain.
Well, half the town did anyway. The rubble was then made into a parking lot, still in use today. But having half the town fall off of a mountain was was just the way things were during the mining days in Jerome — a place that burned down to the ground no less than four times in a handful of years and shook for fifty years from the blasting out of copper mines — mines that were dug directly beneath the city itself.
Jerome is built on top of three fault lines — you can even see the cracks in the town’s pavement still today — but this did not stop the mining companies from blasting the hell fire out of the ground beneath its surface. Under the city are tunnels upon tunnels, mining shafts stretching this way and that for 86 miles. But this excessive mining is what put Jerome, Arizona on the map.
Good hospitality in paradise
“I once lived in a house down there,” my friend Abe pointed down into a ravine, known as the gulch, of his native town of Jerome, “then it was torn down.” Abe continued, “So we moved up to a house a little farther up the hill. Then it was torn down, too. Now we live here.”
I looked at the “here” that he was speaking of: it was a house near the top of the ravine that sank down the flank of the town proper. Its plank wood walls bowed out slightly, a porch hung off of its face like a crooked sort of smile, and the entire structure seemed wholly rubbed worn and slightly askance. It, too, looked as if it could very well be torn down at any moment.
“It’s a shack,” my friend admitted, but as I walked up the stairs and through the door the words, “It is perfect,” came to my lips. It was perfect, and I was invited to stay.
The house was a historic home in a historic town which sat on top of a spent copper spewing mountain which had a view of Arizona sandstone spires and mountains all the way passed the red rocks of Sedona. I had a difficult time believing that anyone could live in a place so perfect. For a half score of decades, this house had been prepped for its current state of comfortable perfection.
I sat out on the porch and smoked a meerschaum. I was staying in a “shack” with a million dollar view. I stared on for miles and miles into the valley beyond — red mountains and shrub grass danced into a mutual knot of phosphorescent sparkle as they ran off to a jagged plateau ledge stripped with alternating bands of gray limestone and red sandstone. The day turned over dead into twilight. I smoked my pipe.
I stared off into paradise.
The Jerome Deportation
In May of 1917 the Wobblies — International Workers of the World — began labor agitation amongst the miners in Jerome. Their words were falling upon potentially fertile ears: mining conditions in Jerome were not safe, “People would die in the mines all the time,” I was told, and medical records prove that many miners were injured. On the banner of higher wages and better working conditions the miners went on a temporary strike.
But the mining companies were not open to negotiating with a gang of agitating subordinates. In July of the same year the labor organizers were rounded up at gun point and loaded onto cattle cars. The doors were close and the entire gang was taken out into the middle of the desert by railroad. Once sufficiently out in no man’s land the agitators were released into the desert with the warning:
If you return to Jerome you will be killed.
The Wobblies did not return.
The re population of Jerome
“Stay away from Jerome, it is full of drugs and hippies,” my friend’s mother was told in the 1970’s. She was young, and this was all she needed to hear.
“So the first thing I did was move to Jerome,” she said with a laugh.
Many hippies did.
As the mines closed down and the mining towns of the west were vacated, the cost of housing also fell (obviously). The population of Jerome fell from 15,000 in the mining hayday to far under 100 in the 1950’s. Jerome was a ghost town, and, by definition of the term, it still is.
Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s homes in Jerome could be purchased for a small bundle of dollars. The house that sits next to the place that I was staying in really was purchased for $300 (The man who made the purchase actually lacked money to the extent that he needed to pay it off the sum in installments). The cheap price of housing combined with a beautiful landscape, abandon buildings, an iconoclastic infrastructure of the town, a bad reputation, and the prospect of being left alone made Jerome, Arizona a centrifuge of hippie migration.
I was told that the hippies that came to Jerome were mostly from California, but this did not stop them from ratting up into any nest they could find. The hippies poured into this old mining town like the miners, prostitutes, gamblers, and hustlers did 70 years before, and they soon reprovisioned it with the bad reputation it nearly lost.
Many of the abandon buildings of the Phelps Dodge mining company fell to being squatted by the hippies. The company tried so hard to keep them out that they had to finally resort to just blowing the buildings up with dynamite. Outside of squatting in the abandon mining town the new young migrants bought many of the historic houses and imbibed them with life once again.
Stay away from Jerome, it is full of drugs and hippies — The wickedest city in the West.
On the heels of the hippies came the tourists. The town is not flooded with picture taking, history tour walking, souvenir buying, beer drinking, space ship hat wearing, elderly tourists. I read on a plaque that was posted in town that hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Jerome each year.
“My mom gutted a guy once,” a friend of mine in Jerome told me.
He continued: A couple drifters were getting drunk and rowdy outside of my friend’s mother’s home in the 70’s. She had two young kids inside who where trying to sleep, so she went outside and told the offenders to shut the f’ck up. They did not follow her orders.
“We are going to rape and kill you!” they instead threatened.
My friend’s mother was home alone with two young children. She became frightened, and locked the door and left the drunks to their own devices. Nothing happened.
The next day she was working her shift at a downtown bar and she noticed the same two guys sitting in the public park drinking beer. She stormed out of the bar and confronted the two men. She told them what she thought of them, they told her to f’ck off, she grabbed a beer bottle out of one of their hands, broke it on a concrete step, and, using the bottle’s neck as handle, began gutting.
One drunk managed to escape the carnage by running away, his friend got a belly full of broken beer bottle. The police arrived and sent the stab wound victim to the hospital. My friend’s mother returned to work — the stabbed drunk did not want to deal with any legal proceedings.
Meanwhile the escaped drunk made his way to another bar in town. He began bragging about how his buddy was stabbed and how he dodged the carnage. But he spoke too loudly. As he made his way to the bathroom, my friend’s uncle, who was also in the bar, followed. I was told that my friend’s uncle happened to be a very large biker and that the drunk happened to have a long ponytail. Without a word the biker uncle made his way up behind the drunk, grabbed his ponytail in one hand, and ripped it from his head.
“He basically scalped the guy,” my friend told me as he recounted his tale.
After the scalping the uncle returned to my friend’s mother with the prize. There, on the bar, he presented her with the ponytail.
“Those men won’t be bothering you any more.”
Nothing in Jerome
“You’re in Jerome, there’s nothing there!” exclaimed Chaya’s mother.
“I think it has changed a little since you were here,” spoke Chaya.
My friend, Annie, was giving Chaya, Petra, and I a defacto walking tour around Jerome. She was one of my co-workers on the archaeology project in the Tonto Forest, and she knows the history of the town she lives in well. As we walked through the streets she would point out the homes of famous people who have holed up in Jerome as well as any interesting historical anecdote that came to mind.
There were many such anecdotes.
I was introduced to the town mayor during our walk. His name is Al. He had been elected mayor of Jerome more times than anyone can seemingly count, and during breaks from being mayor he is sometimes the vice mayor. Al was standing outside of his little bed and breakfast when we walked by. We shook hands.
Wow, I had just met the mayor.
And then the mayor went off to do mayor things.
“I have to take care of these cops over here,” he said. I then watched him shoo a police officer off the street. Apparently, his police truck was taking up the last spot in a small parking lot near the mayor’s bed and breakfast. Al’s customers could not find a place to park, and were too intimidated by the badge to ask the cop to scram, so the mayor did it for them.
At the word of the mayor, the cop, who was just standing outside of his truck talking with friend, scrammed.
I suppose this is what mayors were made to do.
The mayor, the cop, and everybody else in the street waved goodbye to Annie as we walked away. I found myself a good host, good company, and a good town.
Architecture of Jerome
The people of Jerome were once packed onto the mountain top like common sailors in the glory hole. Large buildings were build all over the town, and most of these have an inordinately high amount of doorways. It is not uncommon here for one side of a house to boast three external doors, and then have a collection more around the other sides. The residential buildings were more boarding houses for itinerant or immigrant miners than permanent family homes.
On the other side of this housing strategy were dozens upon dozens of single room shacks that were built off of the side of high grade slopes on wooden beams. These shacks looked more like sheds than homes, but they were small, concise, and could be built in areas where houses would be unstable. The few shed houses that remain are now used as sheds, but most of them had gone the way of the town’s mining days.
Thanksgiving in Jerome
I was invited to spend Thanksgiving with my friends in Jerome. I accepted. I had no idea what I was in for.
I have grown accustom to quick Thanksgiving dinners on the run that usually consist of a pot of spaghetti and everything else that I eat every other day. It is a good occasion when I get to sit down at a real live Thanksgiving table and feast as I should feast.
I was feasted in Jerome: a turkey, a ham, a salad, vinegar cucumbers, buns, pies, whipped topping, everything that deems a Thanksgiving worthy of the title.
I like holidays, I like celebrations. I like them because they enforce the creation of the time and space necessary to get people who know and like each other together in the same location. I like my friends in Jerome.
I thankful for Thanksgiving and the fact that it brought me to Jerome, Arizona to share a good meal with good friends.
Read more about Vagabond Journey in Arizona
[seriesposts orderby=date name=”arizona” ]