High above the verdant Verde Valley, Mingus Mountain stands as silent witness to likely thousands of years of spellbinding specters and shady shenanigans in and around the area below. Not the least of which is the historic town of Jerome.
Once known as the “Wickedest Town in the West” this small, northern Arizona mining community seemed to blow up, fill up and dry up with the speed of summer puddle in Tucson. However, not everybody was willing to leave when the mines shut down.
Just walking the streets of the extremely well-preserved ghost city, it’s easy to see, or rather feel why some have stayed and some have simply gravitated here. There’s a certain mystic energy in the area in general, which would explain the many writers and artists who have taken up residence. As far as for many of the other residents, well, you’ll see.
Nearly every mining town that ever boomed had its share (and then some) of lawlessness and Jerome was no different with its saloons and rowdy miners, shady businesses and bordellos. And as you might imagine, some of the most, (ahem) colorful characters were found in the bordellos. One such place is now known as the Mile High Inn.
Back in the 1920’s, the Victorian-style, eight room inn was owned by Madam Jennie Banters; touted as the richest woman in northern Arizona, who ran her business with a keen eye on customer satisfaction and enjoyed cooking beside the help in her own restaurant. But even the savviest business person is helpless to prevent the occasional altercation between personnel and patrons and when the altercations increased in frequency she was forced to relocate her business a few streets away to what was called “Husband’s Row”.
Nowadays, ghostly hangers-on roam the halls in flowing white gowns and dapper suits while furniture is rearranged amid the banging of armoire doors and utensils fly in the kitchen as small appliances turn on by themselves (Somebody, hide the electric knives!). Meanwhile a friendly cat may rub against your leg, but when you reach to touch her, Madam Jennie’s beloved feline disappears without a trace except for paw prints on the freshly made beds upstairs.
Of obvious note is how precariously these buildings of yore seem to cling to the side of the mountain. In fact only a handful have ever waivered, most notably the Jailhouse, which now rests intact but considerably further down and across the street from its original site.
But the most stunning engineering feat is the old five-story United Verde Hospital; made of concrete to withstand the powerful blasts generated at the mine and poured at a fifty degree angle at the top of Cleopatra Hill. It sits stoically about fifteen miles above the town of Jerome and after forty-four years of vacancy is now (I’m baffled by the wisdom of this…) known as The Grande Hotel! Perfectly restored and maintained in its original 1926 Spanish Mission-style splendor, the hotel is a high class, full-service enterprise, complete (or should I say rife?) with paranormal entities of hospital personnel in full dress who check on patients who aren’t in beds; which aren’t there either, and ailing patients who cough and moan and sneak into non-smoking rooms to light up.
Not surprisingly, staff at the main desk report frequent phone calls from vacant rooms and having to retrieve the statement of rules from the lobby floor to hang it back in its place on the wall behind the desk.
And of course there’s poor Claude “Scotty” Harvey, the maintenance guy who was killed when he was crushed by the elevator in the basement. Popular consensus is that Scotty was murdered, since the 1926 Otis Self-service Elevator was (and still is – gulp!) in perfect condition. Needless to say, Scotty is not happy and haunts around with a scowl on his face.
Naturally mineshafts aren’t immune to apparitions, given the amount of ordinary tragedies which can and do occur. One particularly gruesome incident was when a miner named Charlie was decapitated in a tragic accident down below. While his head was indeed recovered, his body never was and it is widely believed to be the specter of Charlie who wanders the abandoned shaft, looking for his head.
I absolutely loved this town, though I didn't know half of all this back then! The energy I spoke of is truly tangible and more than amazing. Happy Trails, everyone!