Jerome, Arizona Jerome, az Jerome, Az

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The history of Jerome, Arizona is a much longer one than that of the town itself. Before Jerome was Jerome it was the site of a small dig mined by the local Yavapai tribe. The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore the Verde River area in the 16th century. Antonio de Espejo and a troop of Conquistators came through the area looking for El Cibola (the mythic Seven Cities of Gold). Local natives showed them a spot on what later became known as Cleopatra Hill where they mined copper for their jewelry. Legend has it that the Conquistators found a large vein of gold, mined it, and hid it somewhere in nearby Sycamore Canyon. An old coot named Jerry the Miner spent nearly thirty years in the canyon looking for the treasure. He claimed to have found a helmet and a breastplate left by one of the Conquistators. Some people said that he actually found the gold, but these claims have never been verified.

It wasn't until 1876 that American pioneers became interested in the area. An ex-calvary scout for General Crook named Al Sieber was exploring the Verde Valley looking for gold. When he saw the old mines on the side of Cleopatra Hill, he thought they had potential and so he staked a claim. It wasn't long before other fortune seekers followed his lead. One of those fortune seekers was Nora "Butter" Brown, an enterprising Madam who opened Jerome's first bordello. Her story can be found at "Opening Night" Others, such as Angus McKinnon and M. A. Ruffner filed claims not long after. In 1883, investors bought the McKinnon claim for $15,500, and in 1888, Montana Senator William A. Clark leased the mining rights and in 1889 bought control of the claim and formed the United Verde Copper Company. The United Verde Mine eventually produced over $1 billion in copper, gold, silver. Jerome was on its way.

It was the eye of the hurricane of America's wild west. It attracted people looking not only for riches but for a newer freer life. This drive for freedom and adventure caused the lives of the most unlikely people to cross in Jerome. A fascinating example can be found at Meeting In Mescal1 and Meeting In Mescal2

The town of Jerome was incorporated on March 8, 1898 when Arizona was still a territory. It is said that Jerome was named for Eugene Murray Jerome, a New York investor in the early mining operations of the United Verde and cousin of Jennie Churchill. Jerome was incorporated (over the objections of certain property owners) because it suffered three catastrophic fires within an eighteen month period. From the beginning Jerome was a wild town with minimal law enforcement, building codes, or real government. It was so wild that it earned the title "The Wickedest Town in America". Some wags said that Jerome's sinful ways finally got the attention of higher ups. They attributed these fires to divine retribution. Regardless of the source of these fires, by incorporating, the citizens of Jerome were able to adopt a strict building code and establish a fire department. One of the department's first challenges was a fire in a major mine shaft. The shaft collapsed, killing close to a dozen men. Fortunately, many men were saved due to the efforts of the local firemen and an unlikely ally. Read about it in The President's Friend

Jerome's reputation for gambling, alcohol, drug abuse, gun fights, and other assorted mayhem only grew after it incorporated. The population grew by leaps and bounds through the next few years, and, when World War One came the price of copper soared and, along with it, the number of miners needed to tear the ore out of the mountain. They came from Mexico, China, and all over Europe - Irish, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian, German - to work the mines in the unlikely town of Jerome, Arizona which clung stubbornly to the side of a mountain 5000 feet in the air. During the war, the International Workers of the World tried to stage a strike to obtain better pay and working conditions for the miners. The strike was brutally crushed by the mine owners with the help of the National Guard and the strikers were actually deported out of Jerome in railroad cattle cars and dropped off at the California border. For one local boy the event was a traumatic learning experience. His name was Billy Daily

It was during the boom years of the twenties that Jerome reached its roaring peak. The population of the town swelled to 15,000 people. The mines were working twenty four hours a day. Hotels were dedicated solely to servicing miners. Hotel rooms were rented in eight hour shifts to accommodate the 24 hour working schedule. And because the miners were working all day and all night, the businessses of Jerome were also open around the clock. Prostitution and gambling flourished. Bootleggers supplied the town with all the illegal alchohol it could consume. Opium dens were as numerous as laundries and run by the same Chinese owners. There were three movie theaters, bars, restaurants, schools, tennis courts, swimming pools, bowling alleys, pool halls, drug stores, department stores, churches, brothels, opera house - all the virtues and vices of a classic wild west boomtown. It was a time when women were beginning to realize their own strength and independence. In Jerome, there was one that led the way. Her name was Vivica. Read her story in Loaded Gun.

But, as with almost all the other boomtowns, the good times finally came to an end for the town of Jerome. High grade ore became scarcer and harder to dig out of the mountain. The price of copper fell. And in 1929 the Great Depression began. As quickly as it built itself into a money producing machine, Jerome fell into the depression along with the rest of the country. The mines closed in 1930. There are few records of the town during this period. People were hanging on with their hopes and prayers. There was no other real employment for a hundred miles in any direction. Finally, in 1935 Phelp Dodge bought up a majority of the mining rights in and around Jerome. They decided to blast the ore out of the mountain, creating a huge open pit just to the north of town. For the next few years, Jerome suffered the consequences of this type of mining. The company would explode up to 250,000 pounds of dynamite at a time, blasting the mountain to smithereens and carting the ore to the smelter in Clarkdale by way of a full scale underground railroad. This constant blasting shook the town down to its roots. One whole commercial block of downtown Jerome actually slid down the hill. A movie theater, a pharmacy, a pool hall, a JC Penny's, and other businesses crumbled, slid downhill, and had to be dismantled. Jerome's famous "Sliding Jail" can still be seen hundreds of feet downhill from its original location. It was during this period that the father of the Atom Bomb made a brief and life changing stop in Jerome. His story can be found at The Drift of Stars.

When the second World War came, copper prices surged once again and the town experienced a mini rebirth. However, once again, good high grade ore became harder and harder to get out of the mountain, and, after the war, the prices dropped once again. During this period some of the strangest events in Jerome's history occurred. To this day no one is sure if the stories told by Bernie Peoples are true, but you can decide for yourself after reading, The Peoples' File.

Finally, in 1952, Phelps Dodge closed its operations in Jerome. This time the closing was final. There was no other work for the unemployed miners and the company made no provisions for them. They had no union to look after them after the owners broke the back of the unions in 1917. Consequently, Jerome suddenly became a ghost town. Families sold their houses for bus fare out of town. Those who couldn't sell just left their homes, many with the furniture still in them. The population dwindled down to perhaps fifty hard core individuals and families. They were suddenly faced with governing a town with an infrastructure designed for a population of 15,000 people. Needless to say, many buildings, streets, facilities, and utilities began to deteriorate. All through the fifties the few that had stayed behind tried valiantly to save the town they loved. They established the Jerome Historical Society The Society bought up as much property has they could, concentrating in the commercial district. In spite of their efforts many structures were lost to slippage, vandalism, and speculators. Their attempts to promote the ghost town aspect of Jerome met with some early success, however. There were always those fascinated by the old wild west and would go out of their way to experience what was left of that romantic period. Two visitors found more than nostalgia when ran into each other on a beautiful spring day in April, 1957

The town remained quiet, empty, and out of the way through the early sixties. It was the perfect place for someone who didn't want to be found to hide - someone who needed some Operating Room. It wasn't until 1967 when a new group of pioneers found the deserted town. A group of young people, disenchanted with what they saw as the hyped-up over-commericialzed and life destroying American dream and looking for a place to live a simpler life, closer to the land, stumbled onto Jerome. They moved in and started rebuilding and restoring the town. Initially, there was some resistance from the residents that had stuck it out and gone through the hard times, naturally enough, but when it finally became obvious that the odd looking young people loved the town and were determined to make a go of it, the diverse elements became a community. To read what it was like in the beginning, check out The White Ship.

Through the seventies, slowly but surely, the outside world began to intrude upon the town. Speculators moved in attempting to create tourist friendly businesses. House prices rose steadily. Large structures such as the old grade school were purchased and remodeled into restaurants and bars. It became a place where, once again, a person might make a dream come true - a dream of wealth, a dream of enlightenment, a dream of romance. For two people it went even deeper when they had their final Meeting in Mescal.

By the eighties, the town was in full swing rebirth. It was roaring once again. No longer out of the way, it was being drug kicking and screaming back into the mainstream. One frightened girl thought that it was still a good place to hide. She was wrong. She would be found by someone who really was The Missing Person.

Jerome has always held an undefinable ghostly, mystical energy. You can ask almost anyone who has spent any time here. For one local in the nineties that energy took him to places beyond anything he was prepared for. I Sleep To Wake is a chronicle of his otherworldly adventures.

Since those days, Jerome has slowly built itself into a town that is haunted, over the shoulder, by its past while it moves, lurching in circles, into the twentyfirst century.

What does the future hold? Perhaps The Goodbye Party is an indication . . .

Other works:

The Haight   -    a screenplay about early Haight Ashbury

Quanah    -    a screenplay about Quanah Parker, The Last Chief of the Comanches

Fields of Praise   -    a sequel to "i sleep to wake"