This early October weekend marked the 5th Annual Jerome Historical Society Ghost Walk, a tourist draw for people looking for that quintessential “feeling of fall” activity. Looking for that experience myself, I purchased tickets over the phone a few weeks back and grew excited about the event with each passing day.
Loading up in the car for our 75 minute jaunt down the highway to the relic of a mining town, my girlfriend and I were still excited about the 90 minute walk into historical deaths at what’s often dubbed “The Largest Ghost Town in America”. That moniker turns out to be anything but! In the 1920’s, Jerome’s population boomed to 15,000 people, spurred by the explosive demand for copper and the large mine on which the town sat. Eventually, the demand for copper dropped and so the mine shut it’s doors. The town eventually evaporated to a lone 50 inhabitants that decided to remain on the side of Cleopatra Hill. Most buildings of the once bustling mining town sat empty for years, picking up the “Largest Ghost Town” slug.
Now, more than 400 people live in Jerome and have rehabilitated many of it’s turn of the century buildings. It’s now known as an enclave for artisans. But, the town continues to look for creative ways to draw people in and the yearly Ghost Walk is one way they try to do it.
We bit hard at the opportunity. Who isn’t fascinated by historical accounts of mysterious deaths and murders in what once was a bustling boom town? We turned in our tickets at “Spook Hall” and were shuffled into a packed community center for the first of three tours that night. A fiddle, banjo and bass player entertained the crowd with ghostly ballads until it was time to depart for the walk. Dividing the group of 100+ people turned into a complete cluster! Tour guides seemed lost and visitors just wanted to run all over the place and do their own thing. As our group was led out of “Spook Hall”, we were taken all the way around one downtown block. We walked past the “Spirit Room” where dozens of drunk bikers had assembled outside the front door, laughing in uproar about the “ghost walkers”. My favorite was the drunk standing on the sidewalk that questioned at the top of his lungs, “Is there a subway station somewhere? Where they hell did all these tourists come from?”.
Filtering through the crazies, we were brought back to the very spot where we had just left. Mind you, all 100 people were in the same spot. So we all staged for the “Shooting of Sebastian Valuenzuella”, complete with armed gunman staged around the shell of an old hotel. One western gunman, wired up to a microphone and speaker system, couldn’t be understood with the exception of the few people in the front row around him. With the muffled speech bouncing off nearby walls, visitors did more looking around and gawking instead of paying attention to the impending gunfight. Then, without warning, blanks start popping from inside the building and unintelligible dialogue starts between the dueling characters. This proceeds for an agonizingly long five minutes before a final series of gun shots and cheers from the front row of spectators. The first scene had ended before we even knew what was going on! End Scene.
Our personal guide, “The Black Widdow”, dressed in appropriate black and white victorian attire, hurridly swept us across the street and up one level of switchbacks. The hope for comprehending the next scene we were enroute to was quickly dashed once we reached it. A smoking “stand-in” joined our group and strangely was the one person selected to have her palm read in front of the whole group. She wanted information on her long lost relative who mysteriously died. The audience was asked to hold hands to channel our energy for a “seance”. The spirit arrives and talks cryptically about her life and death and then leaves before sharing her true story with us. This wouldn’t be the last time we witnessed palm reading on the ghost walk! End Scene.
The next stop a short walk up the road where we assemble in an auditorium to learn about the death of Freda Schutz. This is where were truely understood how good the acting was! During the re-enactment of a conversation leading up to the young girl’s death, the mother forgot what railroad they were to ride on for their family vacation. So, without missing a beat, she turns into a palm reader, reading the railroad’s lengthy name off the handwritten note on her hand. You could feel the laughter burbling inside the audience at that point, just waiting for a chance to get outside and release it. End Scene.
Next, the Murder of Carmen Aros. After a short walk back down the switchback, we assemble at the gates of the next scene. Standing hillside, a group of drunk 20 somethings proceed to make a mockery of the event and themselves after one girl repeatedly falls to the ground…stumbling drunk! We’re finally let into the small courtyard where we’re greated by the most profound actors of the entire night. Truely, they were the best. Not because they were trying to “act” like someone else but because they became their character. Standing in the cool breeze blowing down Cleopatra Hill, actresses Rochelle Garcia and Elissa Bellew presented the poignant tale of a love triangle gone wrong. It was an interesting historical account and watching audience members squeamish to breathe in the smoke from smoldering sage sticks was to-die for (no pun intended of course)! End Scene.
Lastly, we were led back up the hill to the last and final scene we’d be treated to: The Suicide of Dora Cook. These actors moved from palm reading to just reading off the whole dang script, leaving some of us to look at each other as if we had really paid $10 a piece to see this. With that, the scene ended and we were sent on our merry way. Disappointed children asked their parents if they could rent scary movies on the way home. Others questioned what exactly they had just experienced. In the end it was truely homegrown theater.
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