What’s Left of Jerome, Arizona, a copper-mining town founded in the 19th century, sits on the flank of Cleopatra Hill overlooking the state’s Verde Valley about a two-hour drive north of Phoenix. I remember Jerome from my days in the 1970s when, based in Scottsdale, I spent many weeks making car and truck films for the Chevrolet Division of General Motors.
Sometime in the first half of the twentieth century (probably the 1940s) the mine closed, and Jerome, abandoned, became a ghost town.
At the time I knew it the town was being rediscovered. At least, it was being resettled in a minor way by what were probably a handful of refugees from the counterculture looking for freedom and a place to live cheaply.
Now, forty years later, I’ve been reminiscing and looking at some photos I took back in the day. Curious about the town’s history I’ve learned that Jerome was once a wide-open boom town known as “the wickedest in the west.”
It didn’t take long on the Internet to learn that today, in good American entrepreneurial fashion, Jerome has become a money-making, family attraction with the “ghost” in ghost town now taken literally and applied to some likely specious legends. Here’s a sample:
“This intriguing one-hour walking tour through the historic buildings and ruins of central Jerome combines Jerome’s historical past with a variety of haunting ghost stories. Ghost meters are included and E.M.F. meters are available. “
Even without first-hand knowledge of what Jerome has become, I’m pretty sure I would prefer the earlier version from my youth:
There was a bar . . .
a handicraft shop . . .
a church . . .
a museum . . .
a volunteer fire department . . .
and a lot of crumbling buildings.
What drew my work mates and me to Jerome on those few long-ago occasions was an artisanal restaurant run by a married couple and open only on weekends. Its menu changed weekly and, to our minds, the food and drink were superb. What lives in my memory are the incredible cranberry muffins that came to the table hot from the oven in a breadbasket. I’ve never tasted better.
The owners built their restaurant in what had once been the town’s brothel and named it appropriately The House of Joy.