As a history buff and big fan of ghost folklore, I initially took interest in seeing Jerome, Arizona, after watching the segment the Science Fiction Channel series, Sightings, did covering the haunting at the Jerome Grand Hotel. During my visit to the town last year, my companion, Russell, and I were disappointed when we passed Jerome State Historic Park because it was closed while the street leading up to it from Highway 89A was being repaved. When I returned again last month, seeing the former Douglas Mansion was definitely on my to-do list. It makes an excellent way to acquaint the visitor with Jerome's history and heyday.
The life of Jerome as a major metropolitan center only lasted about 70 years. Its ultimate attraction of men to the locale was its promise of well-paying mining jobs. Other businesses sprouted up as well, but all were there to support the hard-working miners who needed obvious things like food, shelter, and medical care. They also needed recreation, which made it an excellent location for saloons. Jerome hit the peak of its population with 15,000 residents in 1929 and by that time was known as one of the richest copper mines in the world. However, no secondary industry was there to save the town from a mass exodus of its population when the mines were exhausted and closed in the early 50s. By the early 60s, its population was less 100. By the early 70s, hippies started moving into the locale. Although it will probably never retrieve its large numbers again, local artists have revived it as a tourist attraction.
Jerome State Historic Park was formerly the home of the Douglas family (who had connections to the Churchills), one of the major stockholders in the Phelps Dodge Mining Company. James S. "Rawhide Jimmy" Douglas served as its president 1908–1916 with his brother, Walter, taking over 1916–1929. Although this 1916 mansion made a fine residence, the Douglases spent little time in it, using it for business trips and to entertain associates. Without much surprise, their primary home was in Douglas, Arizona. After the mines were closed, the Douglas family eventually donated this property to the State of Arizona. In 1965, the state transformed it into a museum as a historical tribute to Jerome. Compared to one the size of the Victoria & Albert in London, it is small, but it offers excellent exhibits of the items and heritage of the formerly bustling mining community. The adobe building itself also serves as an example of 1920s state-of-the-art domestic life.
On the outside, the Douglas Mansion has a Spanish hacienda-style appearance. Some of the larger old mining equipment is on display outside, such as a sample of its narrow train tracks with some of the cargo carts that hauled the mined minerals. There is plenty of parking with some handicap accommodations. (Unfortunately, there are no elevators to the upper story.) Tables and attractive lawns are provided for picnicking. At the top of a hill, it provides a magnificent view of the San Francisco Peaks, Sedona's Red Rock Mountains, and downtown Jerome on Cleopatra Hill. Behind it, is the derelict Little Daisy Hotel, which was actually a flop house for the miners of the nearby United Verde Extension (aka UVX or "Little Daisy") Mine. The hotel closed along with that mine in 1938, but at that time the town still had the other mine at the top of Cleopatra Hill to fall back on. The mansion's garage also had exhibits of some of the horse-drawn carriages used in town, including its fire engine. Above it were servants' quarters, where those caretaking the estate had lived, but it was closed to visitors.
Admission to the Douglas Mansion is $4 per adult. As Russell and I entered, we were told a documentary of Jerome's history was just starting in the back room. We sat back there for a while, but since we were staying at the Jerome Grand Hotel that evening, and the museum was going to close in an hour, we decided to spend more time concentrating on the exhibits. We already knew that the Jerome Grand lent its guests a copy of the same video for viewing in their rooms.
This house appeared to be built as soundly as the old hospital, now the Jerome Grand, on Cleopatra Hill. Walking through the kitchen you could see what remained of its culinary technology. It had an icebox built into its wall. The servants had to load it from outside of the kitchen. Next to it was the servants' quarters. Three or four bedrooms could be found on the first floor, along with a study, billiard room, living room, sitting room and foyer. Each of the downstairs bedrooms had their own bathroom, many since being remodeled to accommodate exhibits. The upper level originally had three bedrooms that shared a single bathroom. The amount of storage space this bathroom had was particularly impressive, along with the relics of an old toilet, bathtub, and shower stall from the early 20th century.
Obviously, most of the exhibits revolved around the town's mining industry. One was on minerals, demonstrating how fluorescent lights were used to identify some of them. One of the former bathrooms recreated an assay office. Some of the smaller antiquated mining equipment was displayed. Even a look at the administrative end was supplied through its paperwork, giving visitors an idea of the wages and human resource data collected at the time.
Always fun to see is what life for these folk was like during their time off or the other businesses that supported the locals. Relics on display come from the post office, newspaper, radio station, stores, saloons, and night life. Of course, the prostitutes also provided an essential service in a region where men seriously outnumbered the women.
I couldn't leave the Douglas Mansion without asking the ranger on duty whether it had any ghosts. Considering how much ghostlore downtown had, did this building have any too? He replied that he was unable to vouch that it had any ghosts, but some odd incidents occurred there from time to time.
One occasional occurrence happens around the museum's fluorescent exhibit. Putting the assortment of minerals in the glass display is a fairly complicated procedure where the staff has to climb on a ladder and lift the top off to rearrange the stones. Once in a while, one of them will find rocks that did not belong there. When everyone is asked who put it there, they claim they never touched it.
Once when the museum was closed and this particular ranger was alone there, he turned on the lights in the part of the house where he would be working. The current in the house runs on two different circuit breakers, one for each half of the house. When he appeared from his office, the lights were on in the other half.
As a book person, the study was obviously the room I would gravitate to. A barrier keeps visitors from walking much more than six feet into it, but I took a look at the wall lined with books. Even though the built-in bookcases reached only halfway up the wall and were pretty full, I could immediately tell I had more than that. I muttered something like "Not very many books," and immediately felt that someone took offense, which was strange since I was the only one in the room at the time. I snapped some pictures and sure enough. When they were developed, one of them had a wispy whiteness that looked irregular.
The best time of the year to avoid Arizona's harshest heat is November–April, although we found it reasonable in May. I understand Arizona actually has some rain during the winter, so this reviewer is not the most reliable source for the state's weather conditions.
Downtown Jerome has a mining museum, but anyone who wants an overall look at its life as a functioning mining town should take in Jerome State Historic Park. Unlike Tombstone, where townsfolk were quick to use their guns for amusement, Jerome's biggest criminal controversy centered on its prostitution. It's a fascinating look the industry that attracted people to such a rugged region. After picking up the info here, the visitor really must walk through the streets of downtown to feel the residual energy of its past busy-ness. The downtown area still seems to suffer from the shock of its population's abrupt exodus. Jerome is a tourist destination that avoids making its visitors feel like they've been caught in a tourist trap.
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