By a Ghost!
ALL PHOTOS BY DANIEL RUSH
| Recently my wife, Diane, and I took a venture to the south of Arizona and made a hard right turn into the past. A trek that would leave us gasping and grasping for the reaches of hard reality, somewhere between Bisbee, Arizona and the Twilight Zone. . .
It was her birthday. She longed for another way to celebrate. Something other than stale cake and stale beer, something better than counting candles and counting wrinkles. It occurred to me that we hadn’t taken a trip for a while, so I suggested a destination that neither of us had reached before, Bisbee, Arizona. Bisbee sounds like an innocuous place. Bisbee was said to be a quiet, historical town in the far reaches of Southern Arizona. Now known as an Artists Colony, its economy was based on tourism and the bikers that passed through. About twenty miles south of the more famous Tombstone, Arizona, and eight miles from the Mexican border, it’s a long drive through the sporadic high desert towns. One you reach it though, you are greeted by rolling hills of desert brush and maybe the best climate on Earth.
Bisbee made its name as mining district in the early 1900’s. The Copper Queen Mine soon made it the richest mineral site in the world. The Mine produced nearly three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper, not to mention the silver, lead and zinc that came from the rich Mule Mountains. Miners and fortune seekers came from around the world to cram the quiet alcove with as many as 20,000 people. It became the most cultured district and was the largest city in the southwest between St. Louis and San Francisco. Along its “Brewery Gulch,” saloons and shady ladies, who became better known as the “Soiled Doves of the Desert,” plied the miners for their hard earned cash while earning a reputation just east of the Barbary Coast. There was nothing that could not be bartered for, swapped for or stolen from. Everyone was getting rich and everyone was going broke.
|By Daniel Rush|
| In 1908, it all burnt to the ground. A fire swept through the commercial district and ravaged Main Street. Undeterred, and with billions left to be sucked from the mine, they rebuilt the city. Most of what is standing today was built then. Dotted along the mountains of this mile high town and amongst its narrow and unforgiving streets are the residents of a town that has seen its livelihood, the mine closed in 1947, taken away. They cater to tourists now or create wild interpretations of their spirit, but they do not carry the weariness that is so prevalent in other small towns in the desert. They wear their funkiness on their sleeve, in their hopes and on their buildings. Bisbee is a travelers Mecca and the air is thick with the past but it manages to wear it lightly.
There is no doubting it though, the past is always present. And sometimes . . . the past becomes a presence.
|We mine the antique shops along Main Street for the unusual bric-a-brac but I only come home with a ridiculous reminder of a fool and his money…
By far one of the best distractions in this little hamlet is the Queen Mine Tour. Within a spiffy little museum on the inherent dangers of mining, you buy a pin which permits you entrance into the legendary mine that fed generations of Bisbee families and made the Phelps-Dodge Corporation one of the largest mining endeavors in the world. After outfitting you with your miner’s gear, you hop onto a HO gauge mining train that propels deep into the heart of the Mule Mountains. Barreling headlong 1500 feet into the dark abyss, you risk, claustrophobia, falling off the train, bats, cold, losing limbs against the rocky outcroppings and cave-ins, but it all feels very safe. The actual miner gives you a detailed tour of the incredible life of a miner and you are constantly weighing the risk/reward quotient that he must have endured. He teaches you to spot a silver vein, how to dynamite, where to run in case all goes wrong and where the rest room is. It is a crisp 47 degrees at all times in the mine and the Arizona sun feels good after the tour. We learned a lot but will never really have any idea. All I really know is that they will never pay miners enough and pennies should be cherished a little more.
With dusk falling quickly upon us we make our way to our lodgings for the night. This is no Motel 6 or even a comfy Sheraton, it is the most famous address in all of Southern Arizona, the Copper Queen Hotel. Built for the Robber Barons that would occasionally look over their mining millions in 1902, it was designed in Italian-style with a breathtaking mosaic floor and cathedral ceilings outfitted with Tiffany stained glass that has disappeared over the century. Decorated in period detail it still carries the charm and sophistication that the Victorian-era was known for. The 52 room hotel has five stories and is the only building in Bisbee to ever have an elevator. The hotel became known far and wide and such luminaries as Teddy Roosevelt, Lily Langtree and later John Wayne stayed in its lushly appointed rooms.
| The cast of characters ranged far and wide from prostitutes, celebrities, rich miners to scallywags, rogues and Presidents. Some of the lodgers of yesteryear still appear but not in the normal sense. The Hotel is said to have a least three resident ghosts that appear on a regular basis. One is a mischievous child that died in the nearby San Pedro River. He was said to enjoy the Hotel and you can hear his laughter throughout its halls. Another is a stately gentleman whose apparition has been seen throughout the Hotel and appears before and after the smell of cigar smoke. The most famous denizen of the otherworldly Hotel is the prostitute Julia Lowell.
Julia used the rooms of the Hotel for her clients and it is said that she fell madly in love with one of her Johns. She conveyed her love to him and was flatly rejected. The devastation was too much for young Julia and she killed herself inside the Hotel. She still wanders its halls and it is said men can see her dance seductively at the foot of their beds and she will occasionally tickle the feet of gentlemen guests and whisper seductively in their ear. Diane and I reserved her room.
| We left the Hotel to mingle amongst the locals along Brewery Gulch but soon found ourselves having a night cap at the Hotel bar. We chatted with the bartender telling her of our earlier encounter and she shrugged it off telling us of a multitude of strange ghostly encounters the she herself had had. While sitting at the bar listening to a talented piano player, I distinctly whiffed the aromatic smell of a cigar. Being a smoker, I asked if we were allowed to smoke in the bar. The bartender said, “Sorry, this is Arizona, you can’t smoke in any bar.” Just then I saw Diane quickly smack her ear and spin around. “Someone was just twirling my hair!” There was no one there! The smell of a cigar was once again as strong as if someone had blown it in my face. Then it was gone.
The smell of cigars is one of the signs that the Gentlemen Ghost had just visited.
Diane had had enough. “This is too freaky, let’s go to bed. If anything eerie happens again we are running to the nearest Holiday Inn! I don’t care what time of night it is!” We ambled over to the slow and creaky elevator and headed to Room 315…Julia Lowell’s Room.
The period detail of Julia’s room was complete with furnishings that bespoke her times and her profession. Her portrait loomed over us as well as her license for prostitution. I noticed a touch of lavender that lingered in the air and for me the thoughts of what my night may hold made me restless. We crawled into the too comfy, too soft bed and as we stared up at the ceiling fan, it inexplicably began to twirl! We laid there in stunned silence as it made five to six revolutions. The windows were closed. The door fastened shut. No air-conditioning was running as it was a chilled night. Diane pulled the covers over her head and chattered, “I’ve seen enough…Good Night!” I could not sleep. I put in the only DVD in the room, the episode of “Ghost Hunters” that dealt with this very room! They had video proof of the covers rising by themselves to expose the Hunters feet while asleep! I was taking no chances. I slept with my socks on! Julia didn’t whisper in my ear. Julia didn’t play with my feet. But Julia made her presence known (wink, wink) and I’ll leave it at that…
So, if you are ever in these parts and you are looking for something to do, you could visit the oldest ballpark in America, Warren Field built in 1906 (Wrigley Field was built in 1908). Babe Ruth played there! Or you could take that mine tour. But to really get your heart racing, you could climb the 1,000 Stairs of Bisbee. Or you could brave my suggestion to book Room 315 at the Old Copper Queen Hotel…ask for Julia.
|After checking in and inquiring into some of the local lore we decided to dine at the Hotel Restaurant, the Winchester. Off the Main Lobby it carried the same old world charm as the Hotel. An outside porch was a delightful setting and the warm, breezy night air made it a romantic setting for Diane’s Birthday. We dined in casual comfort on fine beef and salmon and talked about our plans for the next day. We were both enjoying the attentive service and richness of the food when it happened…Diane had her back to the wall facing the street and someone? Something shoved her right shoulder. I saw the immediate reaction in mid-sentence. She said nothing. Then it happened again! She quickly turned to berate the shover but no one was there! Nothing but the wall! She assumed it was an inattentive waiter moving thoughtlessly through but no one was there! She was dumbfounded, then scared! “What was that!” I could see immediately from her reaction that she was as serious as a soldier in a firefight. A little shaken from the experience, she eventually got hold herself and tried to enjoy our evening.
|The drive to Bisbee is pretty much devoid of any outstanding features. After blowing past Tucson on I-10 you make a right at Benson and fork through the high desert which turns out to be an excellent elevation for growing grapes. In a beeline south of the always fun and always interesting Tombstone you come upon the only thing worth turning your head for, the Cross. A towering beacon of faith it was built by the Jesuits adjacent to their “Resort.” I, Daniel, am greeted at its entrance by the lions that guard the Cross. Back on the road we encounter a rarity in Arizona, a tunnel burrowed through the mountain. Bursting forth at you after exiting the tunnel is Bisbee. It reminds me of the way Pittsburgh is thrusted at you after leaving the Fort Pitt Tunnels. There is not as much grandeur as Pittsburgh but it is much more than I was led to believe. They even have a small overlook to encapsulate the view. We drive through the treacherous streets trying to get a feel for the place but it is so enigmatic the feeling left us scratching our heads. There are lovely little cottages tied to the hills and there are weathered bungalows that may house meth labs. There are colorful little salons and hulking buildings from the turn-of-the-century. There are rough-neck saloons and towering churches. They have garish pink storefronts separating classy metalworking boutiques. Something for everyone and everyone is something.|
|OTHER GHOSTLY ADVENTURES
WITH COLONEL G. RUSH
|THE 1,000 STAIRS|