GHOST TOWN THOUGHTS AND LESSONS LEARNED

Ghost towns. Thanks to almost a century of Hollywood epics the mere mention of the term “ghost town” conjure images of dusty streets with blowing tumble weeds and hitching posts, empty buildings, and a dusty saloon with bottles on the shelf. As with so much of what comes from the movie capital the reality is far different from the fantasy.
Still, from Pompeii to Vulture City these empty places capture our imagination. They fill us with dreams of adventure, of exploration, and of lost treasure.
One of the most amazing things found in my initial research on the ghost towns of Arizona was the popularity of these lost and forgotten places. Just this week the Arizona Republic published an article on ghost towns, http://www.azcentral.com/travel/features/articles/2009/09/29/20090929ghost1028.html#atuid-47eb97cd6515afc5 A simple website that chronicles ghost towns has tens of thousands of hits every month. http://www.ghosttowns.com/

Ghost towns have been an important part of my life for the last thirty years. During the past two years they have played a dominating role as we compiled material for our newest book, Ghost Towns of the Southwest, http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Towns-Southwest-Historic-Arizona/dp/0760332215/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1254487259&sr=1-4 and the one currently under construction, Ghost Towns of Route 66. One of the first lessons learned in our endeavor to record the history of these places was how fragile they are. Towns with extensive ruins ten years ago are difficult to locate today, the result of time and vandalism.
Others such as Jerome, Tombstone, and Oatman have survived and even prospered as idealized recreations or as colonies of eclectic artists. Then there are those die hards, places such as Bisbee where time seems suspended even though the town is but a shadow of what it was during the glory days of the early 20Th century.

In our endeavors to chronicle the ghost towns of the southwest we widened the lens a bit to include communities that predate the arrival of the Spanish as well as the first colonial outposts of the Europeans. The lesson learned here was not to take ourselves or the monuments we build to seriously as time has a way of whittling both down to size.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in writing Ghost Towns of the Southwest was in locating reliable or accurate sources for chronicling the history of these old towns. Obviously for the history of the communities that predate the arrival of the Spanish, reliance is heavy on the latest archaeological findings.
However, the towns that we most associate with the term ghost town, those of the pre state hood period, are difficult if not impossible to accurately document. Some of these towns were driven by speculation and as a result it was in the best interest of those who stood to profit to stretch the truth. Others were little more than transient camps with a business district that consisted of rough hewn wood frames with canvas sides and roofs.

As an example the estimates, including comparative census records, place the peak population of Vulture City somewhere between several hundred and several thousand. Many communities ebbed and flowed with each new strike.
One of the most fascinating discovery’s in our research for this book was the level of modernity and sophistication in some of the most remote mining camps imaginable. Swansea, west of Parker, Arizona supported an automobile dealer during the teens. White Hills in Mohave County had electricity before 1900.
Still, the most curious aspect of my research was the collision of past and future that took place, especially after 1900. Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles during the 1920s. Also during the 1920s Jim Roberts, another frontier era lawman, had his shoot out with bank robbers.
At the Palace Station on the Senator Highway between Prescott and Crown King, Arizona paasengers on stage coaches utilized the facilities as did drivers of T model Fords. In 1903, Buffalo Bill purchased a new Michigan automobile. Geronimo, the legendary Apache warrior, was photographed in an automobile.
This laid the groundwork for the next challenge, deciphering the various alignments of Route 66, seeking out the ghost towns of the modern era, and chronicling their unique histories. Now, lets see what I can find out about Hockerville, Oklahoma.

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