Every community has a few skeletons in the closet and old timers that will tell tall tales about celebrity sightings or historic mayhem in exchange for a cold beer at the local watering hole. However, Kingman, the town immortalized in crooner Nat King Cole’s ditty about Route 66, seems to have had more than its share of brushes with fame through murder, mayhem, and topless celebrities.
On October 20, 1926, Tom King, a Chinese immigrant and member of the Hop Sing Tong was working in the American Kitchen restaurant located next to the Hotel Beale when a five member assassination squad from the Los Angeles based Bing King Tong burst through the rear door an opened fire.
After murdering King, the squad fled west over newly certified U.S. 60, a highway that would be designated U.S. 66 the following month, with Mohave County Sheriff Mahoney in pursuit.
The murder, the running gun battle to Topock, the trial, and the heavy handed response by the sheriff that included the illegal search of Chinese residents homes and seizure of property, as well as forced deportation from the county, became a media sensation that garnered headlines throughout the country as well as in Europe.
Now the Grand Canyon Western Ranch, this was the Diamond Bar Ranch of Tap Duncan.
All of this took place just one year after Buster Keaton had set up camp at the Hotel Beale while filming Go West at the ranch of Tap Duncan north of Kingman. Duncan himself was a bit of a celebrity as he had migrated to Arizona shortly after an altercation with outlaws affiliated with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in Idaho, and infamous outlaw Kid Curry had died after a botched train robbery in Parachute, Colorado while using the alias Tap Duncan.
As reported in the Kingman Daily Miner on May 22, 1925, “Buster Keaton, the noted film comedian, will make a six reel picture in Mohave County starting in a week or so. Mr. Keaton and three of his men were in here this week looking up a location and picked Tap Duncan’s Ranch.
Duncan again made headlines in November 1944. He was walking along Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue, when he was struck by a drunk driver and killed.
The Hotel Beale was ground zero for celebrity sightings during 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s. The hotel was the home of Andy Devine, a fledgling actor around this time, and legend has that on occasional visits home he was accompanied by his friend Will Rogers.
Charles Lindbergh was a regular guest in 1928 and 1929 during construction of the airfield that would serve his pioneering T.A.T. Airlines. During World War II numerous USO tours stayed at the hotel including the Three Stooges and the Andrews Sisters.
The Historic Vehicle Association recreated Edsel Ford’s trip in 2015.
The Brunswick Hotel to the west of the Hotel Beale also had its share of share of celebrity sightings. Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, stayed here during his trip in the summer of 1915.
On March 29, 1939, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, with Gable’s MGM publicist Otto Winkler as a witness, married in Kingman at the Methodist Episcopal Church located at 318 North Fifth Street. A small reception at the Brunswick Hotel followed. Contrary to popular legend, the couple did not stop for a honeymoon evening at the Oatman Hotel.
In 1924, the city made headlines as two major league baseball teams played an exhibition game on the field where Locomotive Park stands today. On April 1, the Chicago Cubs stopped in town as they rode the rails home to Chicago. As it turned out, the Pittsburgh Pirates were also in Kingman at the time.
At the urging of Cubs second baseman George Grantham who had played for a Kingman team some years before, an impromptu exhibition game was scheduled. Crowds from as far away as Oatman, Chloride, Seligman, Wikieup, and Peach Springs gathered to watch the teams play.
Kingman also has had numerous brushes with fame as a film location site. Major motion pictures filmed in Kingman and the surrounding area include Mars Attacks, Two Lane Blacktop, Roadhouse 66, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Foxfire, and Edge of Eternity.
It has even been referenced in a few television programs including The Big Bang Theory, The Soprano’s and Prison Break.
In modern times the biggest news story out of Kingman was the Doxol propane explosion on July 5, 1975. Three of the cities firemen died instantly, and more than seventy people, including motorists on Route 66 were severely injured. Property damage in the area was extensive, Route 66 traffic was rerouted, and as the death toll climbed, the media coverage grew exponentially.
On a lighter note, the city garnered headlines in 1992 when Kingman police escorted Pamela Anderson to the police station after receiving complaints from a resident downtown. Anderson in town for a Playboy magazine shoot had been brought in on charges of indecent exposure.
If you would like to learn more about Kingman’s brush with fame, you might want to pick up a copy of The Illustrated Route 66 Historical Atlas. In addition to crime scene and disaster locations, and celebrity sightings, in this book I documented historic sites, military locations and other points of interest all along the Route 66 corridor.
The book is available through most major retailers, or by ordering through the links below this blog post. Autographs are always free.