With the passing of time, when writing about history,
it becomes quite a challenge to separate myth and legend from fact and fiction. Even first person accounts can be fictitious when compared to facts if enough time has passed, and a story can be told so often that myth becomes truth. Adding weight to legends that become fact are first person accounts, an interview at the time of an incident that provides a perspective derived from fear, prejudice, or even shadowing that obscured detail.
Case in point, the honeymoon suite for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard at the hotel in Oatman, Arizona. Yes, the couple did marry in Kingman late one afternoon, at the Methodist Episcopal church that still stands on the corner of Fifth and Spring Streets. Yes, there was a small wedding reception at the Brunswick Hotel afterwards, and there was an early morning press conference in Los Angeles early the following morning. So, is the story of the honeymoon suite fact or fiction? If it is myth, what are the origins?
Recently the facade for the circa 1914 Old Trails Garage in Kingman, Arizona was renovated to mimic a 1940’s appearance. This was accomplished through the facade and sign restoration initiative launched by the Route 66 Association of Kingman, a partnership between Legacy Signs and property owners. This renovation included the restoration and installation of a circa 1930 Packard neon sign. Two Kingman area residents, one a 91-year old gentleman that went to work in this garage at age eight, remember that the garage was a Packard facility. The sign was recovered from the garage and had been in storage since the 1940’s. However, historic records found to date indicate that there were three Packard facilities in Kingman, none of which were at this location. Is the story fact or fiction, lost history or simply time blurring memories?
In the grand scheme of things Goldroad, Arizona on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 is relatively recent history. Gold was discovered in the immediate area in the 1860’s, but the town itself dates to 1902 when the last gold rush in Arizona began in earnest. By the late 1940’s, the bust was on and to avoid tax penalties most buildings were razed. Today even historic photographs make it difficult to stand on the site and determine where buildings such as the post office was located. In part this is compounded resultant of recent mining history. As a result the history of the town is entangled with threads of fact, fiction, myth, and legend.
Since 1990, untangling the webs, searching out the origins of myths and legends, and adding color, depth, and dimension to sepia toned history has been a job of sorts, first with the writing of features about the infancy of the auto industry for various publications and most recently with books about Route 66. Many folks have a fascination and an interest in history, the myths, the legends, and the stories. For me, however, it is a quest, a kind of treasure hunt.
With clarity I can pinpoint when and why the search began. It was the summer of 1968, we were visiting my grandmother, and a picture on the mantle caught my attention. One of the people in that photo was Henry Ford, I recognized him from a school book. The second man, however, was a mystery to me. As it turned out, the mystery man was my grandfather, a man born in the year of the Abraham Lincoln assassination, a man who was 63-years of age when my dad was born. Adding to my fascination with the photo was the fact that it had been taken on the front porch of my grandmothers house – on Hinckley Boulevard.
And so it began. First, I sought out the history, the places, the people that would allow me to know my grandfather. Then the search expanded as I became fascinated with the world, the times of that man. The rest, as they say, is history.
Birds of a feather, as the old adage goes. Soon, the circle of friends included fellow enthusiasts of vintage vehicles, adventurers who wandered the road less traveled, and pioneers of the modern era – people who drove tow trucks in the Black Mountains of Arizona in the 1930’s, long haul truckers from the 1940’s, and men who discovered that gold was to be found in providing service along a lonely desert highway in the era of the Model T Ford. This in turn led to some time travel adventures of my own; working on an 1880’s Arizona ranch and driving into town behind the wheel of a ’46 GMC, double dating in a 1926 Ford touring car, prospecting in the Arizona wilderness with a truck manufactured ten years before I was born, to name but a few.
In time the quest, the adventures, and the people met along the way became the basis for stories, feature articles, and books. These in turn led to adventures in the modern era such as sharing these tales on Facebook live (a program every Friday morning), podcasts, blog posts, and presentations made internationally. However, perhaps, the greatest adventure of all has been the exploration in dusty archives, the following of a rutted track across the desert with a worn century old map as a guide, and the people met along the way during my quest to separate myth and fiction from fact and legend.
*cover photo of the Goldroad post office courtesy the Mohave Museum of History & Arts.