The Quest

The Quest

A ceremony at the cornerstone laying for the St. Johns Methodist Church in Kingman, Arizona on February 25, 1917. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts

St. John’s Methodist church is the oldest congregation in Kingman, Arizona. Their first church at the corner of Spring and Fifth streets was completed in spring 1889, and the first service was held on May 8th of that year. The church served the growing congregation until 1917. It also served as a focal point for community activities

Reverend Thomas H. Dodd served as the shepherd for his flock well into the 1920s. But when did he come to Kingman? His  death in Phoenix in 1930 was lamented throughout the community as he had officiated at high school graduations, weddings, dedications of buildings such as the Mohave County Courthouse, and commemorative ceremonies. But when did he leave Kingman?

These were years of dramatic change, both good and bad, in Kingman, in Arizona and in the world. Arizona transitioned from territory to state in 1912. Dodd presided over many funerals during WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic. And in 1917 he officiated at a ceremony during the laying of a cornerstone for a stately new church that would complement the recently completed Mohave County Courthouse.

Construction officially started on February 28, 1917, after the relocation of the original wood church building to the eastern end of Spring Street. This building was then remodeled and served as the Church Apartments. Damaged in a fire years later it was remodeled and remains as a private residence. You can see the old church in the background of this photo from February 25, 1917.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, the Neo-Classical Revival styled church built of locally quarried stone the old church now serves as a Mohave County services facility. Several architectural historians have noted that it is one of the best examples of this type of building in the state.

A pipe organ was installed in the church in 1926. It is currently on display at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts.

The church figures prominently in Hollywood history. On March 29, 1939, during a break in the filming of Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable traveled to Kingman to wed Carol Lombard. Serving as best man was his close friend Otto Winkler, an agent with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. An article published in the daily press noted that, “The Reverend Kenneth M. Engle of the “First Methodist Episcopal” church officiated the service. Howard Cate, principal of the Kingman High School, and the reverends wife served as witnesses.

Immediately south of the church, on the opposite of side of the parking lot wall, is a tangible link to Kingman’s earliest history. The sprawling mesquite tree is estimated to be 200 years old. It is a remnant from a forest of mesquite that was cleared during the early years of the city’s development.

This historic church is the next step in the narrated historic district walking tours being developed by Kingman Main Street. I am excited about this project as it will help build a sense of community and it will also enhance the visitors experience. And I greatly enjoy pulling back the veil that separates the past from the present.

The quest for answers is a bottomless sinkhole, or so it seems. And, of course, time is finite. So, when it comes to research I have to adhere to self imposed restrictions by setting a timer. And yet at times, even with pressing deadlines or an acute awareness that there are other Jim Hinckley’s America projects that require my attention, it is difficult for me to return to the here and now.

And with that said, it’s time to get to work. My search for answers about the Reverend Dodd, or why Clark Gable and Carol Lombard married in Kingman, or why the Madonna of the Road statue destined for Kingman ended up in Springerville, Arizona, or why a Canadian soldier and grifter was murdered east of Kingman along the National Old Trails Road in 1919, or …. will be a project for a another day.

Murder, Chaos & Good Times

Murder, Chaos & Good Times

Mountain View Cemetery in Kingman, Arizona. © Jim Hinckley’s America

Murder, chaos and good times. That may seem an odd title but I can assure you that for me this is situation normal. Let me explain.

Back in 2019 B.C. (before COVID) my latest book, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66 was published by Rio Nuevo Publishers. That was in late fall.

Apparently the blending of Route 66 and true crime stories piqued interest. In spring 2020 notice was received that the book had been awarded a silver medal in an international independent publishers competition.

And then during the apocalyptic year of 2020, I began fielding requests for presentations on the subject via Zoom. I was still being asked to talk about the founding of the American auto industry, Route 66 adventures and southwestern history. But morbid curiosity put discussions about murder and mayhem to the top of the list.

As more people began reading the book there was a noticeable uptick in the receipt of terse, angry and even occasionally subtlety threatening notes. These stemmed from inclusion of events such as the Tulsa, Springfield, and St. Louis race massacres as well as similar incidents from the history of Route 66.

At first I found being called left wing, socialist, anti American and liberal, comments often prefaced with colorful use of obscenities, as mildly humorous. Now, however, I view them in a larger context and see them as symptomatic of the increasingly toxic climate in this country.

But as a primary goal of the book, as it is with my writings and speaking engagements, was to add depth and context to the subject of Route 66, and to spark informed discussions, these derogatory comments will be ignored. But I can’t help but feel that being so narrowed minded it is possible to look down a beer bottle with both eyes is rapidly being considered a virtue and that doesn’t bode well for the future of the republic.

This year I added another dimension to my repertoire. As I began work on developing a narrated self guided tour to the historic district in Kingman, Arizona for Kingman Main Street, the discovery of obscure and fascinating movie and celebrity history opened another new chapter in the Jim Hinckley’s America story.

To date a lot of the discoveries have been Kingman centered. And that is the subject of a presentation that will be made at Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman, Arizona on October 16. But I have ventured down a few rabbit holes and found that many Route 66 communities have some surprising celebrity history.

And I have found some obscure and odd stories. Who was Bessie Love and why was she visiting Kingman? On a bet did Jack Dempsey go a few rounds in the boxing ring at the Sump bar during a visit to Kingman, Arizona?

Counted among the casualties of 2020 was my work with tour groups. Unfortunately this summer was only mildly better as COVID 19 continues to inhibit a return to normal tourism.

But when it comes to tourism there are glimmers of hope on the horizon. Even though the season is winding down, it has been a delight to meet with Austin Coop’s Two Lane America tours. Sharing stories about Kingman and Route 66, and answering questions during the tours lunch stop in Kingman has provided a sense of normalcy.

Shades of normal times are also found in the support from Steve Wagner of the Route 66 Yacht Club and Scott Dunton of the Kingman Route 66 Association. They provide pins, patches and other items that I can provide as free souvenirs.

As I look toward 2022, and a return of tourism I will be seeking support for other organizations, businesses and communities. I will be looking for souvenirs that can be provided to travelers, and advertising sponsors that will be my partner in promotional initiatives. Good times, better times just around the corner.





Somber Reflection

Somber Reflection

We have a somber anniversary fast approaching – 9/11. The 20th anniversary milestone of that horrendous event linked with the increasingly chaotic and tragic situation in Afghanistan has led to a great deal of reflection on the national tragedies that I have witnessed, and how our response to them has changed over the years. It has also fueled my near obsession for an understanding about the state of the republic that was ignited after watching the assault on our capital on January 6.

This reflection and the quest for answers has led me to read books about the nations leaders as never before. It has also instilled a hunger to visit more of the homes and libraries of previous presidents.

Since January 6, I have read books about Michelle Obama, John McCain, President Trump, the leadership principles espoused by President Eisenhower, presidents Truman, Garfield, Adams, Lincoln, Hoover and Bush, and senators Barry Goldwater and Joseph McCarthy.

For a brief moment in time two decades ago we were united in our grief, our shock, our outrage and in our love for country. Then came the assault on our nations capital, sacred ground, an attack on institutions of government by Americans.

That event scarred me more than the attack on 9/11, or any event witnessed to date. But what has saddened me most about this heinous event, what ignited an almost all consuming hunger for understanding was the aftermath. Elected representatives and faux journalists joined together to justify the assault and to give those involved legitimacy. But most disturbing of all, unlike on 9/11, the American people did not unite in justified anger and demand answers as well as accountability.

This anniversary, this year of reflection has led to thoughts on national tragedies, and how we as a people responded. I was but a kid at the time. Still, with clarity I remember the assassination of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the shooting of Malcom X and Governor George Wallace, and the palpable sense that the world had shifted. That sense of uncertainty was magnified by the look on the faces of parents, teachers and adults, and the tone of their voices.

As family farms in Alabama and Tennessee figure prominently in childhood, the momentous civil rights marches of the ’60s are also an integral part of childhood memories. Again, I was just a kid but I remember kin referring to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. I remember seeing large gilt framed pictures of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson hung over the mantle or on parlor walls. I remember segregated drinking fountains. And I remember how disturbing it was to hear gentle people speak in anger about civil rights marches, and curse the name of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

I was to young to remember details but not so young that I can’t remember my pa’s quaking voice and a long, all night drive after an encounter with the police in some backwater Mississippi Delta town. This was about 1962 or 1963, and my pa had Michigan plates on the car.

As my childhood also had a connection with Detroit, memories of the riots and the burning of cities in the 1960s were refreshed by the events that unfolded this past year. Once again thugs and people who embraced chaos as a catalyst for change had tainted peaceful protests for the righting of wrongs.

And, of course, I was an adult when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. In fact I had briefly interacted one of the warped men involved with that heinous event through my work in Kingman, Arizona.

Obviously all of these events have played a role in the shaping of my world view and perception. Likewise with the diverse array of books read over the years. Still, last year I found it disconcerting to see the burning of cities exploited for political gain. I found it depressing that people had used peaceful protests as an excuse to destroy property and assault government buildings. But it was even more disturbing to see Americans storm our capital in anger.

To date I have yet to find understanding. I have yet to find historic precedent for this time of crisis. And I have yet to find solace or a clear picture of what the outcome will be. But there are more books to read, most notes to take, and more sunrise walkabouts with deep meditation.



Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

“Working this hard is a sure death, but it is a slower one than starvation.” “Anyone can learn to swim with incentive. If the ship is going down, and the ice water is swirling around your testicles. That is incentive.” ” I am not saying the boy is stupid but I bet he would have trouble pouring pee out of a boot with instructions on the heel.” “Don’t tie yourself to a fella hell bent on walking off the cliff.”

Our friendship had come naturally. Ma had a non stop mantra that I was born ninety and never aged. As a kid one of my best friends was a grizzled old WWI veteran. And even in my teen years I felt more comfortable with people well past the age of retirement than with with folks my age. Their words of home spun wisdom have served me well over the years.

And so the loss of friends was something that I was all to familiar with. Still, for reasons unknown, this loss hit me hard.

He was about 95 years of age when the time came to bid adios. A hard life, a life well lived, a life of adventure, a life lived with laughter and sorrow was written on his face. His gnarled and scarred hands showed that he never shied away from hard work. He was mi amigo. I enjoyed his stories, and felt privileged that he would share them with me.

After enlistment and completion of training he was assigned to the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii – in November 1941. The day before he was to ship out the orders were changed. He saw duty on the infamous Murmansk run in the North Atlantic. He was in the Mediterranean for Operation Torch. He was also a leading contender for the title of the Navy’s black bantam weight champion.

One time while home on leave, he took his best girl to the movies and dutifully used the rear “Colored” entrance. As he told the story, there was a German POW camp outside of town. For good behavior some of these German soldiers were escorted to the theater, where they used the front door.

When we met he was thirty years my senior, twenty years past retirement age, and was still on the job. And he still paid a visit to the gym on a regular basis.

As we got to know each other, he opened up more and more and shared stories that I was willing to bet, few had heard. His great grandfather was an aborigines from Australia. His great grandmother had been a slave in Virginia. His grandfather had belonged to a sea captain who lived in South Carolina. The fellow was a gambling man and his grandfather was used to pay a gambling debt.

Mi amigo had ample reason to bask in bitterness. He chose to soldier on, to overcome prejudice and adversity through education, tenacity, and the power of forgiveness. He earned respect but never expected it to be given easily. He was inspiration.



The End Of The Beginning or The Beginning Of The End

The End Of The Beginning or The Beginning Of The End

Looking back from the perspective of the 21st century it may seem a bit crazy. But perhaps a century from now people will look back in wonder at how quick we were to turn from science to rumors and wives tales in an effort to battle a pandemic.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 a rumor about onions swept the country. And soon people were buying them in bushel baskets, slicing them, and then placing throughout the house as it was believed that the onions could “absorb” the virus and thus keep the family safe. The idea was even marketed as a display of patriotism.

Of course in the second decade of the 20th century misinformation, old wives tales, rumors and such didn’t spread quite as quickly. And it wasn’t as easy to give misinformation the façade of credibility. The social media network of the day consisted of hand crank telephones, the telegraph, the rural postman that traveled by horse, and newspapers.

But before passing judgment we must understand that people were desperate. The horrors and brutality of World War I had claimed an estimated 16 million lives. But the influenza epidemic that began sweeping the world in 1918 left an estimated 50 million people. Countless others suffered debilitating health issues for the remainder of their life.

For some the tsunami of death was viewed as the the beginning of the end times. For those who survived relatively unscathed by the war and devastation of the viral plague, it was the end of the beginning, the dawn of a new era.

When the pandemic commenced medical science was firmly rooted in he research of the mid to late 19th century. And this was in spite of the fact that smallpox inoculations had become standard practice since the late 18th century.

The pandemic of 1918 ignited an unprecedented international outpouring of finances for medical research. In 1931, at Vanderbilt University, medical researchers discovered a process to grow the influenza virus in fertile chicken eggs. This was a major milestone as it meant that viruses for study no longer had to be harvested from infected people or animals.

The next stage in understanding the complexities of viral infection came when scientists identified two types of flu viruses, naming them A, capable of infecting both human and animals, and B that infected humans only. But most medical scientists were seeing this discovery as only a small step toward development of vaccines.

With the ability to identify viral characteristics researchers began working on vaccines in earnest. An initial setback in vaccine development was the discovery that immunity against one type of virus does not give immunity against the other or against mutated varieties. As a result the first successful influenza vaccine contained a mixture of dead virus, a precedent still followed today. In time this would allow for the faster development of more effective vaccines.

With concerns about another war in Europe growing by the day, in 1937 British researchers began inoculating soldiers with newly developed vaccines. And in the United States, a team of researchers led by Jonas Salk initiated mass vaccination of military personnel in 1944. Vaccination for civilians followed in 1945.

All of these discoveries and all of this research served as the foundation for the development of medical protocols and vaccines that in coming decades would almost eradicate the scourge of polio, measles and other infections that had plagued man since time immemorial.

Our understanding of genes, their chemical codes, and and how to correct them is also rooted in the post pandemic medical research.

The pandemic of 1918 was the end of medicines beginning chapter. But it remains a long journey to the possible beginning of the final chapter.