Amural by iconic folk artist Bob Waldmire at TNT Engineering on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona.
The holiday weekend has been dominated by thoughts about Bob Waldmire, Route 66 and life in a desert crossroads. This deep thinking was sparked by a host that posed questions about Bob Waldmire’s association with Kingman. And then she expressed surprise that given Waldmire’s fame, especially in the Route 66 community, this mural wasn’t heavily promoted. She noted that in her quick search only the website for the narrated self guided historic district tours referenced the mural.
I found her observations interesting. But what I have been turning over in my mind was one particular comment. “I am more amazed by what is not being promoted in Kingman than what is.”
Let’s see a show of hands, how many people know that there is an original Bob Waldmire mural along Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona? How many people know that the building with the mural, now a machine shop, was a primary filming location for Roadhouse 66 starring Willem Dafoe and Judge Reinhold? And how many people know that there is a display of Waldmire’s unique pen and ink folk art at TNT Engineering in a former Ford dealership next to the mural?
This past week I sat for several interviews including one with RM World Travel Connection with Rudy Maxa. Most of them followed the set format that I have gotten used to over the years. A few questions were asked from a script, there was a set timeline, and a plug for Jim Hinckley’s America as well as my latest book.
One of the hosts surprised me. First, with the pre-program conversation that made it quite clear that she had done some homework. Then with a call afterwards to talk in even more detail.
As I meditated on the conversation, I began composing a list of Kingman attractions with an emphasis on what is not being marketed. Topping the list was the innovative walking developed by Kingman Main Street that was unveiled during National Road Trip Day festivities in May 2022.
Oatman, Arizona has profited mightily from the marketing of the myth that the Oatman Hotel has a connection to the marriage of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard. But in Kingman it isn’t a myth. They married at the Methodist-Episcopal chruch, now county offices on the corner of Fifth and Sprintg Street. This was followed with a very brief reception at the Brunswick Hotel. This the same hotel where Edsel Ford stayed in July 1915
J. Anne Butler is an internationally acclaimed sculptress. She was commissioned by the Queen of England, and her work graces gardens throughout the world. One of her works stands along Route 66 at the historic railroad depot. It is a statue of an author known throughout the world
Additional public art displays include a mural by artist and animator J. C. Amberlyn, and a sculpture by Donald Gialanella
The Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs once played in Kingman, And George Grantham that played in a 1920s World Series lived in Kingman for years, and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery
The Route 66 corrdior was signed as Front Street until 1955. During an episode of This Is Your Life, it was renamed to honor prolific character actor Andy Devine. Devine grew up in Kingman, and his faher Thomas Devine owned the Hotel Beale for many years
Two of the top rated, and most scenic, trail systems in Arizona are located in Kingman. One is peppered with historic sites. Another is bisected by a territorial era road
Two award winning microbreweries
The world’s only museum dedicated to electric vehicles
A diverse arts community that includes performing arts, galleries, and art studios
New and vintage neon signage including a circa 1930 Packard sign, a 1962 OK Used Car sign, and a 1930s Welcome to El Trovatore sign
The more I give thought to this, and add to the list, a question comes to mind over, and over again. Why isn’t Kingman a destination city?
The first Methodist church in Kingman, Arizona can be seen to the right in this photo from the Andy Sansom collection.
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 came to Kingman in the 1890s and served as the shepherd for his flock well into the 1920s. His death 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 countless commemorative ceremonies.
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. He 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 at the corner of Fifth and Spring Street that would complement the recently completed Mohave County Courthouse, and the Bonelli house on the opposite corner.
The first stage of construction was started on February 28, 1917, with the relocation of the original wood church building to the eastern end of Spring Street. That building was then remodeled and expanded. It served as the Church Apartments. A few years later it was severly damaged in a fire that left it a gutted shell. It was remodeled again and survives today as a private residence.
Church Apartments before the building was gutted by fire. Andy Sansom
The new Methodist Episcopal chruch was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The Neo-Classical Revival styled church built of stone cut at the local Metcalf quarry 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. The pipe organ that was installed in 1926 is currently on display at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts on Beale Street.
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.”
As a point of interest, an impromptu wedding reception was held at the Brunswick Hotel. Legend has it that the Hollywood power couple honeymooned at the Oatman Hotel in Oatman, Arizona.
The truth is that they after the reception they drove to Las Vegas, Nevada on US 466, and then continued to southern California. They hosted a press conference in Los Angeles the following morning.
A landmark in Kingman is located Immediately south of the church, on the opposite of side of the parking lot wall. It 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 long vanished roadside oasis stood at the summit of El Trovatore Hill along Route 66 near Kingman, Arizona. Authors collection
A few days ago I was driving into Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown, on the post 1937 alignment of Route 66 when a thought popped into my head. Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Otto Winkler, Gable’s publicist, drove from Los Angeles to Kingman on Route 66 back in March 1939. Gable and Lombard were eloping to Kingman. What type of car was the trio driving? And that question led to another. Why did they elope to Kingman?
Over the years thoughts like these have often led to rather interesting adventures. And more often than not, the quest for answers has led to some fascinating discoveries. And in turn many of those discoveries became fodder for podcasts, presentations, books, feature articles, and assorted Jim Hinckley’s America programs and projects.
As I was delving for answers about Gable and Lombard’s nuptials, I stumbled on an interesting historic tidbit. Apparently, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Harpo Marx were good friends that shared more than a common career as thespians. They also enjoyed a love or fast cars, and bourbon. In the mid-1930s, Gable and Cooper bought powerful, supercharged SSJ Duesenberg’s. Marx drove a high-powered Mercedes-Benz SSK.
And if you think that Harpo Marx, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable was an odd friendship, did you know that Groucho Marx and Alice Cooper were pretty good friends? That, amigos, is a story for another day.
The podcast, the second one from Jim Hinckley’s America, was a no brainer. The sharing of automotive history is a cornerstone at Jim Hinckley’s America.
This podcast is in an embryonic state. But to date I have shared a number of interesting stories that, based upon comments received, are piquing peoples curiosity.
In episode four I shared the store of a series of races that were officially called the Desert Classic. But it was dubbed the Cactus Derby and the name stuck.
As with the search for answers about Clark Gable’s trip to Kingman, I stumbled on these long forgotten races while looking for information about Louis Chevrolet. He participated in the last of the Desert Calassic races in 1914.
As to the origins of the races, I am inclined to believe that drinking was involved. After all, I can’t think of an epic story such as this that started with, they were having a salad.
The initial race was the brainchild of Dr. George Vickers, owner of the Arizona Republican newspaper, now the Arizona Republic, in Phoenix, Arizona and Purdy Villard of the Maricopa County Automobile Club. According to local legend, the two men were having an intense discussion in a Phoenix social club about gasoline powered automobiles and cars with steam engines, and which was more practical.
In episode five I shared the story of another auto race. This motoring event was an epic worthy of Jason and the Argonaut’s. The staring line was in New York City, the finish line was in Paris, France. The year was 1908 and the drivers faced an incredible array of obstacles. One team became stranded in the Gobi Desert and had to wait for gasoline to be delivered by camels.
The first few days of the race aptly illustrate the challenges faced by the drivers and mechanics. A broken differential forced August Pons, driver of the French Sizaire-Naudin, to drop out of the race after only 96 miles. The De Dion, the Zust and the Thomas Flyer ran neck and neck with the Protos and the Moto-Bloc bringing up the rear.
The Cactus Derby was a series of epic auto races across the Mojave Desert.
In Hudson, New York, the cars were forced to plow through snow that was more than a foot deep in a single file with the Thomas Flyer, with no heater, no top, and no windshield, in the lead. Mechanics shoveled snow, and planks were put down for traction.
The trail out of Auburn, which the New York Times described as the worst road in the United States, lived up to its reputation. Three cars were mired axle deep at Dismal Hollow in the Montezuma Swamp. The men prepared to camp for the night, but an American guide hired by the Italian team arrived with a farmer and a six-horse team that pulled the cars from the quagmire.
Reflection on how random questions have led to some interesting discoveries, and how those discoveries became programs or books, has me rather excited. I still want to know what Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Otto Winkler were driving and why they eloped to Kingman. I can’t help but wonder what will be found in my search for answers.
As with so many things it began simply enough. In this case it
was a question asked. Actually it was the asking of several questions before the idea came to mind, and then it took even more questions before the idea coalesced into the illustrated walking tours now being offered by Promote Kingman. The endeavor has proven to be relatively popular, and judging by the response received, entertaining as well.
What sets the adventure along the Route 66 corridor, and through the historic business district in Kingman, Arizona apart from the average guided walking tours is the liberal use of modern technology and photos from the archives of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts, and my personal collection. With several hundred historic images downloaded to my iPad, I am able to provide a walk through time and allow people to experience the evolution of the city, as well as Route 66.
I can be quite the story teller, or so I have been told, but this adds life to the tall tales. As an example, while telling the story of the Clark Gable and Carol Lombard nuptials, I can transport people back to Kingman as it was in 1939.
Kingman’s lengthy association with the rich and famous of Hollywood is a lengthy one. When Buster Keaton filmed Go West in 1925, this was the fourth major motion picture shot in the area.
On the illustrated walking tour, often under neon lit skies, I stop at filming locations, and other celebrity associated sites. An ample dose of stories about murder, mayhem, sordid affairs, and nefarious characters is also provided. All of this, of course, is amply seasoned with stories of colorful characters, travelers on the National Old Trails Road, such as Edsel Ford, and Route 66.
For more about Kingman’s celebrity association, tales from the dark side, and walking tours, check out our patrons page for exclusive content (button top right corner).
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?