Jerome, Arizona: “Too Strong to Die”.

Perched high within the Black Hills, inside the Prescott National Forest, sits a town famous among both ghost hunters and “Wild West” fanatics. These days it’s sparsely populated, with a population fluctuating between 444 and 500 permanent residents. Jerome was established in 1876 and was once the 4th largest city in the state of Arizona, peaking in the 1920’s to 15,000 residents. This was due almost exclusively to it being a mecca for copper mining.

Once known as “the wickedest town in the west”, Jerome was described by a Phoenix newspaper as having “one beggarly looking church and at least sixteen saloons and more going up”. The town was saloon after saloon with brothels, opium dens, and gambling halls sprinkled between. According to Jerome Ghost Tours, “Home to more brothels per capita than anywhere else in the country, Jerome made its mark for more than just copper and gold”. As one can imagine, this town attracted a less-than-savory crowd, with many outlaws making their way through, including the infamous Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp.

In fact, Jerome attracted all types of folks looking to “strike it rich”. The Great Depression slowed down the production of copper, but it came back with a vengeance during World War II due to the massive increase in the demand for copper. After WWII ended, the demand for copper plummeted, and sadly, Jerome plummeted with it. Almost the entirety of Jerome’s economy depended on this copper production. After Phelps Dodge Mine closed in 1953 (the mining company that held the claim to the city, and still does), Jerome was all but destined for “ghost town” status.

And that’s exactly what it (almost) became. The town had approximately 100 permanent residents, who were determined to save the town from extinction. They openly embraced Jerome’s image and role as an historic ghost town, one that is also probably… actually… really… legitimately haunted as well. Eventually, in 1967, it was designated by the federal government as a National Historic District.

The never-ending onslaught of debauchery and death that came with the lawlessness of Jerome attracted a certain kind of energy, i.e. ghosts. Jerome is considered to be very haunted. Aside from all those who perished from normal “Wild West things” like bar fights and dysentery, allegedly upwards of roughly 10,000 people died in the United Verde Hospital… which then became the Jerome Grand Hotel. This hotel is said to be the most haunted building in all of Jerome and has been the subject of more than one popular ghost-hunting TV show (like Ghost Adventures). People were routinely stabbed, shot, hung, beat, assaulted, robbed, overdosing on opium, and dying in mining accidents during this town’s “wicked” days. People routinely claim to see ghosts in the Jerome Grand Hotel, as well as elsewhere throughout the town, many dressed in late-1800’s western garb.

An important note: Your experience will likely, highly depend on what day of the week you come, plus time of year. We first visited Jerome on a Saturday, in April (when it’s much cooler than summertime), and it was PACKED. The traffic was horrific and the parking was super limited, with only a handful of spots along the street open to non-resident parking. Most people have to park in the large lots near the visitors center (and Sliding Jail), and those lots require payment via the nearby kiosks. We came back on a Monday, in August, and it was a widely different experience. We easily snagged one of the free parking spots along the street, and the difference in the amount of traffic and people was shocking.

Jerome is located about 2 hours north of Phoenix, and 1 hour, 20 minutes south of Flagstaff, and there are many things to do and see. Some of the historic places I’ll cover are: the Sliding Jail, the Haunted Hamburger, Spook Hall (aka Lawrence Memorial Hall), the Svob Family Marker on what’s left of the Bartlett Hotel, the blast furnace, the Jerome Grand Hotel, and Connor Hotel.


The Sliding Jail

Achieving its nickname from a 225-foot slide down a steep hill, the Sliding Jail is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Jerome. The epic slide began in the 1930’s, when dynamite blasts from the nearby mining began to rock the jail’s foundation. After enough consistent blasts, the jail began sliding ever so slightly, until it ended up 225 feet downhill, in the middle of the town’s main streets. Saying “screw it”, they altered the road to go around it. Eventually, it was manually pushed completely off the side of one of Jerome’s main streets, Hull Avenue, to where it sits today.

Said to be Jerome’s 3rd jail, it’s quite small. Even though it was built in 1905, when there was likely less of a need for jails than today, Jerome still had a hefty, and “wicked”, population. It’s broken and crumbling, and completely off-limits to handsy tourists. The jail is fenced and while one could technically jump the gate to have a closer look, it’s certainly not something I’d recommend, as this is one of Jerome’s main sightseeing locations and you will never be alone long.

Standing in front of the jail, you also get a fabulous view of the Verde Valley and can see the red rocks and mountains of Sedona.


The Haunted

Hamburger

Jerome’s most famous restaurant, and probably one of the most famous eateries in Arizona, the Haunted Hamburger is usually a “must-do” for all Jerome visitors. Beware of how busy this place will be; how easily you get a table highly depends on the day of the week. As mentioned above, our first visit to Jerome was on a Saturday and it was a 1-hour wait. Four months later, we came back on a Monday, and snagged a table immediately.

Open from 11am to 9pm, 7 days a week, the Haunted Hamburger is perched up high, at 410 Clark Street. Its location offers a grand, sweeping view of neighboring Verde Valley and of Jerome down below. The hauntings were first noticed by the building’s new owners, when tools began to disappear, specifically hammers, which they chalked up to misplacements. It wasn’t until the previous owner asked how things were going and told them to beware of hammer-stealing ghosts that they put two-and-two together. Shortly after that conversation, the hammers reappeared in odd places. Other weird and strange occurrences happen daily to the staff of the Haunted Hamburger and the owners have certainly embraced the ghostly vibe. Fake skeletons adorn the walls, roof, and crevices of this popular burger joint.

Speaking of burgers, that is obviously what the Haunted Burger is best known for (aside from the ghosts, of course); however, they also serve chips and salsa, deep fried pickles, onion rings, multiple salads, chili dog, BBQ chicken, Philly cheese steak, salmon burger, chicken strips, fish and chips, and much more.

Overall, we enjoyed the food and atmosphere of the Haunted Hamburger, although it is rather small, old, and wooden. A lot of the seating is on the patio (which is where we sat), and which can be very unpleasant during the peak of the summer. I’d say – just plan accordingly!


Spook Hall

Now officially known as the Lawrence Memorial Hall, Spook Hall used to be the old J.C. Penny dry goods store, built around 1935. It acquired its spooky nickname after the Jerome Historical Society held its second annual “Spook Night” in the building in 1954. They coined the nickname a year prior after spending countless nights in a saloon underneath the town’s mine museum. They would joke that “they were a bunch of spooks”. This term was then run with, in promoting the town as “spooky”.

Located at 260 Hull Ave., just down the street from the Sliding Jail, the hard-to-miss building kind of looks like a small airplane hangar. Now a banquet hall, it’s named after Richard Lawrence, a 1950’s postmaster in Jerome, who also happened to be the first member of the historical society’s executive board.

Strange occurrences are said to occur inside this large, beige building, adding to the validity of the nickname. It’s said that one of Jerome’s most well-known ghosts calls Spook Hall home, a prostitute who was stabbed to death by a miner. She is said to roam the front, lingering briefly before vanishing into the air. Prostitutes never inhabited the current building; however, before the airplane hangar was constructed, several small shacks known as “cribs” stood in its place, which is where these “ladies of the night” would entertain their guests.


Svob Family

Marker

Located on the intersection of Main and First Street, on the corner of the dilapidated Bartlett Hotel frame, sits an iron marker dedicated to the Svob Family. A prominent family in the early days of Jerome, they came from Croatia to chase the American dream shared by many who went West. The inscription reads, “Jerome, Arizona, 1906, Ignac and Mary Svob, Croatian immigrants, arrive in town with their infant daughter, and begin a family that would become well known in Jerome for their strong work ethic, love of family, and sense of loyalty.”, along with a black and white photo of all 11 Svob family members.

Erected in 2014, it’s located on the corner of the Bartlett Hotel, which was built in 1901. Not the first hotel to stand on this corner, it was built after the Grandview Hotel (which was made of wood) burnt to the ground in 1898. This hotel was made of brick and had lavish rooms, each decorated in a different color. There were also stores along the sub-level, where Jerome’s longest-running newspaper, The News, operated for more than 20 years. The sub-level also housed a bank, drug store, and offices. The building became unstable in the 1930’s and was completely abandoned in the 1940’s. All that remains is the frame.


Blast Furnace

Located in what I’d call the “town center”, across from the Hotel Connor, is one of the blast furnaces used to smelt copper during the town’s copper smelting hey-day. This blast furnace was in use as far back as 1882, making it 140 years old. Instead of coal, it used the substance coke, which then came from Wales, England. It had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, around the Horn of South America to San Francisco, then was transported via railroad to Ashfork, Arizona, where it was loaded onto a mule-drawn freight wagon and hauled 60 miles over the mountains to Jerome. The furnace originally produced around 8,000 pounds of copper per day, which pales in comparison to the copper smelting peak of 142,290,460 pounds per day in 1929. At one point, this furnace produced around $1 million in copper per day.


Jerome

Grand Hotel

Marketed as “Arizona’s mile high historic landmark”, this large hotel is as historic as it is haunted. Looming high above the rest of the town, the building that is now the Jerome Grand Hotel is quickly approaching centennial status, at a current age of 96 years.  Built in 1926, it was originally the United Verde Hospital. It was the 4th and final hospital inside Jerome. As mentioned above, upwards of 10,000 people are believed to have perished at this hospital. The hospital closed in 1950, as the mining operations began to cease and better medical services were available in nearby Cottonwood. The building sat empty and unused for the next 44 years. In 1996, a man named Larry Altherr purchased the building and opened the Jerome Grand Hotel.

So, given that around 10k people met their fates in this old building, it’s not surprising that it’s considered to be the most haunted location in all of Jerome, if not in all of Arizona. Many ghost hunting TV shows have come to the hotel in the hopes of capturing ratings gold, and many guests check in to have the same experience. Many people claim to hear coughing, voices coming from empty rooms, labored breathing, doors slamming, footsteps, children laughing and crying, and mysterious knocks. People claim to smell cigar smoke, dust, flowers, and whiskey. Guests report lights flicking off and on, and their TVs turning off and on by themselves. They will find appliances unplugged and their electronic devices such as cell phones and laptops dead, even if they had a full charge.

People also claim to physically see ghosts, most notably the ghosts of children. There are numerous reports of children around the age of 4 or 5 running down the hallway of Floor 3, sometimes crying or laughing. They will hear these children giggling and running around, as if playing. Some guests claim to see the children at the foot of their bed, just staring at them.

Due to it being an active hotel with paying guests, private tours are not allowed, and only registered guests are allowed on the guest floors. The lobby (former emergency room) and the Asylum Restaurant (former admitting area and dispensary) are open to the public, with the former open 24/7 and the latter open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 9pm. The hotel is open 365 days a year, so if you want a peek at the ghostly shenanigans yourself, book a room!


Connor Hotel

Built in 1898 by David Connor, you can still stay in this 124-year-old hotel, equipped with 12 old-style rooms. It once offered 20 rooms of “first-class lodging”, complete with a barroom, multiple card rooms, and billiard tables on the first floor. The rooms were rented for the hefty price of $1.00 per night (approximately $35 today) and the hotel’s telephone number was 8.

It was a major player during Jerome’s Wild West mining days, quickly making a name for itself as one of the finest lodging establishments in the West. It had its own bus for delivering guests from the train depot and was one of the first buildings in Jerome to be wired for electricity, allowing each room to be equipped with a call bell.

Unfortunately, it enjoyed only around 33 years of service before David Connor decided to close the hotel. The mining industry had begun to wane significantly, as did the cash flow coming into the hotel. From 1933 to around the 1970’s, the hotel basically sat idle, until Jerome saw its resurgence in popularity. The Connor Hotel enjoyed the boom in popularity, closing only briefly in the 1980’s to bring the hotel up to code. The rooms go for around $195 per night.


Overall, Jerome can be either a fun day outing or a full weekend excursion. Aside from everything mentioned above, there are countless shops, including Jerome’s Jewelry and Gifts, Turquoise Spider, and Rickledoris Candy & Popcorn Company. There is also the Jerome Historic State Park, Douglas Mansion, Audrey Headframe Park, Gold King Mine Museum and Ghost Town, and Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum. You will also find many art galleries and private art stores, as well as numerous restaurants. If you’re ever in the Phoenix or Flagstaff areas, or somewhere adjacent, and have a day to spend, drive on up to Jerome and step on back into the Wild, Wild West!

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