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Juxtapositions of Jerome, Arizona

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ASU chapter.

One moment I’m looking at the Haunted Hamburger establishment. The next, I’m standing in an abandoned apartment below ground level where a double homicide and multiple murders occurred in the 1920s. Shadows from our group dance on the wall as we walk, and tease the idea of someone, or something, following us. Cobwebs swallow the corners of every room. Except of course, the back-right corner of the wall that was completely crumbling apart and open, due to the tunnel system that connects right into the home. 

“It’s been told that a man who had been cheating on his wife was caught here with his mistress,” our almost-overly-passionate ghost tour guide Alex said. “She came in through the underground tunnels and shot him.” 

Alex walked us through a smaller room with a bathroom, just big enough for the necessities and standing room. With his flashlight dimmed, all of our electromagnetic field readers on and at the ready, he began the next grueling tale about what happened in the home. 

“And right here, in this very bathtub, a mother drowned her three children in 1935 in this apartment. David is the oldest, he’s 10 years old and usually likes to talk. David, are you here with us?”

In the bloody undertones of my red flashlight, the bathtub proved to be filled with dirt, the grime of the unknown and pieces of deteriorating drywall. Even if no spirits were, “in the room with us,” the fact that not just one, but three people died in this very spot raised a chill from the nape of my neck to my fingertips. 

This is what a ghost town like Jerome lives off of. From extravagant, pale blue colonial houses carved into the mountain to desecrated graveyards, and modern artsy stores with thousands of kaleidoscopes to remnants of the city jail that slid down the mountain, there was an oddly appealing, beautiful, yet fucked-up juxtaposition to the city with a population of only 500 people. 

The official Jerome Ghost Tour that my boyfriend Kaden and I signed up for began in a parking lot past the Holy Family Church, which was off one of the two main roads that split up the winding town. As Alex got our group set up with the equipment, he stood in the middle of the parking lot and began his narrative by describing mining in the 1800s and the horrid Eugene Jerome who abused his workers. 

The intonations in Alex’s voice fluctuated like the canyons and mountains around us. He actively waved his hands, and although I was listening to the historical context of this parking lot, originally the first hospital in town, I was overwhelmingly distracted by the hues of the sun setting. How could I be hearing about how six to 10 men died in the mines or the streets of this town every day, but the town was being blanketed by such a stunning gradient of teals, lilacs, peachy pinks and oranges? 

It was time for us to explore on our own and try to interact with any spirits that may have been passing through. The buzz of white noise coming through our group’s 10 EMF readers, along with people uncomfortably talking to the air became background noise, but I was more focused on my bubbly boyfriend and the excitement radiating off him for the ghost encounters to really get started. Kaden, being Kaden, began asking a myriad of questions – some more serious than others. 

“What’s your favorite color? Did you work in the mines? You from around here? Do you like my outfit? ¿Hablas Español?”

As we snaked through the town and into the night, the group deadened to a mere six people, including ourselves, a family of three and the tour guide. As we packed into the ghost tour shuttle, we found ourselves landing at Jerome High School, another melancholy ode to the city’s history. 

“This very gymnasium was actually used as overflow space for the hospital in the early 1900s, during the Spanish Flu outbreak,” Alex explained as we entered the dark, vast liminal space. “These people had to be quarantined, but they were virtually comatose. They were practically dead already.” 

According to Alex, these people were so zombie-like, so close to the brink of death, that the town started burying people to save up precious bed space in the hospital and gymnasium. Because these people were in a comatose state, they were buried with a bell and breathing tube that rose from the coffin to ground level, so that if they were to wake up they could ring the bell and be dug up. 

Ah yes, I thought. To live life like normal after being buried alive, that tracks for the town of Jerome. 

The wooden floor in the gymnasium was cracked and falling into itself and haphazardly marked by yellow caution tape. The main focus of the room was the theater stage, where we heard some potential on the EMF reader. Light seeped its way through the arched glass windows above the double doors, but otherwise, the only source of light was our flashlights and the red exit sign looming above the stage exit. Naturally, our group turned off all of our lights, and red hues cast shadows over an abandoned teddy bear tucked onto a shelf on the stage. 

Standing on the stage, I looked out into the dark abyss of the room. Aged chairs that were originally screwed into the flooring were torn out and scattered around the building. There was a (used?) toilet directly in front of the stage. 

A vision stained the front of my mind, and caused a knot in my stomach to form: the room filled with barely breathing bodies during the flu outbreak. Then, visions of children playing in this auditorium, practicing plays and throwing basketballs, some of them being the very same ones to later end up in hospital gurneys. Alex’s sincere questioning into the abyss and genuine heart-racing excitement and shock when we would hear any sort of potential response, caused the knot in my stomach to tighten around my heart and throughout my limbs. 

As we left the gym and entered the cold wind of the night, I was hit with another weird, bittersweet, conflicting feeling. Not even a few feet away from the building, the other high school building stood – it was an art studio. Alex explained that there are no set hours, artists can come and go as they choose, creating a sort of hub for them. Tourists can check it out any time and see what local artists are up to. I couldn’t help but wonder, how something as beautiful as fostering communal creativity could be so close to a stacked history of illness and burden. 

Jerome continued to prove its juxtaposing personality to me, almost like an act of rebellion toward tourists. Local art pieces and boutiques in town were filled with kitschy postcards and kind people, but the miners’ remnants from the past were literally cremated into the cement when you stepped outside. I loved going to The Haunted Hamburger, a comfort restaurant to hit on day trips to Jerome with my family. But now, at 21 years old, I learned that a little girl was abandoned and died in the attic. 

I don’t know if there are actually spirits in Jerome – I’m not sure I feel the need to find out. If there are, I’m not sure I enjoy the idea of the town making money off taunting these spirits with groups of tourists every day as though the spirits are shiny new toys. But, despite all of its cruelties, “The Wickedest City of the West” held its allure. The colorful rustic homes, the different people the town attracts, and the quaint American-themed room we stayed in at the bed and breakfast (with homemade frittatas), all gave way to the heart of Jerome. Just like many of us, the town has a sick and twisted past – one that can be hard to see or talk about – but also signs of growth and a beckoning light of hope for the future.

Hi there! My name is Alexia Hill, I'm a graduate from ASU with a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications with a minor in Fashion. I'm looking to work in the fashion media industry, either as a fashion journalist for a magazine/digital publication, or as a PR Specialist for a fashion brand/agency. I am passionate about learning, inside and outside of the classroom. I've taken an interest in styling, creative direction, learning linguistics, semiotics, and Italian. I heavily value authenticity, humility, open-mindedness, creativity, and collaboration. Some skill sets I am most proud of are my writing skills, interviewing/interpersonal connections, graphic design, and event production.