The first thing I learned about Jerome was that Maynard James Keenan lived there.
Currently, Keenan owns three vineyards in Arizona and a produce market in Cornville. He is a self-proclaimed recluse, especially so after the birth of his child, and if you’ve ever seen a Tool video, you know that Keenan is on the side of eccentric. It made me wonder what kind of place Jerome was if an introverted, eclectic rocker called it home.
Being that I primarily wanted to use my psychic skill set in order to investigate the haunted locations in central Arizona, I didn’t do much research on the cities or locations I was going to be visiting. I asked other local paranormal investigators what cities they thought would be of interest. I googled the cities, made a list of places I distinctly wanted to visit, and the rest I would figure from locals who could tell me their experiences.
I didn’t check out history or look up ghost stories because I wanted to visit the locations as blind to the reports of activity as possible. It helped that I am not from Arizona and know very little about the history. In fact, I moved to Tucson on a whim which surprised my family and friends being that I don’t like dirt or cacti or reptiles. I disliked westerns and pioneer history more than dirt, and it seemed like such an odd place to relocate.
I had my personal reasons, but the for the most part, I didn’t know anything about the desert except that it was hot and dusty; which was a plus from a psychic stand point because there is no way that my impressions could be from some sort of unconscious memory. On the other hand, it put me at a disadvantage because I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The history of Arizona is strange, brutal, and fascinating. If nothing else, it exemplifies the strength of the human spirit.
As our carload ascended Mingus Mountain, my stomach lurched. I have a slightly annoying fear of heights. Not so bad that it paralyzes me, but just enough to make me question my sanity. The city of Jerome is literally carved into the side of the mountain, and the drive up to the top was a little bit mortifying. Peering out the window there was nothing but a pretty canvas of green that dropped a few hundred feet. Though our car was fixed onto the paved road, it felt like we were suspended in mid-air, and I wondered if Zeus used Jerome as his second home away from Mount Olympus being that they were both located somewhere in the clouds.
When we reached the top of the mountain, I was not prepared for what I was about to see. Jerome was nothing like any other city I had experienced before. I had the distinct feeling I had left the modern world and had been teleported into some shoddy alternate hobbit world. I half-expected to see elves and white-bearded wizards with walking staffs wander down the streets, except in the place of fairie folk, there were motorcycles and bikers clad in leather. A lot of bikers…
Jerome is multi-tiered, the streets are etched into the hill like platforms that are bridged together by stairways. The city reminded me of a tilted “Chutes and Ladders” board hanging precariously over the edge of a mountain. Everything about the city seemed old and frail. The streets were cracked and uneven. Sidewalks sagged and sloped. Weeds and moss invaded sidewalks. Rickety multi-floored structures slanted into the mountain like they would slide away the minute the winds started to blow. Other buildings were half-dilapidated or torn down only to their concrete foundations.
We drove across Main Street finding a parking spot near the Mile High Inn. As I got out of the car, I immediately felt claustrophobic and off-balance. There was something about the air that felt weird to me. As I breathed in, it felt thick and musty, though we were at least a mile up. It confused me because at such a high elevation the air should have been clean and crisp. I realized that it wasn’t just the air that felt thick. All of Jerome felt like it had been dipped in a layer of soot. It hung over the city like blanket. Confused, I shook the feeling off, and let curiosity get the better of me. I wanted to explore and see what sort of psychic experience Jerome had to offer. Maybe I’d run into some fairy folk and find the entrance to Middle Earth. The idea appealed to me as much as finding ghosts.
Our motley crew wandered around Main Street for awhile, admiring the old storefronts and checking out tourist traps. Inside a store, I asked a local biker with a scruffy grey beard if there were any interesting haunted locations in Jerome that I should check out. Plainly, he told me all of Jerome was haunted. If I walked anywhere I would encounter ghosts from the past. I like that answer, but it wouldn’t make for an interesting book, so I asked him if there were any specific places he had in mind. He told us we should sit a spell at The Spirit Room. It was known to be haunted.
Inside, The Spirit Room was sparsely decorated. A small painting of Jennie Banters and her scarlet women standing on a balcony of a hotel adorned the left wall. From floor to ceiling, the room was paneled with a rich, warm wood that seemed worn down by age. The dark wood bar spanned across the length of the room. Behind the bar, shelves held bottles of booze in various colors and sizes. To the left of the door, picture windows let light in the otherwise dim room. A pool table sat near the window, its green felt the only splash of color.
We sat in metal chairs at a round table near the picture of Jennie Banters. The room was almost empty save for a couple of woman bikers sitting on barstools at the bar. My friend, Rudy, ordered a beer from the bar and then sat next to me. Music blared over the stereo system.
Not a lot was happening in the bar. It was pretty much paranormal vacant. Except, I was starting to feel that sooty feeling again, like the whole building had been covered in ashes. I smelled fire in the air, and I wondered if there was a chimney nearby. I even went so far as to get up and look outside the picture windows to see where the smoke smell was coming from. I realized the curtains smelled like the pungent scent of burning wood, and I thought that to be odd.
The bartender came over to our table to see if Rudy wanted another beer. Since the bar seemed to be void of anything paranormal, Rudy declined and we decided to leave. But before we left, I asked the bartender if The Spirit Room had a fire anytime recently. She looked at me oddly and said, “No.” There hadn’t been any fire in years. I asked her why there was the smell of fire in the air and in the curtains. Confused, she said there wasn’t a fire smell in the air, and she wasn’t sure what I was talking about. I looked at Rudy for confirmation, and he didn’t smell the fire in the air either.
The smell perplexed me. I knew that the bar wasn’t haunted, but at the same time, the sense of fire was definitely coming from building. Still, when I first got out of the car I got the same sensation of soot and ashes in the air, like I was going to be choked from its heaviness. There was something obvious about Jerome that I was missing…
We left The Spirit Room to see what else Jerome had to offer. On the other side of the street there were steps tangled with vines and weeds that lead to another street. That’s how Jerome was fashioned; stairs were like bridges between the different levels of the city. You could drive around in circles or you could hoof up the steep stairways, get some unintentional exercise and save some time.
At the first flight of stairs there was a dirt area. Trees shrouded the area in shade. A tall brick wall lined the back of the area creating a faux landing. Shrubbery loomed over the wall’s edges. To the right, a simple mismatched playground stuck in the dirt with a set of small concrete picnic tables.
Rudy and I trudged up the stairs to the landing while we waited for our two friends who were shopping. He dragged his fingers along the wall to see if he got any impressions. I looked out over the landing at Main Street. The smell of fire was back, and this time it hovered over the city like a dark cloud of brimstone and fallen ash raining over the city. It almost felt biblical in proportion. This was getting creepy.
Rudy and I decided to take a break and went to the Connor Hotel gift shop to peruse the wares. I’m not one for baubles and postcards or other tourist paraphernalia. Don’t get me wrong, I love to shop, and often find myself in a euphoric state at department store sales. However, nothing at the gift shop inspired me to take out my wallet and give up the green. Still, there were lots of pretty, lovely items to appreciate and I wandered around enjoying the leisure time. Or so I thought.
At the Connor Hotel gift shop there is a display case on the left hand side of the room. Next to is a wooden table full of books. For the life of me I cannot remember what is in the glass case. I was distracted by what happened next. The specifics of how I came to touch the wall of the gift shop are a little blurry to me. Later, piecing the incident together, I must have been looking at something in the case at, an angle, and put my hand up to the wall for balance. It’s the only action that makes sense since the wooden table is in the way. I guess it doesn’t really matter how my hand ended up touching the wall, but in all cases my fingers grazed the butter yellow wall (or at least I remember it being yellow.)
A sharp, dizzy feeling washed over me, and my knees nearly buckled. For a moment, I thought was going to fall to the floor and pass out but, luckily, I caught myself and refocused. The spinning didn’t go away, but I took a breath to steady myself. There was a point where I contemplated taking my hand off the wall, but everything was happening so fast, I wasn’t able to act on any realizations.
Suddenly, the room around me gave way, and everything turned black. I felt like I was in some weird time loop. There wasn’t a floor or a ceiling, just infinite blackness.
I heard voices yelling and someone screaming. It was early morning and the sky was still inky with night. There was a commotion outside, hysterical people congregating on the streets. Someone was screaming again.
There was fire all around the building. There were guests on the second floor who were not able to get to an exit because the building was already engulfed in flames. A panic-stricken man stared out a second floor window. He eyed the climbing flames with fright and horror. The man opened the window and did the only thing he could do.
He wasn’t the only one, though. There were others who had no other choice…
I pulled my hand away from the wall. Stunned, I blinked a few times and looked around. I was back in the present day gift shop. I spotted my friend checking out more cat stuff. Not much had changed, and I realized I had only been in a trance for a few seconds. Disturbed by the intensity of the impression I had witnessed, I stepped outside and sat down on a bench. A mixture and grief washed over me and I took a moment to compose myself.
This was one of the last experiences I had with the “fire” in Jerome because I decided to turn off my abilities and have a little bit of fun. It was all getting to be a little bit too stressful and ridiculous because I had no historical basis on why I kept smelling smoke and seeing people jump out of buildings. Sometimes, getting impressions – especially one of burning cities – is not life affirming. It feels to much looking into the faith of death and I was not ready to face that particular fear.
Later, in my research of Jerome, I found out why I kept smelling fire, and I felt really silly because it was the most obvious conclusion. The city is notorious for burning to the ground on more then one occasion.
From 1897-1899, fire swept through Jerome four times, and that’s not counting other buildings that were afflicted with fire issues throughout its history. The Conner Hotel burned down twice which would explain the impressions I “saw” in the gift shop.
Even though, I felt slightly stupid for not figuring it out, still, I felt a whole lot better knowing there was a very logical conclusion to my impressions. I was beginning to think that I was starting to lose my mind to some post-apocalyptic nightmare. Really, I was being true to myself and my psychic abilities taking in the most prominent impressions first then sorting through the rest. Only in Jerome, there were so many fires that ravaged the city and ruined so many lives; it was hard to get past the trauma of the events to be able to interpret anything else.
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