After driving up a precariously skinny road, winding up Cleopatra Hill, 5,600 miles above sea level, Jerome city begins. At first glance, the most vertical city in the United States is a small but bustling tourist den; a parade of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and saloons with all too typical gag-inducing charm. But it’s what lies behind this facade that provides the real and sinister intrigue of this tiny Arizona town.
Today, Jerome boasts a population nearing 440 people (that’s not including dogs, cats, or the undead), but in its heyday, the town was a booming 15,000 individuals banking on the success of the copper mining industry.
In 1903, the New York Sun stated that Jerome had earned the title as the, “Wickedest City in the West” because the prosperous mining town was also a haven for, to say the least, bad behavior. With an overwhelmingly male population who lived life on the less than the savory side, past-times included indulging in alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Not to generalize too much, but those endeavors had/have the tendency to lead to “fun” things like bankruptcy, mental illness, murder, and the crowd favorite, sexually transmitted diseases. This may lead some to ponder: what’s better than a town filled with sex, scandal, and drugs? The answer is a town filled with the ghosts of prostitutes, gamblers, murders, and opium addicts . . . and Jerome fits that bill.
After nearly 70 years of raping and pillaging the mineral deposits, the mines closed down and, overnight, Jerome became a ghost town. Some of the buildings began to literally slip down the hill, including the town jail, and remain in limbo today. It wasn’t until a group of artists rediscovered this gem in the 1960s that the charm and flavor of Jerome was restored. It wasn’t long before an abundance of paranormal phenomena was witnessed and Jerome earned the new title of the largest ghost town in America, and with good reason.
The most ominous and haunted buildings loom over the town from the top of the hill; the Jerome Grand Hotel and the United Verde Hospital Club House. The Grand was constructed in 1926 as a hospital to treat cases of Tuberculosis and the constant stream of mining accidents. It is estimated that around one person per day died over the nearly 30 years of the hospital’s existence, totaling around 9,000 people. It wasn’t until 1994 that the building was restored and transformed into its present day status as a hotel. Both guests and hotel staff have claimed to see full apparitions, orbs, moving objects, as well as disembodied voices, coughing, and wheezing coming from dark corners. But perhaps the most famous ghost residing here is Claude Harvey. Claude was a maintenance man who was discovered in the boiler room, presumably murdered, in 1935. Today, the paint outline of his body still exists and illustrates the fact that his head was underneath the elevator at the time of his death.
Years later, another maintenance man repeatedly complained about seeing a woman in the basement and was found hanging from a pipe two weeks later. The theory is that he was so disturbed by what he was witnessing that he no longer could face going on . . . or maybe the ghost lady was so foxy, he just wanted to join her.
While the Jerome Grand is said to be the most haunted building in the town, the Verde Hospital Club House may actually be a literal portal to hell. And this lady here can personally attest to that. The still abandoned building, save for one artist’s workshop in the bottom, lies in disarray. Every possible ghostly phenomena has occurred in this building, from doors slamming, being touched when no one is there, cold spots, and voices heard that would curl your spine. If you’re crafty, and friendly with the locals, you may just find yourself in the dark, climbing through the old morgue and hospital rooms discovering that something wicked this way comes.
Down the street, outside of “Spook Hall,” the former Community Center, a prostitute is alleged to walk back and forth between the building and a nearby hotel. It’s said that she was fatally stabbed by a miner who enlisted her . . . special talents. I think it’s safe to say, he must not have been a very satisfied customer.
Jerome continues to be a hotspot for amateur ghost hunters as well as a variety of paranormal television shows from multiple episodes of Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge.
If you plan on visiting, make sure to bring your stake-out gear, night-vision goggles, and some high-tech camera gear. If you’re staying at the Jerome Grand, you can elect for their ghost hunting tour, which includes personal use of an EMF meter, digital camera, and IR thermometer for you to use throughout the evening. Do yourself a favor, park your car, stay the night, and get to know the locals. You’re bound to learn more than you bargained for and have a hell of a good time. But be careful of the steep stairs, rickety cobblestone streets, and un-restful residents. I’ve seen more than one mysterious accident occur.
How to get there: Jerome is just over 90 miles from downtown Phoenix. From the city or the airport, cruise up the I-17 to the 89-A. If your visit is timed anywhere in the vicinity of Halloween, be prepared to make reservations, like, last year.