Friday, September 18, 2009

Route 66: Ghosts of the Past

To prove how haunting a trip along the southwest stretch of Route 66 could be, just this morning, almost two weeks to the very hour my girlfriend and I embarked on the journey, I sat down in Starbucks to chronicle the creepy places we encountered when "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" began to play in the store. When the song was composed and originally recorded, it celebrated the rife culture along America's Mother Road, but considering some of its more abandoned and dilapidated areas now, the tune has become a spooky echo from the past. I experienced some of these spectres firsthand, and I dare journal them for public consumption, lest these ghosts haunt me forever!

Of course, one needn't hear a "boo" to feel a place is haunted, if only by its own once-glorious past. Places like the McDonald's museum in San Bernandino, where the McDonald brothers opened their first hamburger stand, or Roy's Motel and Cafe in Amboy are actually still inhabited by moderate business and infrequent tourism, but they are by no means the attractions they once were. Consider these signs I found behind the McDonald's museum (pic above), or the sheer desolate desert behind my beautiful girlfriend and me at Roy's. If these places were haunted, even the ghosts would get bored.

The Arizona desert is much more tantalizing in its paranormal possibilities, starting east of Kingman in Valentine, Arizona, appropriately named for those in love with creepy places. The Valentine Indian School was built to serve the Native American kids in northern Arizona (the white kids had a separate schoolhouse, of course) and ultimately closed in 1969. Any school yard can be scary at night, with its creaky swings and jangling tetherball chains, but this abandoned school yard made our skin crawl in the bright light of morning. I found a hole in the schoolhouse's barricaded door and took a peek inside to find the usual debris and vandalism, but the thought of a room full of wide-eyed ghost-children still waiting for that final recess bell to ring was enough to run me out of there. Lesson learned.

Further east of Valentine and Flagstaff, Two Guns and Twin Arrows await, both perfect hideouts for Batman's enemy Two-Face, if even his deformed face wasn't a sight for sore eyes in comparison. These two places are best remembered as current homes for some of Route 66's beloved "big things," to be featured in another blog post, but I'd be remiss not to include an interior pic of the Twin Arrows Trading Post I took when trespassing. I hoped to find an old menu or something, but vandals (and daring historians, I hope) had cleaned the place out of anything valuable or useful. Still, with some of the original tables in place on top of that retro-checkered floor, I imagined what this cafe must've been like in its heyday, the kind of hoppin' '50s restaurant that modern franchises like Johnny Rockets can only hope to emulate. Unfortunately, Twin Arrows took its final bow in the late '90s, the only thing left on its menu now a boo-plate special.

The Ellas Frontier Trading Post (with its adjacent Red Arrows Camp) is a similar gaping hole to the past, less protected and revered but equally interesting in its ruin.

The grand finale for anyone ghost hunting in northern Arizona lingers in the Holbrook Courthouse, which also features a museum and the original prison cell that once housed some sixteen inmates at a time. With sentences that could've lasted as long as 20 years, these guys had plenty of time to draw some of the murals my girlfriend dutifully captured on camera. Further, according to our impromptu tour guide Randy, the courthouse is still home to seven ghosts, one of whom, Mary, was a prostitute sentenced to hang for killing an abusive john. In solitary, she hastened her fate and hung herself; now she has her own bedroom in the museum, where Randy apparently engages her in conversation. Free accommodations and friendship? Who says crime doesn't pay?

To conclude, I'm compelled to distinguish between my first Route 66 post and this second installment, as both ghosts and dinosaurs are creatures from the past. The difference is, the faux dinosaurs we encountered along Route 66 were present as an homage to something long gone. These spooky places still exist in this perpetual stage of epilogue to their former glory, the desert wind that blows through the cracks in their boarded windows a last gasp of life. They're prisoners to the past, students of isolation, traded away for paved progress. You don't have to believe in ghosts to feel that these attractions are still haunted -- if only by the lives they lived.

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