Wickenburg, Ariz., does and lots of them, to hear Heather Taylor, aka Heather Hassayampa, tell it.
This ghost guide extraordinaire fascinates visitors with her stories and legends about the town’s colorful characters and wandering spirits during her twilight tours that meander through the historic district of the old mining town. Taylor, her brother, Scotty Taylor (aka Raze’n Caine), and mother Gloria Brewer (aka Madam Mariha) spin stories about the early days of Wickenburg, its historic buildings and mining history, the robberies, the missing gold and the great flood of 1890. She ends with a tall tale her great grandfather, who once lived in the town, used to tell.
“After we started doing these tours, (residents) started coming to us and telling us about their experiences,” said Taylor, a science teacher and former naval health researcher who worked in San Diego. “They’ve seen ghosts at the Gold Nugget and Rancho Bar 7 (restaurants) and Chaparral Ice Cream. Many reveal themselves in the form of orbs. We’ve had visitors who send us the photos they’ve taken and you can see the orbs.”
We kept our eyes and ears open during our four-day stay in Wickenburg, but darn it, we didn’t see anything or anybody. However, we had a chat about the ghost at Chaparral Ice Cream from its new owner, Pam Rovida, while we enjoyed giant scoops of homemade chocolate chip and coffee ice creams.
“Right after we bought the store (in August 2009), we kept having problems with our coffee maker,” said the former Southern Californian. “We’d set it up to go on in the morning but it kept turning itself on in the middle of the night.”
And then there was the young customer who saw the ghost of a lady in the hall on her return from the restroom.
“The little girl just kept staring and staring down the hall looking at the ghost,” Rovida said.
Wickenburg, a town of about 5,500 if you include the spirits of former inhabitants, is less than a 90-minute drive from Phoenix. At 2,100 feet, it can be a bit cooler than the valley, but temperatures weren’t a problem during our late-February visit. The days were in the mid-60s and the recent rains had transformed the desert floor into a velvety green and the saguaros into fat, verdant sentinels.
Though Wickenburg is small, there is plenty to do in town and the general area.
A self-guided walking tour of the town (brochures available at the Chamber of Commerce in the old train station) will take you to the half-dozen, life-size new sculptures representing some of the town’s residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. You’ll meet Elizabeth Hudson Smith, the African American owner and proprietress of the former Vernetta Hotel, a newly arrived school teacher at the train station, the scofflaw parked in the shade of the Jail Tree, and several other characters who represent aspects of Wickenburg’s history.
Be on guard, too, for the 16 life-like gila monsters, roadrunners, tarantulas and rattlesnakes that dot the downtown landscape. All of these sculptures — human and animal — were created by well-known bronze sculptor J. Seward Johnson and paid for by the DeVore Foundation.
Not-to-be-missed is Wickenburg’s Desert Caballeros Western Museum, which has an impressive collection of works by Western artists, including sculptures and paintings by Frederic Remington. Also in the museum: Postcards from the West exhibit; the Mineral Room, a collection of gold, silver, turquoise and copper; the Southwestern Indian Art collection, including katsina (kachina) dolls, jewelry, pottery and baskets; the Early Wickenburg Street Scene, a mockup of life in Arizona circa 1905, complete with saloon, watch shop, livery stable, post office, church and general store; an exhibit featuring cowboy clothing and equipment; a bola tie collection; and meticulous dioramas of Wickenburg in its mining heyday.
Wickenburg Legends and Ghost Tours: http://wickenburgghosts.weebly.com/index.html
Attractions and activities: www.outwickenburgway.com
Desert Caballeros Western Museum: http://www.westernmuseum.org/
Next column: Wickenburg history, the Hassayampa River Preserve and the Vulture Mine’s ghosts and gold.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.