Every community has a sentiment about it. A feel – a way of being that subtly motivates all of its inhabitants. Like a river making its way to the ocean, or a stream to a river, there is an unspoken flow of events that affects all in its path.
In Jerome, a historic mining town of no more than 400 people, character is as rich as the veins of copper that once lay beneath it. I discovered quickly upon my residency here that requirement number one is that you must be something – that is something beyond ordinary. To be something in Jerome is different than let’s say being something in New York. We aren’t talking about titles and salaries. The mish-mash of residency here extends from the near homeless to rock stars, all living side-by-side, or as it is with this hillside town, nearly on top of one another.
The requirement of being something special that I speak of is more about having uniqueness, personality, and a hint of eccentricity. I liken Jerome to the town in the old television show Northern Exposure. As unconventional and bohemian-like as the characters seemed on that show they are in reality here in Jerome. Take away the snow, throw in a few cacti and there you have it.
Not all small towns are this fascinating. Add a cast with enough idiosyncrasies and suddenly the town grows definition. Certainly every community has its own bragging rights; Sedona was named the most beautiful town in the United States and Tombstone – well has tombstones. Some of these rights are even promoted on t-shirts and mugs. In Jerome, we advertise our strangeness on bumper stickers. Last week I saw two statements that summed it all up – “Jerome, Arizona. We’re all here because we’re not all there” and “Jerome, Arizona. Population – Weird.”
We are all here because somehow there is nowhere else we’d rather be. A few were actually born and raised in Jerome, but most of the old-timers left when the mines closed down in the 50s. Those who are here now are mostly transplants from the 60s and 70s, folks who have seen Jerome transform from hippy hangout turned artist colony turned tourist Mecca.
Then there are those who discover Jerome while passing through. These people come and go. It is unknown why; maybe they lacked the character to survive here. On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t tolerate the surplus of character that surrounded them.
I am in neither of these categories; I have always lived here, well in the Verde Valley, a town only seven measurable miles beneath Jerome, yet in reality hundreds away.
I had always heard about Jerome or “that place”. I couldn’t wait to grow up and move there, and finally, here I am. I can brag about being odd enough to live here yet I do feel for those who don’t quite fit in. I mean, who can compete with people like Katie L., a musician and activist who in her eighties rides her bike to town every day (straight uphill) and even rode that bike home once in the nude – just to make a statement. Or how about the guy who lives in the makeshift shed on the outside of town who has taken it upon himself to keep all of Jerome’s natural landscaping watered and pruned. The list goes on and because the town is so small, my mentioning even first names can be incriminating.
But this is what makes Jerome what it is and always has been. Nobody knows why, yet it exists. Some think it is the influence of town’s pasts ghosts, others don’t even question it. It could possibly be summed up in one little ditty that was written by a gentleman who lived in Jerome in 1898. He wrote:
“Rivers without water, clouds without rain, men are without honor and women without shame.”
Hey, what can we say?