Walter Swan’s Simple Plan (Part 1)

This is a reprint of a story I wrote in December 2009.  I thought of it when I was talking about the Journalism Department at UNM yesterday, and I realized some of you haven’t had the pleasure of being semi-forced to read it.  I offer it up in two parts….

The one time I actually interviewed for a job in the journalism field, was as a sports reporter for the Douglas Dispatch in Douglas Arizona. Douglas sits on the Arizona border across from their sister city, the Mexican town of Agua Prieta. Sounds beautiful, but roughly translates as “dirty water”. The town of Douglas was established as a smelter site for the copper mines of Bisbee and was named after mining pioneer James Douglas.

It’s in Cochise County, Arizona, and that might sound familiar as the County is named after an infamous Chiricahua Apache, named Cochise. No photographs exist or were ever taken of Cochise, and he was buried in a secret location in the Dragoon Mountains. I’m telling you this, if for no other reason, because I find it interesting, and very similar to another infamous Oglala Sioux, named Crazy Horse. It seems they didn’t want their pictures taken because they thought some gadget like the camera could capture their soul and would be harmful to them, so it was taboo. I think it is interesting that two separate tribes had the same feeling about it. Well, anyway, I digress as usual.

I saw the job listing in the Tucson Citizen classifieds, and since I was currently self-“un”employed, I sent them a resume and some writing samples from my days as a reporter for the University of New Mexico newspaper, the “LoBo”, my only actual newspaper “experience.” I actually got a response, which surprised me, until I thought about it. That’s when I realized there probably weren’t too many people applying for a job in a dusty desert town on the border of Mexico with a population of 18,000 on a newspaper with a circulation of considerably less than that. I even got an interview. I was to be in Douglas in the newspaper office at 1:30 on the following Wednesday, and I was told to be prepared to do a short writing exercise. Piece of cake, I thought so I didn’t see any need to prepare.

I had never been to Douglas, had never ventured that far south in Arizona, and was actually looking forward to the trip. We figured it would take us a little over two hours to travel the 120 miles, so as not to be late for my interview, we left at around 8:00 in the morning. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the drive was uneventful until we came to the Mule Mountains and went through a tunnel. I love tunnels for some reason. This one is called the MulePass Tunnel.

When we emerged on the other side, there in front of us, in the canyon, was a quaint little town that resembled, at first view, a turn of the century San Francisco. So much so, that they used it as a movie set for San Francisco in “Young Guns II”, we later learned. We had seen the resemblance immediately, except there was no ocean or San Francisco Bay. It is also known as Arizona’s mile high city at an elevation of 5,300 ft.

Bisbee Houses on the Hillside. (Photo by Phillip Capper - Flickr Creative Commons.)

We pulled off the road at the first exit and just marveled at the place. It was like the tunnel had been a time machine and we had driven back to the 1900s. There was a tall brick building that caught my eye right away, it had a cupola over a Mickey Mouse clock tower, and it was for sale. A two-story building, renovated with four apartments and two retail spaces on the lower level for a mere $120,000. Might as well have been $1.2 million as far as me being able to afford it, but it seemed cheap at the time.

One of the more interesting buildings was “The Stock Exchange, which was originally a Brewery that was closed during Prohibition, then became the only NYSE between Missouri and San Francisco, and operated as such until 1964. The Stock Exchange, now a Bar and Restaurant is currently for sale for the paltry sum of $600,000. See how prices have gone up?

There were many other fine old brick buildings on Brewery Gulch and Main Street: Central School, the YMCA, the YWCA, two bank buildings, the post office, all looked as if we had gone through that time machine. They were little changed from when Bisbee was a mining town, a company town owned by the Phelps Dodge Company. For a time, during the early 1900s, the population exceeded that of Tucson.

We walked over to the Copper Queen Hotel and had an early lunch in the period restaurant. It was there, from talking with the waitress, that we learned about John Wayne being a frequent guest. They even had a suite named for him in the hotel, she told us, the room where he actually stayed. He believed that the copper in the area would be beneficial to his cancer treatment. The hotel has documented ghosts also. You really should check this place out at http://www.copperqueen.com

We hated to leave, there was so much we wanted to see, but I did have that interview at the Douglas Dispatch. We arrived about an hour early and drove around Douglas for a while just to check things out. We weren’t impressed. We found the offices of the Dispatch on 11th street, where I’m sure they had been for some time and are still located there today. My wife sat out in the car while I adjusted my suit jacket and entered the building. (To Be Continued.)

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1 Comment

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One response to “Walter Swan’s Simple Plan (Part 1)

  1. You know how I love a story with a cliff-hanger at the end…(love the pictures as well, dusty though the scenery may be)!

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