Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas, Arizona

Yes, there is a town called Christmas, Arizona. Or was. It’s a ghost town now. But when I ran across an article this week in the East Valley Tribune about this town, well, given that I’m a writer in Arizona with a degree in history, and it’s Christmas this week (okay, technically next week) I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it. Dang, that’s a long sentence.

So, what does the Tiszai family do for fun? We drive 80 miles to find this.

What made it more interesting is that DPS pulled up as I was taking the picture. DPS is the Department of Public Safety, the Arizona equivalent of highway patrol or state troopers. Just as I was getting ready to explain what the heck I was doing—and trying to figure out how to make it sound, well, not crazy—he pulled away. I guess he just figured we were weird city folk. He’s right about the weird part anyway.

Okay, so now that I’ve piqued your interest, don’t you want to know why we drove out there? Do we need a reason?

Christmas is at the southern tip of the Dripping Springs Mountains. It was a mining town, founded in 1902 when a prospector named George Chittenden petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt to redraw the boundaries of the Apache reservation so this mine would be outside of reservation property. On Christmas Eve, Chittenden got the news that the president had issued an executive order doing just that. Chittenden staked his claim Christmas Day and named the town after it.

Christmas had its heyday in the 20s and 30s when nearly a thousand people called Christmas home, mostly making their living from the rich veins of copper running under the town. Copper was king, bringing in as much as $41.80 a pound (it’s around $2 now). The town even had real electricity, at least for an hour, every other day. The Christmas mine was making it all happen, producing 500 million pounds of ore during its lifetime.

Of course the post office was always a popular place this time of year when people from all over the United States would send their Christmas cards to get postmarked from Christmas, Arizona. The post office closed in 1935. But even until the 1950s, mail would still come looking for that holiday postmark. Of course it just got hauled to the un-festive town of Winkleman. Which we drove through, and frankly, it looks like it’s just one step away from being a ghost town itself.

Boring bibliographical stuff (if you’re interested):
“Yes, Arizona there was a Christmas: Mining town yields only memories these days,” by Barbara Yost, The Arizona Republic, Dec. 6, 2005

So have a very Merry Christmas, even if it’s not from Christmas, Arizona.


Jenny said...

Arizona has some of the weirdest names for towns I've ever heard--and hey, I'm from Indiana and have heard some strange ones, but Christmas, AZ? Oh, and Nowhere, AZ? Yep, it's really a town. And then there's Snowflake, AZ. Doesn't sound so weird except it isn't named for that stuff in the mountians. The town was founded by Mr.Snow and Mr. Flake--hence, Snowflake. You can't make this stuff up!
So, was the trip worth it? Sounds like it.
Now this summer you can go find Nowhere, AZ and get cooler at the same time:-)
Abundant blessings!

Malia Spencer said...

I think we've got wierd names here, some of them unpronounceable to you haoles. :) I mean did you know there's actually a town name composed ONLY of vowels? Aiea, try pronounce that!

My two cents for the day. Miss you guys. Hopefully I'll see you on IM in the next few days.

Jenny, enjoy your trip!

Dineen A. Miller said...

What a history lesson. I'm impressed! Merry Christmas!

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Ha! Dineen, you should see what I cut out :)

Back in California, in the mountains near where I grew up, was an old gold mine area, Holcomb Valley. You can drive back there now and follow a self-guided trail that talks about the history of the area. Some of that info ended up in my historical which will probably never see the light of day. But I've always been fascinated by desire for quick wealth that drove so much of the settlement of the West.

Arizona was settled by some interesting people. When they were renaming Squaw Peak a few years ago to something more politicallly correct, the paper ran an article on all the strange names of towns and mountains. Some they couldn't print in the paper. That's what you get when you have miners and gamblers naming things.

Dineen A. Miller said...

LOL! What a hoot! Love the new pic, btw. Happy New Year!