It’s always a good time to visit Bisbee! Built among the hills, with long staircases and narrow, winding streets and alleyways, Bisbee has been known to conceal a spirit or two. I last visited Bisbee in October just before Halloween and had to join a ghost tour of the city. During this ourting, I was mesmerized by the sad tale of an apparition named Julia that our guide was recounting.
One of Many Ghost Stories
The exact date of her passing was lost to history but as the story unfolded, I tried to imagine what this woman was feeling…that night. Was there a fall chill in the air that day almost 100 years ago? Was the heat of June enveloping her entire being? Or was an August rain making her navigate the sea of mud quickly forming in the streets. I could only imagine.
As she hurried on her mission, the glow of new electric lights must have mixed with the light of the stars. The new sounds of jazz or blues or even ragtime that echoed from the speakeasies in Brewery Gulch may have made her smile. Perhaps she winced from the pungent odor of sulfur dioxide riding a gentle wind from the copper smelter near town.
Whatever Julia was feeling that day, it would be fleeting.
The destination she sped to, full of anticipation, was the concealed back staircase to the room she used in Copper Queen Hotel.
You see, as our guide Lee recounted on the Old Bisbee Haunted Pub Tour, Julia was a ‘lady of negotiable affections.’ Her father, having managed the hotel and wanting to keep his daughter safe, gave her room 315, so she wouldn’t have to walk the streets.
Perhaps not a prudent business decision, Julia had allowed one of her clients to descend deep into her heart. Tonight, she was to make plans with him to escape the harsh realities of living in a mining town. A life far away from the acrid smell of sweat and sour breath from the smelter workers, freighters, gamblers, bootleggers and saloon keepers, flush with cash, condescension and insolence.
The Trouble with Dreams…
But the trouble with dreams is that many don’t come true. And on this night, for whatever reason, Julia’s love rejected her.
Perhaps it was the regret she felt over her past, or perhaps fear of a future without him, whatever her state of mind, Julia took her own life that night… in room 315.
Room 315 is still available at the Romanesque Revival style Copper Queen. It is said, married men, staying alone in that room will sometimes report that Julia whispers in their ear late at night. Or she lifts the blankets at the bottom of the bed and tickles their feet playfully. She’s also been reported doing a seductive dance by the bedside.
Luckily for us, these tales and more are perpetuated by the lively spirits from the Old Bisbee Ghost Tour. These and other non-apparitions are dedicated to keeping the rich history of Bisbee alive.
You Have to Visit Bisbee!
Once known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps”, Bisbee is nestled among the Mule Mountains of southeast Arizona, world renowned for its diverse minerals and wealth of copper.
It all started back in 1877, when a reconnaissance detail of U.S. army scouts was dispatched to the Mule Mountains to in search of Apache Indians. However, what they found instead were signs of lead, copper and possibly silver.
Ultimately, Bisbee proved to be a remarkable find producing nearly three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper. Not to mention the silver, lead and zinc that came from these deposits.
The Boom-Town Flavor Lives on!
By the early 1900’s, Bisbee had become the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, with a population of over 20,000 people. Along with its cosmopolitan character, grew the rough-hewn Brewery Gulch portion of town, which at its peak boasted nearly 50 saloons and a number of brothels. Taverns like St. Elmo (36 Brewery Avenue) Arizona’s oldest bar, maintain the boom-town flavor of this period.
Bisbee remained prosperous until the 1970’s. When the mine operations no longer remained profitable and began to close, mining employees and their families left to pursue work elsewhere. The availability of cheap real estate, coupled with a comfortable year-round climate and beautiful surroundings, lured an influx of artists and “hippies!” They found Bisbee’s historic district to be an attractive, inspiring, and inexpensive location to settle and pursue artistic endeavors.
Today Bisbee retains its welcoming spirit, offering visitors a rich mix of art, music, history, architecture, outdoor activities, dining and nightlife. In fact, in 2016, Bisbee was voted ‘Best Historical Small Town in America,’ by USA Today and ‘Best Small Town in the West’ by Sunset Magazine.
What to Do
Arguably Bisbee’s biggest and most anticipated event of the year, is the Bisbee 1000 The Great Stair Climb which attracts 1,500 participants annually.
Founded by Cynthia Conroy in 1991 as a charitable fundraiser promoting healthy living in Cochise County, the event incorporates nine of Bisbee’s 82 Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) built staircases (formerly miners’ mule paths) into a giant city street race course.
At more than a mile elevation, the oldest and most authentic outdoor stair climb in the US features a 4.5-mile course that weaves through Old Bisbee’s historic hills and narrow streets, funneling the participants up 1,034 steps. The event also features the Bisbee 1000 Ironman Ice Competition (yes, participants climb Bisbee’s steps carrying a block of ice!) and the Bisbee 1000 Invitational Craft Beer Festival.
Old Bisbee Ghost Tours
PO Box 946, Bisbee / 520-432-3308 /
A tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence winner for seven years in a row, Old Bisbee Ghost Tours is the place to fulfill all of your paranormal entertainment needs! They offer a number of different themed tours, from haunted pub tours to walking tours. Each will take you on a spooky walking tour through Old Bisbee’s streets, stairways, and alleys to embark on a nocturnal adventure to discover and learn about the ghosts that haunt this hundred thirty-five-year-old town!
Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum
5 Copper Queen Plaza, Bisbee / 520-432-7071 /
The Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum has welcomed, educated and entertained more than a half-million visitors over recent decades. Featured among its exhibits is “Bisbee: Urban Outpost on the Frontier,” an in-depth look at the lives of the miners and settlers of this unique area of the southwest. What’s more, the Museum is the first rural affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution nationwide, forming a partnership between the nation’s largest museum and one of its smallest.
478 N Dart Rd, Bisbee / 520-432-2071 / Outfitted in a hard hat, miner’s headlamp and a yellow slicker, thousands of Bisbee visitors ride into the Queen Mine Tour each year—heading underground and back in time. This is a highly-recommended fascinating, up-close opportunity to experience the underground world of the miners. Retired Phelps Dodge mine employees act as tour guides, leading the group 1,500 feet into the mine and recount mining days, techniques, dangers and drama. These miners-turned-tour guides truly add a personal touch and help visitors experience what it was like to work underground.
Where to Eat
35 Main St, Bisbee / 520-432-5153 /
Café Roka delivers an unsurpassed multi-course dining experience. According to their website, Chef Rod Kass came to Bisbee in 1990 for a visit and found himself immediately at home. Kass and Sally Holcomb opened Café Roka in 1992 and it has all the markings of a Bisbee original. From Kass’ passion for quality, locally sourced ingredients to the historic building’s art deco ambiance, a dinner at Café Roka is an experience to remember. I agree!
Where to Stay
The Bisbee Inn/Hotel La More
45 OK Street, Bisbee / 520-432-5131 /
The Bisbee Inn/Hotel La More is a delightful, affordable small historic hotel, located within walking distance to all entertainment, restaurants, and shops. You step back in time as soon as you walk through the front door. Every effort has been made to maintain the period authenticity of this hotel by retaining original furniture and charm. In continuous operation since 1912, the property was originally miners’ lodging, then a Peace Corps training center, and has been a hotel for visitors since 1983.
It is also said a few specters may occupy the hotel as well! Sightings of the angelic and watchful Lady in White, known for her heroic actions by saving some young boys from certain death, are often reported. But by far the most popular ghost at the Inn is that of a kitty! The ghost cat haunts Room 23 of the hotel and, is said to like to snuggle up to your warm feet!
If you stay at the Bisbee Inn, perhaps you should leave the lights on and don’t forget to check under the bed!
The Copper Queen Hotel
11 Howell Ave, Bisbee / 520-432-2216 /
This Romanesque Revival style building was built between 1898 and 1902, and it was designed by a New York City architecture firm. The ghost house as it is known, is Arizona’s longest operating hotel, and is a place of countless paranormal activities. The building has been featured on paranormal investigation shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. The likes of John Wayne and Lee Marvin were frequent visitors.
Step back in time. Walk the very same streets that legendary lawman Wyatt Earp and his brothers walked with the likes of Doc Holliday! Best known as the site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral the town now offers a glimpse into the past with historic attractions. These include museums, history tours on foot, by stagecoach or trolley, underground mine experiences, paranormal adventures, shopping, dining and of course gunfight reenactments!