Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, Nov 18th, Bisbee, Arizona


We drove from Tucson to Bisbee today,  a town Pat mistook for another place we’ve once visited.  We’re glad we went, however, as I got a new hat that Pat bought for me.   But more on that later.

The drive there took us past Tombstone, and I was looking forward to stopping.  As we approached the town, I imagined I was riding a horse, and perhaps had just come off  a cattle drive.  I could see the town from a few miles away, as it sits on the side of a hill, in front of some very large mountains.  On entering the town, the first sign we saw let us know we’d just passed the Cemetery.  Then, a large sign advertized daily reenactments of the shootout at the OK Corral.  Since it was past noon, I wondered if we’d missed the show.  Soon, every highway restaurant and hotel we saw bore the name of one or more of the characters in every western I’ve ever seen.   Just after a curve in the road, and an abandoned motel,  I saw to my right a street with wooden buildings extending over a small hill.   In a split second, I decided to stay with my imagined Tombstone town, and pass on the possibility that reality would spoil what childhood memories I still have.

We reached Bisbee, now properly named Old Bisbee, and founded a couple of years after Tombstone (1880).  Some army scouts had been chasing a Native American up a canyon, and decided to make camp at a stream.  The sides of the canyon sparkled too much to ignore, and soon mining claims were being filed.  For the next hundred years, technology and American consumerism drove entrepreneurs to pursue copper via underground shafts and drilling, and lately from open pit mining.  This area of Arizona has provided the largest single concentration of copper in the U.S. ($5 bilion worth in 2007), and positions the U.S. as the third largest producer in the world (after Chile and Peru). 

The Museum in Old Bisbee is located appropriately at the home office of the Phelps Dodge Corporation, owners of the largest copper mine in the area, and I was happy to see that a corner of it is dedicated to storing and cataloging all of the records anyone can find from the town and its surrounding territory.  Dr. Harvey Lovett, 90, sat in a corner chair , and told me of the work he and his volunteers have been doing for decades.  I asked him about his current project, digitizing a wall of three-ring binders of photographs of the town.  “The hard part is trying to write what to call the photographs.  Anyone can probably tell it’s a photo of the main street.  The trick is to know it’s a picture of the Oriental Saloon, and what year it was taken by the condition of the building.  It takes someone old to do that, and I guess I’m qualified.”  I asked him how long before he had the photo collection finished.  He said about a year, a lot quicker than it took him to digitize the 20,000 headstones in the local cemetery.

By the way, Old Bisbee's Gay Pride Days is considered one of the top five rural gay pride days by, and has its own website ( The 2008 Bisbee Gay Pride celebrations included a Leather and Lace Street Party, poolside BBQ, a lingerie pub crawl, the Bert Lundy Dance Party, and a turn-of-the-century ball.[8] Ten U.S. AIDS Memorial Quilt panels were on display at Bisbee's famed Copper Queen Hotel.[9]The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a five kilometer run through Bisbee that goes up and down 1,034 stairs. Because much of Old Bisbee is built in the hills of the Mule Mountains, many of the houses can’t be reached by car. Billed as "The most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA!" by the organizers,[11] it includes being serenaded by musicians at various locations among the stairs. The event has grown to include the Ice Man Competition, designed to honor the history of men delivering blocks of ice by hand before the advent of refrigeration. In the Ice Man Competition, entrants race up 155 steps carrying a ten-pound block of ice with antique ice tongs.

But the most fun we had was spending time with S. Grant Sergot, whose been called the best hatmaker alive.  In a Victorian style storefront at 47 Main Street, his salon (Óptimo Hatworks) is a showcase of original panama, and hand-formed and finished fur-felt hats.  One of the true artists in hat-making, Sergot works in both contemporary and period fashions, and cleans, re-blocks, and restores important antique hats. 

When we arrived, he was interviewing Karl, a young man from Los Angeles.  Karl had inherited his grandfather’s collection of hats, and had brought over a couple to see what could be done to restore them.  We listened attentively as Grant examined each, and instructed Karl in their proper cleaning, storage, and use.  He measured Karl’s head with an ancient metal hat-like tool which seemed more designed for a phrenology examination.   While I took some photos, Pat spotted a felt hat at the top of several rows of hats on display.  When Karl’s lessons and fitting had reached a pause, she indicated we were interested in it.  Grant and I talked about hat styles, top and brim sizes, and about fur and the variety of animal hairs which could be used.  We measured and tried on several, and concluded that I was a 7 ¼+ hat size, and that rabbit with a standard band would suit Pat’s checkbook.  At that, we’ve bought suits for less.  But it’s worth every penny.  As an heirloom sculpture, if cared for well (included were at least 30 minutes of grooming, handling, and storage instruction), it will become an important addition to our collection of art.  And the name of S. Grant Sergot, and Óptimo Hatworks, will be on our lips as the source for the highest quality hatwear.

Here's a link to the photo I took today:  Bisbee, Arizona


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