Phoenix’s Insane Asylum Drove Tucsonans Crazy

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An early-twentieth century hand colored postcard depicting a seemingly idyllic scene on the grounds of the Phoenix asylum.
Image credit: Author’s collection.

Tucsonans Go Crazy Over Phoenix’s Insane Asylum

March of 1885 was a momentous month for Arizona’s Thirteenth Territorial Legislature, a group known to history as the “Thieving Thirteenth.” The legislative body described in a March 28th, 1885 Arizona Weekly Citizen article as “not excelled in its provisions for a first-class steal from the Territory” passed bills authorizing the establishment of a teachers college in the then small town of Tempe and a university in Tucson, the most populous city in Arizona at the time. The teachers college, initially named Tempe Normal School but now known as Arizona State University, received an appropriation of $5,000 while Tucson’s university brought that city $25,000 in funding. Nonetheless, Tucsonans were both disappointed with and outraged by the gift the territory’s solons bestowed upon them. In place of showing gratitude for his town’s new institution of higher education, the editor of a Tucson paper decried the Phoenix area’s capture of “the plum of the legislature pie” with “emoluments [amounting] to almost half a million” and presciently predicted that C. C. Stephens, one of Tucson’s legislators, “will be insulted when he returns.”

Why were Tucsonans so upset with their haul from the Thieving Thirteenth? Because their prize proved to be a university that the city was said to “not care a fig about.” Instead, residents of the Old Pueblo coveted Phoenix’s big score – the territorial insane asylum now known as the Arizona State Hospital and the $100,000 appropriation associated with that facility. Angry about losing this well-funded institution to the relatively new and still rather small city of Phoenix, Tucson newspaper editors wrote scathing pieces belittling the future capital city and cursing its good fortune. Southern Arizona journalists continued to attack Phoenix’s victory for several years after the 1885 legislative session adjourned sine die, as demonstrated by an August 3rd, 1889 Arizona Sentinel article expressing concern that “the Great Salt River [V]alley” was “no place for the insane” due to its stifling heat. While calling attention to “the poor suffering humanity that [sweltered] within” the asylum, the piece altogether disregarded the well-being of sane Phoenicians and conveniently overlooked Tucson’s high summer temperatures.

In the end, however, Tucsonans came to love their university, which now boasts enrollment of more than 40,000 students and an annual budget exceeding $450,000,000. With approximately 60,000 students attending courses in Tempe alone, the once-modest Normal School now lays claim to the title of largest public university campus in the United States. Phoenix’s asylum, the so-called plum of the 1885 legislative session, is now largely unknown to most Arizonans and operates on a budget of just $30,000,000 – far smaller than that of the University of Arizona. So, it seems that the much maligned C. C. Stephens has been vindicated – something likely to be deemed crazy by a Tucsonan of 1885.


Arizona’s Television Industry

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A mid-century KGUN promotional piece touting the station’s ownership of “the tallest tower in Arizona.”

Fifty years ago today, 73 million Americans tuned into The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Undoubtedly, a large number of Arizonans contributed to this record-breaking viewership figure by watching the show on KOOL (channel 10) in Phoenix and KOLD (channel 13) in Tucson, then the state’s CBS affiliates. Although both KOOL and KOLD – both of which no broadcast under different call letters – were early entrants in Arizona’s television market, Phoenix’s KPHO (channel 5) was the first Arizona-based station to broadcast television signals to Grand Canyon State residents.

KPHO first transmitted programming on December 4th, 1949, marking the beginning of a long legacy carried on by the station to this very day. While initially affiliated with all three major networks, maturation of the Phoenix television industry resulted in the channel operating independent of an affiliate for many years prior to its 1994 transition back to CBS. Despite the changes in network affiliation, the channel’s earliest days are still reflected in its still-in-use KPHO call letters and its original 1949 transmitter tower perched atop Phoenix’s Westward Ho building more than five decades after its replacement by a tower at the summit of Mount Suppoa in the South Mountains. KOOL and KOLD, the Arizona CBS affiliates that registered unprecedented ratings on the night of February 9th, 1964, both came online in the 1950s.

Savvy businessman Gene Autry, better known to many as a famous Hollywood cowboy, Christmas crooner, and onetime owner of the California Angels, held stakes in both KOOL and KOLD. Tucson’s KOLD – originally known as KOPO – came online in early 1953. KOPO was renamed KOLD in 1957 due to the call sign’s similarity to that of KOOL, its Phoenix-based sister station that first broadcast in late 1953. Other Arizona television stations first transmitting in the 1950s include Phoenix’s KTVK (channel 3) and Tucson’s KDWI (channel 9), which is now KGUN. Notably, KTVK was co-founded by Ernest McFarland, former U.S. Senator, Arizona Governor, and jurist popularly referred to as the “Father of the G.I. Bill.”

The big names have long since left the local television business, which is now largely controlled by large, out-of-state corporations vying to maximize profitability in a highly competitive environment that pits their stations against cable networks and Internet sources in addition to their local competitors. This situation differs greatly from the early years of Arizona television that were characterized by a significant amount of local programming (any Wallace & Ladmo fans out there?) and a good-natured race to claim superlatives for promotional purposes. These much-touted achievements include KPHO’s title of first station in the state, KTVK’s onetime slogan of “Arizona’s First Color Television Station,” KOLD’s tagline of “Arizona’s Color Station” stemming from its first-in-market color capabilities, and KGUN’s boast of having “the tallest tower in Arizona.” Of course, for legions of screaming teenage television viewers glued to the tube fifty years ago tonight, network affiliation trumped any of the superlatives claimed by Arizona stations. By virtue of serving as CBS affiliates and, by extension, the local home of The Ed Sullivan Show, KOOL and KOLD won a coveted spot in the memories of many excited Baby Boomers.

Senator Goldwater’s Birthday

Today is the 115th anniversary of Barry Goldwater’s birth – or is it?

Senator Goldwater’s Birthday – His Real Birthday – Is Up for Debate

2008 is not the first year that a birth certificate has factored into a presidential election. Both of Arizona’s presidential nominees faced questions surrounding their birthplaces. 1964 GOP nominee Barry Goldwater contended with a handful of people challenging his candidacy due to his birth in pre-statehood Arizona, although few seriously believed birth in a U.S. territory would preclude someone from serving in the Oval Office. 2008 Republican nominee John McCain’s 1936 Panama Canal Zone birth also brought some degree of Constitutional skepticism, although legal scholars quickly dismissed such concerns. However, a more interesting question regarding Senator Goldwater’s birth remains unanswered, and is unlikely to ever be answered definitively.

Goldwater long claimed January 1st, 1909 as his date of birth. New Year’s Day 1909 is the date listed on his Arizona birth certificate, in his official United States Senate online biography, in his 1988 autobiography entitled Goldwater (page 37), and cast in bronze on his Paradise Valley grave marker. Despite the many official references to a January 1st birth, Senator Goldwater was likely born on January 2nd, 1909 – one day later than his oft-cited New Year’s Day arrival.

Having been born at the long-since demolished Goldwater home at 710 North Center Street (now Central Avenue) in Phoenix, Mr. Conservative’s birth was not memorialized in hospital records. In addition to the lack of hospital documentation, the Senator was not issued a birth certificate in 1909. Instead, he requested that the state issue formal documentation of his birth in 1942, or thirty-three years after the event, thereby greatly reducing the document’s value as a record of Goldwater’s birthdate. Significant Goldwater family events further complicate the mystery of the Senator’s true birthdate.

Baron and Josephine Goldwater, Barry’s parents, were married on January 1st, 1907, or two years prior to the birthdate claimed by Senator Goldwater. Joanne Goldwater, Barry’s first child, was born on January 1st, 1936 – twenty-seven years after Barry Goldwater’s supposed New Year’s Day arrival. Therefore, when Goldwater requested a birth certificate in 1942, a combination of family lore and New Year’s Day family milestones may have prompted the future statesman to give January 1st as his birthdate. By the time the state issued Goldwater a birth certificate, January 1st had already been listed as his date of birth on his Equitable Life Assurance Society policy, application for military pilot training, and his daughter’s birth record, all of which were submitted with his birth certificate application as proof of a January 1st, 1909 birthdate. Period newspaper coverage of the Goldwater family scion’s birth, however, indicates that Arizona’s favorite son was likely not born on the 1st of January, 1909.

The January 2nd, 1909 evening edition of the Arizona Gazette (later the Phoenix Gazette) reported, “the clerks of M. Goldwater & Bro. in Phoenix… have a new ‘boss’,” as of “3 o’clock this morning,” serving as evidence of a January 2nd birthdate. The January 3rd, 1909 Arizona Republican (later the Arizona Republic) included an article titled “The Eldest Son,” which stated, “Mr. and Mrs. Barry Goldwater yesterday welcomed to their fireside their eldest son and heir, a nine-pound boy, who promises to add luster to a family name already distinguished in the annals of Arizona,” thus bolstering the case for a January 2nd birthdate.

So, while we may never know for sure exactly when Senator Goldwater made his debut, the strongest evidence points to January 2nd, 1909 as his true birthdate, although most official sources still reflect a New Year’s Day birth. Either way, happy birthday, Senator!



Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” – Is There An Arizona Biltmore Connection?

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A vintage postcard showing the Arizona Biltmore pool alongside which Irving Berlin reputedly penned “White Christmas.”

Having sold more than 130 million copies since its initial release, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is the best-selling Christmas song of all time, as well as one of the all-time best-selling songs of any genre. Was this holiday classic written poolside at the Arizona Biltmore, as claimed by the resort and several others who have looked into the matter? While Berlin was known to stay at the Biltmore, and, according to a January 27th, 1939 Arizona Republic article, drafted the music for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Carefree,” and “Second Fiddle” (originally titled “When Winter Comes”) at the hotel, it’s unlikely that he composed the winter hit crooned by Crosby and others while vacationing at the “Jewel of the Desert.”

The relatively unknown first sixteen measures of “White Christmas” serve as evidence of the song’s probable origin outside of the Grand Canyon State. Referencing not the Valley of the Sun, but rather, the affluent California hamlet of Beverly Hills, the often-omitted introductory section sets the scene for the rest of the number. As detailed in Jody Rosen’s “White Christmas: The Story of an American Song,” Berlin likely penned – or at least conceptualized – the iconic holiday song during a 1937 Christmas stay at the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, a setting remarkably different from the many cold and dreary New York Christmases to which Berlin was accustomed. Later in life, Berlin offered several radically different stories as to when and where he authored “White Christmas,” arguably the best-known and most-loved song in his repertoire, although none of his recollections involve the Arizona Biltmore. That a book co-authored by his daughter raises the possibility of the tune having been first scrawled while Berlin enjoyed the hospitality of the Biltmore staff, even when paired with his fondness for the resort and his creative history while a Biltmore guest, is insufficient evidence. Rather, it seems that the tale of the nation’s Christmas standard having been inspired by a warm and sunny Phoenix Christmas is nothing more than an highly questionable and overly optimistic account repeated, and possibly wholeheartedly believed, by enthusiastic resort marketers and staffers.

Indeed, the lack of evidence relating specifically to the song and its supposed genesis at the Biltmore indicates that this widely-held belief is incorrect, just as the notion of Frank Lloyd Wright being the architect of the record for the grand hotel is erroneous. While the “White Christmas” story and the many accounts overplaying Wright’s role in designing the grand structure ought to be cast aside, the luxurious retreat can rightfully lay claim to one bit of popular culture – the tequila sunrise. Originally offered at the Biltmore in the 1930s or 1940s, albeit in a form somewhat varied from the version we know and love today, the colorful drink boasts well-documented Biltmore roots. That, however, is a post for another day.


JFK in Arizona

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Page from a 1959 Castle Hot Springs brochure touting the history and amenities of the springs and resort.

Fifty years ago on this day, as reported by a November 23rd, 1963 Arizona Republic headline, “3 Shots Plunged [the] U.S. Into Grief.”

President John F. Kennedy, the charismatic young leader cut down by gunfire in Dallas five decades ago today, has a little-known connection to our state. This link is not through electoral results (he lost Arizona to Richard Nixon in 1960 and likely would have lost the state to native son Barry Goldwater in the 1964 campaign), but instead as a result of his recuperative visits to Arizona’s warm, sunny climate.

After suffering severe injuries while commanding his now-famous Navy vessel, PT-109, Kennedy convalesced at Castle Hot Springs, a resort destination northwest of Phoenix normally frequented by moneyed elites bearing names such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Wrigley. However, the posh hotel and spa served an entirely different purpose during World War II, when it was used as an Army Air Forces recuperation facility. Having already experienced the restorative powers of our year-round sunshine during a 1930s stint as an Arizona ranch hand, JFK and his family saw potential in the state’s warm winter weather and the “health-giving effects” of the resort’s namesake hot springs.

The hot springs were long-known by inhabitants of the land that would become Arizona, with Native Americans reputedly enjoying the health benefits of the 122-degree water long before any European nation controlled the area. The commercial appeal of the natural attraction proved irresistible by 1896, when the first resort opened at the site. Mid-century advertising for the Castle Hot Springs Hotel boasts of spring water “most palatable and wonderfully relaxing to bathe in.” Excluding a brief break in operations during the Second World War, the facility welcomed guests seeking the supposed revitalizing power of its waters for a full eighty years, closing in 1976 after falling victim to a catastrophic fire. The grand desert destination later served as an ASU-owned conference center, but is now all but abandoned, existing only as a handful of shuttered buildings awaiting a renewal akin to the those experienced by so many of its aching guests.