The allure of cemeteries as a tangible link to history is international in nature.
Countless Hollywood epics such Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Raiders of the Lost Ark have capitalized on that fascination that is often rooted in childhood stories about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, the search for King Arthur’s final resting place, or the pilgrimage into the Colorado Rockies to visit the final resting place of Doc Holiday.
For some it is fascination with a celebrity or historical figure that transforms a cemetery into a destination. The growing interest in genealogy has also contributed to visits to cemeteries. Still, for others, the allure is the history itself. As an example, frontier era history, especially in the southwest, made manifest in the faded and weathered remnants of cemeteries is often all that remain from once prosperous communities. Tragically, vandalism and the passing of time are erasing these last links to history in many forgotten towns.
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, and up to the advent of WWII, Goldroad and Oatman, Arizona on the western slopes of the Black Mountains were relatively prosperous mining camps with an economy bolstered by traffic on the National Old Trails Road, and later Route 66. They were at the heart of the last major gold strike in the the state. Today, Oatman is a caricature of the frontier era mining town, exactly what tourists expect to see when they follow Route 66 to town for staged gunfights, strolling the boardwalk, and dodging the burros that roam free in the streets.
A mine in Goldroad was recently given a new lease on life but that came at a price. The mine dump from that endeavor literally buried forlorn vestiges of the town itself leaving even less to mark the site. Following Route 66 through what once was the business district in this dusty little town, it is almost impossible to see it as it once was. It is even harder to imagine that the town once supported two business districts, one for Mexican residents and one for Anglo’s.
For Dries Bessels of Amsterdam, a founding member of the Dutch Route 66 Association, the interest in Goldroad began with research on, and a passion for Route 66. Over the years he collected a great deal of information, photographs, books with first person accounts of life in this town, and visited the site often. Fittingly, the final chapter in his research project was to visit the cemetery. This was not an easy task as the fast fading vestiges are on private mine property, and are difficult to discern in the harsh desert. Still, accompanied by author Jim Hinckley, Dries visited the site in 2016 and photographically documented a link to Arizona territorial history that will most likely be gone soon.
The allure of cemeteries, especially Arizona cemeteries that have outlived the towns, as tangible links to history are truly international in nature.