Monday, October 18, 2010

Oatman Offers Kicks Along Route 66

Oatman Hotel Room by Rich BeckerDuring the late 1930s, the Oatman Hotel became a focal point for honeymooning California couples who would come across the border to marry in Arizona, avoiding the three-day wait for blood tests. — Arizona Office of Tourism, Kingman Daily Miner, 1979

Among the hottest of all Hollywood stars to have taken the famed Route 66 to Kingman are Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The decision was rushed enough that they hadn't brought any groceries with them for the 10-hour desert drive.

Much more thought was put into being unrecognizable. Gable wore whipcord slacks, an old brown jacket, and a green hat; Lombard, a plain brown suit, hair tight up on her head, and no stitch of the makeup. (The Pittsburg Press, 1939).

They did make some stops, with Gable reportedly holding his hand over his head as if he had a headache. Of all the stops, the most famed (or perhaps infamous) was at the Oatman Hotel. In recent years, one Lombard fan had countered the claim, saying the rumor started in 1975.

But that is not entirely true. While we did not dig deep, we did find another mention dating back to 1969. The attribution belongs to Lloyd Moss, which the article described as an old sourdough who pined away for an era he wished would return. Oatman had turned into a near ghost town after Route 66 was rerouted in 1952.

The Oatman Hotel Is Weathered With History

Originally opened in 1902 as the the Drulin Hotel to meet the growing demand of miners after a gold strike, the Oatman Hotel offers nothing in terms of modern conveniences. For a donation of $35 to $55, you receive a room and bed. There is nothing else to offer, not even a front desk. They don't really take reservations, anyway. If there is a room to have, you can have it.

Oatman Hotel SignThere is no room service, air conditioning, or Internet service. Rooms do not have bathrooms or running water (the sinks are all disconnected). The one shower, tucked inside a hallway closest, is shared (and ice cold with little water pressure if you wake up after 6 a.m.). The walls are worn and thin enough to hear someone snoring or the occasional unexplained bump attributed to ghosts. There are no phones.

But what the Oatman Hotel lacks in amenities, it makes up for with convenience and charm. Convenience because you won't have to drive back to Laughlin, Nev. (17 miles), Needles, Calif. (23 miles), or Kingman, (28 miles) after the stores and restaurants close their doors. Charm because locals virtually adopt visitors who spend the night.

And while I'm not certain if the same holds true today, the Oatman Hotel was the "hot spot" for local entertainment after the hundreds of daily visitors and the wild burros that wander the town have long gone (some years ago). The residents entertain themselves, talking, dancing, drinking semi-flat beer poured from pitchers into water glasses, and karaoke.

Oatman Remains Out Of Time And Timeless.

"I came to Oatman traveling with a motorcycle gang during the river run and they left me here," one 20-something brunette had told me. "I could have gotten a ride out of town, but started waiting tables at the restaurant down the street and decided to stay put for awhile. Come on now, let's dance."

The townspeople are inclusive, cheering some of their least musical neighbors to sing specific songs, especially rockers that pay homage to highways and Route 66 specifically. Guests are not exempt. While there is no pressure, townsfolk pleasantly encourage guests to get up from the long tables and sing, dance, and become an Oatman resident for the night.

They remember you the next morning too. Overnight visitors are among the first to be first tapped for any number of activities, including bed races up main street or frying an egg on the hot pavement (in the summer). The town also hosts gunfights and wild burros still walk the streets, arriving just as the first stores open and visitors arrive, as if they too are on a time clock.

The Oatman Hotel Has Historic Charm For 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As for the haunting, the most well-known ghost is Oatie, the spirit of William Ray Flour, an Irish miner who drank himself to death in 1930 after hearing the news that his wife and children had died trying to join him. But some noises are attributed to others, children and miners who had died there decades ago.

It's the convergence of history that makes every moment there memorable. Oatman has been everything from gold rush boomtown to a holdover for Hollywood stars in their Pierce Arrows and Dusenbergs. You won't be able to book a room with the Fare Buzz flight packages, but you could always stay in Laughlin for a little more comfort.
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