PRESCOTT - "Press-kit. It rhymes with biscuit."
We are in this Northern Arizona town about a half-hour when we receive this bit of advice from a shop owner.
"Everybody's going to know you're tourists," he adds with a touch of disgust.
It doesn't bode well for a weekend trip where we were just that - tourists.
We want to find the charm of this city of about 44,000. The banners scattered around Prescott proclaim it as "Everybody's Hometown." We want to see why.
And here's what we find: It's close to 20 degrees cooler than the Old Pueblo. The Courthouse Plaza, where the Yavapai County Courthouse sits, is in the town center and hopping every day. Most shops and galleries are within a few blocks of it. There are more than 800 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The art scene is alive and vibrant. The brick buildings (a major downtown fire in 1900 meant no more wood buildings) and Victorian homes pop out. And despite our first pronunciation encounter, the people are as friendly as can be.
If it isn't your hometown, you sure want it to be after a visit here.
Haunting history makes Prescott more intriguing
The best way to get a real feel for Prescott is a walking tour. We sign up for "A Haunting Experience," an evening tour of the area around the town plaza conducted by Darlene Wilson.
Some in Prescott swear it's thick with ghosts, and after this tour, we don't doubt it.
Wilson is full of anecdotes about abandoned wives who killed themselves, hangings and strange occurrences such as objects moving themselves, tugs on pants when no one's there and an odd shift in the air around you.
But Wilson's tour also is full of fun stories about Prescott's history. The architecture, the people and tunnels (word is they are there, but no one will confirm them, says Wilson).
It starts at the Hotel Vendome, about a block south of the plaza. Silent-screen star Tom Mix rented a room there for a year at a time when he was making pictures in the area. Abby is the resident ghost in this beautiful old hotel built in 1917.
The story starts in 1927, when Abby and her husband, on their honeymoon, check into the hotel.
"Her husband went out and never came back," explains Wilson to a group of about eight on the tour.
"She locked herself and her cat in her room and starved herself (and the cat) to death."
A few houses separate the hotel from the glorious Victorian building that houses the Arizona Ruffner Wakelin Funeral Home. Old man Ruffner won that in a poker game, and the family still runs it.
The tour stops by the courthouse and she tells about William "Buckey" O'Neill, Prescott resident and one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders (a statue of O'Neill on a horse looks over the plaza). Back in 1886, O'Neill was leading an honor guard at the hanging - his first - of a murderer. When the trapdoor opened, O'Neill fainted, says Wilson. Unusual behavior for a rough rider.
Little tidbits flow as she leads the tour from spot to spot and hotel to hotel, finally ending up at the Palace Saloon on Montezuma Street, also known as Whiskey Row. It runs along the west side of the plaza.
Wilson explains how the Palace has been restored to its 1901 splendor, how belly-dancer Little Egypt once performed here, and how the Earps were regular guests. Virgil Earp won $10,000 in a poker game at the Palace.
The two-hour walking tour doesn't frighten, but it is packed with history and stories that make the town more intriguing.
The 17-acre Courthouse Plaza is the heart of the city. There are free concerts in the tree-shaded space Tuesdays through Saturdays during the summer. Folks, kids and dogs in tow, drag lawn chairs onto the grass, sit on benches, and on the steep steps leading to the courthouse to listen and visit. A blues band is playing on a Friday night in early June, and 500 or so easily lounge around to listen. A few minutes into the music, people bounce up to dance in the space provided in front of the band. Partners aren't necessary, age doesn't matter. This is a town of free spirits who love to move.
The next day, shiny antique cars line the closed-off Cortez Street, which borders the plaza on the east. On the plaza, a dog show fills nearly every inch, and the day after that, an antique fair.
On the Saturday of the dog show, we run into the Buscaderos, a group of cowboys who look as though they stepped out of the early frontier days. They wander the area in and around the plaza, guns and bullets around their waist, and tip their hats with a warm "howdy."
"We're the unofficial greeters of downtown Prescott," says the tall, lanky Dan "Shorty" Culp, who founded the group six years ago with Mike Devlin.
"We keep the Old West alive."
Not far behind the Buscaderos are a couple of Sons of the Confederacy, dressed in full Civil War regalia. They are on their way to a meeting of the Sons, but they take their time getting there as they stop to greet people and answer questions.
The town is bustling this Saturday, with people strolling through shops, galleries and the plaza. But there is no crowded feeling, or an "I'm late, I'm late" energy.
This is the place to spend leisurely hours shopping, strolling, and listening to music.
Stay right in the plaza area and feast your eyes on a richness of arts.
The blocks around the area are filled with galleries. We weave in and out of them, taking in some remarkable art. Among them:
• Mountain Spirit Gallery, 140 S. Montezuma St., has Western art, with sculptures of cowboys and horses' heads, and oversized landscape photographs (on canvas) by gallery owner Ron Evans.
• A few doors down at 134 S. Montezuma is the Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery, a 17-year-old co-op with 20 members, all of whom live within a 50-mile radius of Prescott. It features gorgeous ceramics, intricate woven works, paintings, jewelry and photography. The work is eclectic, affordably priced and speaks of the high quality of artists in the area.
• The wonderful Van Gogh's Ear, 165B S. Montezuma, is owned by four local artists and features their works as well as pieces by about 70 other local and national artists.
It's a long, narrow gallery with an enormous skylight that shines light on the work, which includes furniture, glassworks, sculptures, hand-painted silk clothing, and photography and paintings. We fell in love with the whimsical welded steel sculptures by Royce Carlson - perfect for yard art. And the blown glass by Nathan Macomber can take your breath away.
• Black Arrow Indian Arts, 130 W. Gurley St., is known for its high quality and authentic works. Loaded with intricate Zuni fetishes, unique silver jewelry, enviable belt buckles, and colorful paintings that speak to the Southwest, it's a hard gallery to leave.
This town is known for its antique shopping, and there are close to 20 stores stocked with old and older items in Prescott.
And most of them are on Cortez Street, north of the plaza.
Wander down the street, and you'll find antique dolls, silverware with obsolete patterns, artwork, furniture, clothing. It's a dizzying and exciting adventure.
A few highlights:
• Pennington's Antiques, 117 N. Cortez St., goes on and on - 7,000 square feet of antiques from 40 dealers. The first piece we spot is an oak writing desk with four drawers and a padded top in great shape for only $199. An exquisitely carved oak rocker that looks to hail from the '40s was priced at $210. Drag me away from here, please.
• Cortez St. Emporium, 115 N. Cortez, is full of nooks stuffed with vintage clothing, dishes, coins and jewelry; each nook is run by an individual vendor. Tucked in the far back is a mahogany chest of drawers for $250 (how I wish I had a pickup truck with me). This is a major find. This is not: a still from one of Elvis Presley films, cheaply framed and priced at $65. But finding that dresser made up for the schlock.
• Red Lamp Antiques, 121 N. Cortez, specializes in antiques from the years 1870-1910. There was lots of sterling and glassware, and some furniture. The find: a silver pie cutter for $5. This is a small splurge we are willing to make.
• Keystone Antiques, 127 N. Cortez, has multiple booths stuffed with dolls, furniture, lamps and even a flawless set of Blakely glasses with the cactus designs. That's going for about $250 - not a bargain, but not overpriced, either. The most tempting find: an old brass table lamp with a stained-glass shade for $55.
• Deja vu Antiques, 134 N. Cortez, is full of art and furniture and this: a vintage crystal chandelier for $220. The store is loaded down with objects, but will be even more so soon: They will be selling vintage car parts. They've a few now, but a bigger supply is expected soon.
• Merchandise Mart Antique Mall, 205 N. Cortez, is a massive place - more than 15,000 square feet and close to 100 dealers. We should have started our exploring here - we were too exhausted to go through it. We've been told there is so much there - furniture, swords, appliances and more - that a true antiquer (or plain old bargain hunter) would be in heaven.
"A Haunting Experience" ahauntingexperiencetours.com or 1-928-642-5074; $20 per ticket. Reservations required.
Did you know
Prescott was the capital of the Arizona Territory from 1864 until 1867, when it moved to Tucson. The Old Pueblo held the title until 1877, when it returned to Prescott. Finally, in 1889, the capital moved to Phoenix, where it has stayed put.
Source: Arizona Historical Society
Contact Kathleen Allen at email@example.com or 573-4128.