March 3, 2015

Entertainment In Prescott a Century Ago


In later January 1915, nothing much happened in Prescott according to the Journel Miner newspaper.  Heavy snows made all travel but train nearly impossible.

The resulting slow news stories were charming:

* A couple of hundred words were given to the story of two boys who "shot the lock off the pump house (and)...After a stern lecture and cross-your-heart promises," the boys were released...

* It was observed that the mail-posts in downtown had received "so many degradations from local canines" that replacements were needed swiftly...

* It was reported, in detail, how a local woman slipped and fell on the ice. (No hospitalization was needed--simply bedrest)...

All of which gives the author an opportunity to talk in general about entertainment in Prescott a century ago...



It was a time when technology was in its infancy.  There were motion pictures (silent,) but no radio yet.  Automobiles were becoming more widely owned and clubs were formed to take massive road-trips from the East to the West.  In the summer of 1915, the town hoped to see 100 cars from a single club arrive in Prescott from New York.

It's been said that the first automobile race happened five minutes after the second car was produced.  Indeed, auto racing was extremely popular and covered in great depth at the time.  Races then were not oval-track affairs, rather they went from city to city--San Francisco to Phoenix, for example.  These multi-day races made great fodder for news editors as each day's progress was reported to excited readers.  Some of these races came through Prescott itself which always caused great excitement.

Other popular sports included baseball, bowling, and polo.  Yes, a century ago, Prescott was trying to start a regional polo league.

One of the darker forms of entertainment was animal fights.  Although illegal, these events were often reported in the sports section of the paper with such frivolity as to be completely disgusting to today's reader.  Most often, two different species were pitted against each other--a dog and a badger, for example.  Reportedly, large sums of money were wagered by prominent businessmen in sequestered, downtown  basements where the horror would take place.

January 1st, 1915, brought alcohol prohibition to Arizona.  Needless to say, the primary and historical source of entertainment on Whiskey Row had disappeared. There still were brothels (the last of which would not be run out of town until the "Leave It to Beaver" days of the 1950's!) But the whiskey (temporarily) dried up.  There was talk at the time of The Palace closing its doors forever because of it.





The story of Prescott, Arizona's only 2 story brothel as told by artifacts found in an archeological survey of the red-light district.





That meant that the most popular place for entertainment was the Elks Theater.  It offered a mixture of live acts and the above mentioned silent films.  There was vaudeville, music, singing and plays.  With surprising regularity, movie stars would often appear live--like Tom Mix--the "John Wayne" of silent films.  The price of admission was a quarter.  That's about $10 in today's money, but between the films and the live entertainment, one could spend hours there being entertained.


From 1913-1915 over 100 silent westerns were filmed around Prescott, Arizona.


For those tighter on money, there were many social events sponsored by local organizations available, including dances and dinners.  There were also summer events: Frontier Days and The World's Oldest Rodeo are still celebrated today.  The unhistoric and politically incorrect Smoki (pronounced smoke-eye) Snake Dance was once very popular and during the Depression, it helped save the rodeo.  However, it was halted in 1991.

In a few years, the first broadcast media of radio would become popular, changing entertainment forever.  But for those in Prescott a century ago, there were still plenty of ways to waste time enjoyably.

Tourist Tips:

To find out what's going on in Prescott during your visit CLICK HERE for Things to do in Prescott Also included is Hotel and restaurant info.  Be sure to check out the many summer events!

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ALSO BY Drew Desmond: