Route 66 Revisited

Route66

Abandoned Cars, Route 66, Arizona. Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. (Click on picture to view on Library of Congress Site).

I recently had the good fortune to be invited to serve as the Arizona State Archives representative of the Route 66 Archives and Research Collaborative (ARC). This year’s annual meeting was held at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The project, sponsored by the National Park Service and headed by Kaisa Barthuli in Santa Fe, brings together representatives from archives all along Route 66. (The website is currently a work-in-progress, but to learn more about the founding institutions, see: http://www.nps.gov/rt66/ARC/)

I saw representatives of this group (Kaisa; Sean Evans at Northern Arizona University; and Jennifer Day, then at Oklahoma Historical Society) present at the Society of Southwest Archivists/Conference of Inter-Mountain Archivists conference in Mesa last year, and it was before a packed room. The session really brought home the impact that Route 66 continues to have on constructions of American identity. The nostalgia and myth that has grown up out of the Mother Road has extended far beyond U.S. borders, and has become a fascination for folks all over the world. On a personal note, my mom grew up along Route 66 in California. A classic Route 66 story, her family lost their business along the highway when their stretch of road was bypassed by the freeway. (Amazingly, a postcard featuring their family cafe is featured on the Illinois Digital Archives!)

In light of the pop-culture/kitschy/mainstream appeal that Route 66 has, I was really excited to think about how our collections at the State Archives might fit into the larger narrative of the Mother Road. Sometimes, government archives collections have the tendency to be a bit dry, lacking the same appeal that a fantastic manuscript or photograph collection might have. But our collections do have the potential to contextualize, corroborate, or even contest myths that evolve. Here’s one of my favorites research projects that emerged out of my trip north.

MountainLions

Zoo Remains, Two Guns, Arizona. Photo by Libby Coyner. March 2013.

I don’t think I can even begin to describe the mind-bogglingly bizarre stories that surround the Two Guns site that occupies a deserted stretch of Route 66 between Flagstaff and Winslow. Long story short, it involves the remains of TWO zoos, the skeleton of a KOA campground, something called the “Apache Death Caves,” a cement bridge across Canyon Diablo, old crumbling service stations, and a story about a gunfight that left one Mr. Earl Cundiff dead. The story got even stranger when rumors began to circulate that in trade publications that Russell Crowe had purchased the site for $3 million (not true). For a more detailed account, the Arizona Daily Sun has published this article. Or just Google it! You’ll find about a million different versions of the story.

CundiffRuins

Just across an old cement bridge that was part of the first inception of Route 66, the ruins of the Cundiff store are still a fun spot to climb around. Just watch your step with the little porch out front, which appears to be rotted through! Photo courtesy of Sean Evans, Northern Arizona University. March 2013

At the very least, I thought maybe our Coconino County Superior Court criminal cases might shed some light on the situation. I was delighted to learn that the case itself was very rich! Not only did we have information on the jury, the case transcripts, but we also had all of the testimony! (Pardon the quality of the testimony scan…it didn’t want to cooperate!)

MillerCundiffCase

But the best part was what I found next…

TwoGunsBullet

That’s right! We had the bullet from the case filed in with the rest of the paperwork!

But if you’re wondering why Mr. Miller never shows up in the Department of Corrections prison registers for the Florence Prison, here’s why…

MillerVerdict1

on June 26, 1926…

MillerVerdict

the jury found Miller not guilty!

 

All in all, this was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to further collaboration with these folks! Here are a few other highlights from the trip…

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