Going Back to Bisbee

Going Back to Bisbee is actually the title of a book written by Richard Shelton, who first came to southeastern Arizona as a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca. Years later he started his teaching career at Lowell School in Bisbee. It turns out he and I were there at the same time, but since I was attending Greenway School rather than Lowell, we didn’t meet then. I encountered him much later when I was working in the English Department at the University of Arizona where he started out as an Instructor and eventually became a much respected professor.

His book came out in the early nineties, and it talked about what it was like to live and work in Bisbee in the late fifties and early sixties. Reading it taught me things about my hometown that I had never consciously understood before. For one thing, there was a very real social divide between the professionals in town, the white collar folks, as opposed to the ones who did work that called for khakis. When my father switched over from brown to white, his kids—this one at least—ended up in a kind of social limbo. Although that wasn’t clear to me at the time, the creative part of me obviously noticed because, by the time I read Going Back to Bisbee, Joanna Brady had lived through a very similar circumstance.

But today I’m borrowing Richard Shelton’s title, because, in a very real way, I, too, am going back to Bisbee. The schedule for and surrounding the Tucson Festival of Books has been finalized. At the festival I’ll be doing two panels a day both Saturday and Sunday. Check the schedule page of my website, www.jajanceauthor.com for timing details. However, over the years I’ve heard from people who have been unable to attend my panels at the festival because they were already booked to capacity. As a result, I’ve decided to add in one more public event where overcrowding shouldn’t be a problem. This one will be held in Bisbee, on Monday, March 11, the day after the festival.

I attended Bisbee High School from 1957 to 1962. The new high school was supposed to be ready in September that year, but it wasn’t, so from September to Christmas I attended the ‘old’ high school in uptown Bisbee where wooden desks were stationary and attached to the floors by a metal framework. The “new” school had movable desks. The old one had no auditorium or cafeteria. The new one had both. The auditorium was large enough to hold the entire student body which numbered eight hundred students at the time.

As a high school student I enjoyed going to assemblies—both the sports ones in the gym and the guest speaker ones which were held in the auditorium. I loved that fact that on those days, a few minutes were shaved off each class so we could attend. I don’t remember all of the guest speakers, of course, but I know one of them was from NASA. Do I recall what he said? No, but I know for sure is that one of the kids in the auditorium that day ended up working for NASA his whole adult life. Did that assembly light the spark that led to his career? I don’t know for sure, but it’s certainly possible.

A lot of things have fallen by the wayside in recent years, and I suspect that school assemblies have mostly gone the way of the dodo bird. So I’ve hired myself to do an assembly at Bisbee’s “new” but now more than sixty year-old high school. It’ll be held in the auditorium. There will be high school kids in attendance, but the student body is much smaller now, so that means there will be a good 400 empty seats. As a result, I’ve now made arrangements for the assembly to be open to the public.

I know that many of my readers have put going to Bisbee on their bucket lists, so that’s why I’m writing this now—to give people some advance warning in case they want to make plans to attend. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Why on earth would I want to go to a high school assembly?” Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that while visiting England, I spent a whole day tramping through the village where Daphne DuMaurier grew up. By then, of course, she was long gone. In this case, the author will be in attendance.

I don’t have a new book coming out this spring. The next Beaumont book, Den of Iniquity, is due out in October. So what am I going to be talking about? I’ll talk about what going to school was like back then. I’ll mention the teachers who helped me chart my path as well as the ones who tried to derail me. But most of all I want to be present. I want to let this generation of kids know that even though they may be living in a small former mining town in Arizona, it’s still possible for them to grow up and live their dream. How do I know that’s true? Because it happened to me.

So if Bisbee happens to be on your bucket list, think about showing up there on March 11, 2024, at 11 AM. There’ll be plenty of room in the high school auditorium and plenty of parking, too. Bisbee High School is located at 675 School Terrace Road. You won’t be able to miss it. The school is actually the only set of building ON School Terrace Road. After the assembly is over think about hanging around town to explore the shops and galleries. Have some lunch. If you have some extra time, maybe sign up for a Lavender Jeep Tour or the Mine Tour. Then, as you head back to wherever you’re going, as you pass through the Mule Mountain Tunnel, expect to see some of the bluest skies you can possibly imagine. It’s probably only a trick of the eyes after passing through the dimmer light of the tunnel but seeing that swatch of bright blue sky is one of my favorite parts of going back to Bisbee.

Hope to see some of you there.

37 thoughts on “Going Back to Bisbee

  1. That sounds wonderful, I wish I could attend. I truly would love to hear your talk. I’ve been to Bisbee and my parents went down the mine with us. It was so exciting!

  2. I remember those desks and vaguely how beautiful I thought they were being around 9 or 10 at the time in one of the oldest schools that is still being used with “modern” upgrades because it’s in “that” area of town where voters are assured that “equal” is being done.

    The next school I went to had those desks as well, but I remember them being battered and bruised and difficult. This school lasted eons after I left it, empty while a rendition of its name was created in another area as a magnet school of open learning. Both these schools are lost to history and memories. The oldest to the bulldozer, the other to a different use.

  3. I have Richard Shelton’s book. I can see it now on my bookshelf. A friend gave it to me when I lived in Laughlin, Nevada, during my “Southwestern Exposure” time in my 20s. Those years included Tucson, Kingman and then Laughlin.

    I started my journalism career there, at the Bisbee Gazette. I lived in a fifth-wheel trailer in the Shady Dell RV Park in Lowell. It was, as I remember, at the base of the cemetery. Loved it.

    Walking and running in the cemetery, exploring the town, finding interesting stories and reading your books are memories that are all tied together from my time there. Thanks for sparking memories that make me smile.

    My friend knew I lived in Bisbee for a time. I know I read it 30 years and hundreds of books ago, but I don’t remember it. It may be time for a reread.

  4. If only I could be there!
    Years ago when we visited Bisbee to see Joanna Brady’s hometown, we stayed at The
    Copper Queen, ate at the hotel restaurant, took the fascinating mine tour, and walked around downtown- At the time there was not, as far as we knew, a tour dedicated to JaJance-related features-
    One aspect I remember clearly was the hilliness of Bisbee- Also how cool it was compared to Tucson in the summer-
    All-in-all, it was a very interesting and memorable visit- It is not often that it is possible to inhabit a major part of the life of of a beloved fictional character-

  5. I was just on the website for the Tucson Book Festival. I am going to try to talk my sister into going with me. I believe that it is a first come first seated format. Is that correct?.Sounds fun.

    • I believe Friends of the Festival are able to reserve some seats in advance. The rest are on a first come, first serve basis on the day of the event.

  6. Thanks for going back to your “roots” in Bisbee and inspiring those in high school to follow their dream. The seed planted can grow into a fully productive plant.
    My sister and brother-in-law love Bisbee and I spent time with them and their family as we rented the Music House complete with a different music theme in every bedroom. We enjoyed the hometown play, the downhill homemade cart race, the food, and the shops. It is a taste of small-town life.

  7. Really wish I could be there, but my traveling days, except with help, to visit my grandkids, are over. I am hoping you will tour in the Dallas area one day before I can no longer travel at all.

    However, today I want to talk about Camels In Virginia and say thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU JA Jance. I have known I needed hearing aids for years and kept says ‘one day’. After reading your blog I decided it was time and made an appointment with an audiologist. $4,000.00 was way more than I could afford, so I convinced my son [because of what you said in Camels] that I could get a lesser priced hearing aid that would still work. Last Saturday I got hearing aids. Didn’t go for the $200.00 ones, but didn’t pay $4,000.00 either. Needless to say, I love them. I have to keep touching them to know they are even there. Yesterday I had lunch with a group of friends, and for the first time, I could hear the conversation from the other end of the table. So, one more big Thank You.

  8. Another fun blog that brings back memories. In Jr. High, when I went to school, the last class of the day had to clean up the classroom before going home. We’d wipe the blackboard, clean the erasers, and sweep the floor. The most vivid memory was how hard it was to get a push broom up an down the rows beneath those bolted down desks. By the time I made it through high school all the desk tops were marked by initials and various other things. Two of those markings have stayed with me over all these years: “the weeds of crime bare bitter fruit” and, “the seeds of what we may become are in us all”.
    Have to say I envy everyone who will be attending the Bisbee event. I hope to hear about that later on from those fortunate enough to be there.

  9. How thoughtful! What a gift you are giving the high school kids and the people of Bisbee (those who attend and those who depend on tourism dollars!).

    Ceci

  10. Another wonderful place to spend your tourist dollars, and help a local business at the same time, is to visit the Bisbee Coffee Company down on Main Street.

    Especially if you like coffee…I used to make a trip four times a year from Mesa, just to do a drive, and have a great cup of coffee…and, of course, do some sightseeing.

    If I didn’t live in Florida now, I’d be there.

  11. I live in Sierra Vista and I will be there for sure. I met you the very first time in Bisbee at Atalanta Book Store where you were signing books back in the late 80s.

  12. Thank you for the gift from your heart to enable more of your fans to see you!
    You will never know how precious is the gift of your time! God bless you, Judy, and keep you safe, healthy, and happy!

  13. Several yrs ago, I emailed you about a big trip my husband & I took in our RV, & that Bisbee had to be on that itinerary. I had to see what was real in the Joanna Brady series. A woman at an independent bookstore downtown was able to answer my questions. Plus, coming into Bisbee from NM, we passed a sign that said “Skeleton Canyon”, & I yelled “That’s the title of one of her books!” At that time the bookstore had stacks of your latest book & you were going to be in Bisbee the following wk. Unfortunately we were going to be miles away by then. I did buy the book. We loved Bisbee!

  14. I plan to extend a trip that ends in Tucson near the end of the month of March. My plan is to Bisbee and maybe stay at the Copper Queen and then explore a little. Sorry I’ll miss you.

  15. Sounds wonderful. I was wondering if you would ever consider writing a blurb about your amazing audio book actors–the voices behind J.P. Beaumont and Ali Reynolds, respectively. I have come to associate J.P. Beaumont with Mr. Eugene’s voice. He has a wonderful cadence and inflection in his readings.

  16. What an interesting trip down your memory lane again. Thank you! We wish we could attend this March but have other commitments. Our granddaughter will be a freshman at ASU next Fall. We are hoping to be able to go visit her and take a side trip to Tucson and Bisbee. If we do we will certainly take in some of the sights you mentioned.

  17. I wish I could be there. I need to time my trips to Arizona better !

    Bisbee isn’t on my bucket list as I have been at least a couple of times – before I started to read your books.

    In 2000 Hal ( for those reading this besides J.A., he discovered the victim in Desert Claw ) and I went to England and spent a day at the Cheltenham Festival to watch the steeplechase races since we were both fans of the Dick Francis mysteries.

    I hope some readers take advantage of this great opportunities.

  18. This sounds like so much fun. I graduated in 1956 with I believe you sister, Janice.
    Would love to meet you sometime as I do enjoy reading your books.

  19. I’m going back to Bisbee the first weekend in March to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bisbee Kiwanis Club. I remember seeing a sign posted somewhere about a meeting at noon in that resturant. I don’t recall ever knowing anything more about the organization. It serves kids! I have been a proud member for about 10 years and a district Lt. Governor for three. I wonder how they served the Bisbee kids back then. Maybe a booth at the Halloween Carnival at Central School after the parade?

    If it were the next weekend I would extend the trip to see you again. I loved attending your book signings. Have a good visit.

    • My father joined once he started selling life insurance. In 962, he attended a Kiwanis convention in Denver, when, once again, an old guy stood up and said the organization should NEVER accept women as members. So, whenever there was a Kiwanis meeting at the Copper Queen, she had lunch in the restaurant. Once women were allowed, my mother joined. I’m not sure what her positions was, but she was in charge of collecting fines at the meeting, and she was very good at it. The Kiwanis club in Bisbee was instrumental in replacing the lights at the Warren Ballpark. They helped build the helipad at the Copper Queen Hospital.

      • I was the first woman Kiwanian in the Snohomish, WA Kiwanis Club. Served 25 years in that wonderful organization. A couple members left the club when I joined but overall the members welcomed women after that and it proved to be a big bonus for the club and community.

      • I’m glad that your parents were part of Kiwanis. Allowing ladies was quite an issue. Now women hold the highest roles internationally. It will be intereting to learn what some of their other projects have been over the years. The two you mention are probably post my years in Bisbee.

  20. We have messaged a couple of times—and many times I discover such similarities between us that it is like an “ah-ha” moment. Your mention of Daphne duMaurier brought back memories of reading her books many years ago and just adds to the feeling we have a lot in common. Maybe that is why i so enjoy your books—a kindredship of characters and personalities! Thanks for your inspiring blogs! Glenda Branch

  21. We have messaged a couple of times—and many times I discover such similarities between us that it is like an “ah-ha” moment. Your mention of Daphne duMaurier brought back memories of reading her books many years ago and just adds to the feeling we have a lot in common. Maybe that is why i so enjoy your books—a kindredship of characters and personalities! Thanks for your inspiring blogs! Glenda Branch

  22. Seems strange that I will have to go to Arizona to finally get to see you. We are going to be in Green Valley visiting family when you are in Bisbee. Guess I’ll bring my Lost Girls book along all the way from Bothell. Ha ha!!

  23. Have visited Bisbee several times over the past forty years and loved the town. Looking forward to finding the “Going Back to Bisbee” book and reading it. Sorry I will miss the book festival.

  24. Just had to say, today when I read your line, “It’ll be held in the auditorium”, I immediately went into the Charlie Brown song from The Coasters. Wonder how long that ear worm will be with me? I’ve done worse.

  25. Judy,
    It is so generous of you to take time to do the assembly in Bisbee. I will be seeing you here in Tucson during the regular scheduled times. Still, if I weren’t already expecting company on the 11th, we would drive to Bisbee to see you. We have been talking about going there anyway just because it’s been so long since our last visit. I love those hills, steps, the quaint shops, fun bars and restaurants and all the creative art everywhere you look. Seeing and listening to you in your school day surroundings will be a treat for all who attend. Wish I could be there.

  26. Thank you so much for sharing your life and experiences. You bring joy to my Fridays. I would love to be in Bisbee and at the assembly if I wasn’t in the middle of and hopefully recovering from medical procedures. Safe travels to you and yours.

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