I’m hunting for ghosts in historic Jerome, Arizona, the once-proclaimed Wickedest Town in the West, where “spirits” from the past are said to make regular appearances. 

The town’s history is so rife with sensational tales of murder, mayhem and haunting that I’m confident some of its spectral A-listers—like Headless Charlie of the tragic mining accident (no need for gory details) or Jennie Banuters (a notorious madam who died of multiple gunshots)—will pop their heads out of their hiding places (okay, that may be tough for Headless Charlie) long enough for me to snap some photos, paparazzi-style. 

A two-hour drive north from Phoenix, Jerome was founded in the 1880s as a copper mining camp. As word of its rich copper deposits spread, the camp mushroomed into a raucous mining community that boasted a population of more than 15,000 by the 1920s. Why was it the Wickedest Town in the West? Because it offered just about every conceivable vice to its residents. 

Jerome fell on hard times during the Great Depression and dwindled to a population of just under 45, but it has bounced back a bit and now 450 people—and an undetermined number of spirits—reside here full-time. The town sits high atop Cleopatra Hill and boasts stunning views of the Sycamore Canyon and the Mogollon Rim—the beginning of the Continental Plateau that goes all the way to the Grand Canyon. It is an artist colony boasting galleries, restaurants and gift shops. Anyone with a pair of comfortable shoes can strike out for a day of gallery-hopping or a night of ghost-hunting.

My own night of ghost-hunting begins outside the New State Motor Company building, where I join a small group of skeptical tourists for the Just Jerome Haunted Tour, offered by Tours of Jerome. John Reynolds, our silver-haired guide, starts things off by showing us how to work the hand-held Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors he has provided, which are common tools used in paranormal investigations. While we might capture floating orbs or even shadowy figures with our cameras, he explains, the EMF detectors can help to alert us to ghostly presences by lighting up when we are near them.  

When I ask Reynolds if he believes in ghosts, he says he started as a skeptic, but so many odd things have happened in his one year of conducting the tours, including tour guests’ EMF readers inexplicably lighting up and guests capturing strange images on their cameras, that he now concedes: “I’m open to the potentials.” 

I decide to be open to the potentials, too, and keep my camera poised while Reynolds tours us around the town’s most haunted and historic buildings. Inside the still-popular Connor Hotel, we’re told that modern-day guests in Room 1 have reported hearing laughing and whispering, and that a ghostly dog is often heard growling in Room 6. We clutch our EMF readers as Reynolds regales us with story after story of hair-raising hauntings. 

But my EMF reader does not light up, and, alas, no ghosts appear to indulge my inner paparazzo. My photos do reveal two things, though: first, the tip of my finger is in every shot and, second, I need to take a photography course. Or wait—is that really my finger? Aw, Headless Charlie, you camera-shy charmer.