Tours uncover Mesa's hidden, haunted history - East Valley Tribune: News

Tours uncover Mesa's hidden, haunted history

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Posted: Saturday, October 24, 2009 8:25 pm | Updated: 2:48 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The streets of downtown Mesa were crawling with tours Saturday during the third annual Mesa Ghost Tour and Historical Walk.

Groups gathered in front of the Arizona Museum of Natural History - a historical structure in its own right.

The same structure that now houses dinosaur bones and educational displays about space travel once housed the City Hall, a fire and police station, as well as an old city jail.

The Mesa Historical Museum orchestrated the sold-out tour, shepherding more than 150 people through Mesa's past; descending into basements, they discovered the remnants of old tunnels, the old territorial jail, as well as the lighter side of the city's history.

Thomas Miller and his wife, Bertha, said they've been living in the city for 18 years, and didn't know half the tidbits they learned on the tour.

"We figured we'd learn a little about Mesa's history," Thomas Miller said, as the group made its way down a street past the old Bashas' supermarket.

The grocery store once stood where the Arizona Museum for Youth now welcomes regional visitors.

The grocery store still shows through a portion of its brick facade and domed roof; other features are hidden behind the additions the building has received over the years in transforming it into the ultramodern-looking youth museum.

Alice Jung, the historical museum's education coordinator, said 14 tour guides led groups of more than 10 people, crisscrossing the city's history and streets, peppered with ghost stories told by store owners on site.

At a coffee shop in downtown near Pepper Street, a shopkeeper gathered a tour group around and recounted how the now Inside The Bungalow café and yoga center was once the home of a family that may still haunt its interior. According to historical accounts, the shadow of a man lurks from room to room.

Downtown, once the home of a J.C. Penney Store, Woolworth's and other famous shops, also has a bright part to its history.

Vice Mayor Kyle Jones, who worked as a tour guide Saturday, led his group with an eye for small details he said are often overlooked.

For example, he pointed to underground tunnels that once led from one store to another below streets.

"They're mostly filled in now," Jones said. But he said the old territorial jell cell is still in the bottom of the history museum.

Across the street from that museum, Jones pointed out the city's first post office, resting quietly on the southwest corner of Pepper and Macdonald.

Far fewer visitors drop by than in its heyday.

"It's now used to store some things from the museum," Jones noted.

Jung said given the tremendous response to the tours, there may be more of a variety in the future.

"We had 165 people preregister," she said of the walking tour that offered a mix of history and ghost stories. "That's staggering."

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