Whether it’s the sound of phantom children playing or a spirit whistling their favorite song, interacting with ghosts is no big deal in Gleeson. Although Joe Bono knows his hometown norm is peculiar, fond memories of this shuttered stead quells any concerns about the supernatural.
“It could be friends, could be family, so it never bothered me,” Bono said.
Growing up in Gleeson exposed Bono to many cultures, from Chinese, Italian to Mexican, with all the kids picking up a few words in multiple languages.
“If a neighbor needed help, everybody would pitch in. That’s what I try to relay to people — everybody got along,” he said. “Everyone was from a different country and they came to make a better living here, so they tried to make it easier for each other.”
Bono tells his grandchildren that learning about other cultures enriched his life.
From boomtown to ghost town
Located on the south side of the Dragoon Mountains, Gleeson sits about 15 miles east of Tombstone. The defunct mining town was originally called Turquoise in 1890, getting its name from the precious gem Native Americans prospected for jewelry. In 1900, prospector John Gleeson arrived and discovered large deposits of copper while mining turquoise. He opened the Copper Belle Mine, which grew the town of Gleeson. The post office opened in October that year. At its peak, Gleeson had 1,500 residents.
The Gleeson jail was erected in April 1910 for $1,778. The facility was often used as a stopover for transporting prisoners to Tombstone. It also stored confiscated liquor during the prohibition era that began in Arizona in 1915, through the national moratorium that ended in 1933. The lockup fell into disrepair around 1938. But its barred windows were used to construct the Benson jail, which was demolished in 2006.
Gleeson’s jail got a full makeover in 2008 and now serves as a museum that preserves the lost stead’s history.
Although the rich copper ore and turquoise in Gleeson was never fully exhausted, mining operations dissipated as Bisbee grew in prominence. All major mining projects in Gleeson halted in 1958.
Bono’s father, Joe Sr., and uncle Barney immigrated from Italy around 1912, coming to Tombstone for work. When Gleeson began to grow, they seized the opportunity by opening up a general store. By 1955, the family closed up shop and relocated to Tombstone. There were only 12 people living in Gleeson at the time.
Throughout the years, the Bono family rented out the space. Its last iteration was a saloon that shuttered in the late 1980s.
Preserving Gleeson’s story
Bono’s uncle is buried in the Gleeson cemetery. During a routine stop to tidy the gravesite in 2013, he spotted a “For Sale” sign at the foot of Gleeson’s historic jail. He acquired the jail and all but one of the remaining structures around February 2014, purchasing the property from Tina Miller and John Wiest, who restored the jail six years prior. The singular property still owned by the state, ironically, is the Joe Bono Store.
His wife had passed away around the time he took over Gleeson. He knew that opening up a museum in his hometown would keep him busy, plus he had tons of Gleeson memorabilia left over from his father’s store.
He said sharing tales about his dusty town that had no running water or electricity is rewarding and gives him a sense of purpose.
“That’s why I’m here — to tell the story,” Bono said. “And I figured I’d do some good. Open up the museum for other people to come and visit, and see what life was like.”
Every first Saturday of the month, Gleeson entertains at least 60 visitors from Arizona and throughout the U.S. Most of the wandering guests are there to learn about local history and the place Bono lovingly dubbed, “the final frontier.”
Gleeson is open for private tours, which hosts a variety of groups from the Model A Ford Club of America, various rockhounds and folks interested in the paranormal.
Nights are for ghost hunters
The casual hunt for a spooky ambience is what brought Micah Cheek to Gleeson from Tucson in February. Cheek, 30, hosts a ghost story podcast that he started to liven his Halloween celebration. His new episodes will feature him reading obscure Victorian-era ghost stories in settings that offer a paranormal punch.
But Cheek got more than he bargained for in Gleeson.
He originally set up his laptop and condenser mic underneath Gleeson’s Jail Tree, which served as the town clink before the mining boom. But this self-described skeptic moved to the crumbling Bono family storefront within minutes, as the canopy of the towering oak created a foreboding vibe.
“You sort of got the feeling of being watched,” Cheek said. “It was one of the few times that I’ve been in a space where I actively got a feeling like, ‘Oh something’s in the air.’ And I came away with more questions than answers.”
Cheek admits he has yet to listen to the recordings from that night. But the shock sparked new inspiration in his creative endeavor, he said. So after he releases the Gleeson episode, he’s scouting for a new ghost town and the next scare.
“Gleeson was sort of a test run,” Cheek said. “But considering the way it went, and if the audio is good, I’d love to do this a couple more times.”