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History falls victim to budget cuts

BENSON, Ariz. — This is a story of countervailing forces locked in a struggle for the hearts and minds of our countrymen — Arizonans in this instance.

Out here, beyond the paralyzing power of snow, even more lethal forces threaten civilization as we know it.

The Great Recession, two wars and warped thinking are the culprits.

When you hear the news from Tombstone you have to ask: Is nothing sacred? History, itself, is falling under the budget-cutting ax.

The Tombstone Courthouse Historic State Park will close in just a few weeks, a victim of the deepening deficit disease. All but nine of Arizona’s 27 state parks will close in an effort to save several million dollars.

Frederick Schoemehlt, editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, calls it “a sad and sorry state of affairs when a decision is made to close a place so important to Western history.”

Distracted legislators

It’s not just the Old West aura of gunslingers, Miss Kitty and hangmen that could be lost but a trove of local history contained in the 128-year-old courthouse.

In Phoenix, the state legislature is distracted by an effort to keep aliens out of the White House. Under a bill co-signed by 39 legislators, no one can become president unless he or she presents a birth certificate to state officials. It doesn’t mention its target, the current occupant of the nation’s highest office.

The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson says it would be one thing if a single lawmaker decided to seek a headline in this way. But to have 38 others sign on suggests a cowardly urge to follow the mob.

On its editorial page, the paper wrote: “If only Arizona were, indeed, part of some demented reality show that threw a gaggle of legislators together and challenged them to come up with the most time-wasting, intellectually empty and useless bills. … Supporters will, of course, try to paint those opposed to this waste of legislative effort as pinko commies who hate America …”

It calms your mind to hear the voice of sanity skewering this sort of silliness. And it is even more reassuring to find hope for the future in a most unlikely spot.

The power of words

Just outside Benson (50 miles east of Tucson), at the end of a dirt road, the well-directed book lover can find Singing Wind Ranch and the Singing Wind Bookshop: proprietor, Winifred J. Bundy, librarian, ranch hand and believer in the power of words.

“… She seems a hybrid of sprite and settler, both whimsical and wise,” wrote an admirer in the magazine, Arizona Highways.

Winn Bundy seems to have known this: Build your own bookshop and they will come.

As unlikely as a herd of unicorns or the burial place for Jimmy Hoffa, the magazine wrote, you find a collection of crisp, new books, purchased to meet the taste of visitors whose suggestions have been honored over years. The shop opened almost 40 years ago.

Word of mouth has been the advertising vehicle and the audience reaches well beyond the scattered local populace. On a recent Sunday, Ms. Bundy and friends put out a lunchtime spread of soup and salad and home-baked “beer bread” and cakes.  

Fifty or so guests sat on a chilly side porch to hear poets speak of endangered-by-development mountain wilderness and the urgent need to save flora and fauna. Their passion reminded a traveler of similar rescue efforts around the Chesapeake Bay.

Visitors heard from Murray Polesta, a photographer and proud “cactus hugger,” and Diana Stirling, a painter and poet who called the desert her “heart’s true home” and limned the “glittery specks of moonlight” found only there. Inspiration was in the wind on this day.

In Tombstone, until the end of March, one can find an exhibition of work done by the German author, Karl May, who wrote of the American West without ever having visited.

If more and more of the land and of its history are lost, we’ll be looking to Winn Bundy and Singing Wind for the only traces of what used to be.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He is the author of “Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland.” His e-mail address is fsmith@wypr.org.