By Jim Hinckley
In November 1914, the international media spotlight focused on northwestern Arizona as competing drivers in the last Desert Classic roared into Kingman for a pit stop. At this point in the race from Los Angeles to Phoenix, mere seconds separated the top three drivers – Louis Chevrolet, Louis Nikrent, and Barney Oldfield behind the wheel of the Stutz he had driven to a fifth place finish at the 1914 Indianapolis 500.
A decade later, on April 1, the world’s attention was again focused on Kingman. The Chicago Cubs were returning from spring training in California, and made a pit stop in California. Coincidentally, the Pittsburgh Pirates were also heading home after spring training in California, and made a stop in Kingman at the same time. George Grantham, the Cubs second basemen who had once played for a Kingman team, proposed an impromptu exhibition game at the Kingman Ball Park, the current site of Locomotive Park.
In 1925, Kingman again garnered international headlines. The May 22, 1925 edition of the Kingman Weekly Miner reported, “Buster Keaton, the noted film comedian, will make a six-reel picture in Mohave County starting in a week or so. Mr. Keaton and three of his men were in here this week looking up a location and picked Tap Duncan’s Ranch.” The film company set up their headquarters for the production at the Hotel Beale. As an historic footnote, Tap Duncan was a sort of celebrity in his own right, and his ranch now operates as Grand Canyon Western Ranch near Meadview.
In October of the following year, it was disaster that placed Kingman in the headlines of newspapers throughout the United States. On the 20th of that month, Tom King, a Chinese immigrant that was also a secret member of the Hop Sing Tong, was working at the American Kitchen restaurant when a five man assassination squad from the Bing Kong Tong of Los Angeles burst through the door and cut him down in a hail of gunfire.
The resultant running gun battle and high speed pursuit led by Sheriff Mahoney, the subsequent arrest, and Mahoney’s heavy handed investigation in Kingman that included forced deportation and confiscation of firearms all created a media frenzy. Over the course of coming months media attention on Kingman grew as lawsuits were filed against Mahoney and Mohave County resultant of the illegal search and seizure, and the trial in Prescott that ended with a death sentence for the assassins, and a flurry of appeals.
In 1928, pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh initiated work on T.A.T., a revolutionary passenger airline service that combined rail and air service to expedite coast to coast service. With Kingman designated an official stop for the new airline, construction of Port Kingman commenced, and Lindbergh became a frequent guest at the Hotel Beale.
On March 29, 1939, it was celebrity association that again put Kingman on the front page of newspapers throughout the world. Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, and Gable’s publicist Otto Winkler drove from Los Angeles, stopped at the Mohave County Courthouse for a license, and in a simple ceremony officiated by minister Kenneth Engle at the Episcopal Methodist Church on the corner of Fifth and Spring Street, Gable and Lombard became husband and wife. After a small reception at the Brunswick Hotel they returned to Los Angeles for an early morning press conference.
In a 1955 episode of This is Your Life, character actor Andy Devine was profiled. Devine had grown up in Kingman as his father was the proprietor of the Hotel Beale. Front Street, the Route 66 corridor in Kingman, was subsequently renamed Andy Devine Avenue. In the fall of 2016, Devine, and Bob Boze Bell, also formerly of Kingman, were inducted into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame.
In 1959, Kingman and the surrounding area served as the stage for the cinematic epic Edge of Eternity starring Cornel Wilde, Edgar Buchanan, and Jack Elam. This was but one of several major pictures filmed in the Kingman area. Others include Easy Rider, Two Lane Blacktop, Roadhouse 66, Mars Attack, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. More recently, the city was given mention in the first episode of the sixth season of The Sopranos.
For more than a century dusty little Kingman has been stealing headlines. For more than 100 years celebrities, disaster, and nefarious characters have been making Kingman famous and providing ample material for story tellers.
Barney Oldfield photo courtesy Library of Congress