Shakespeare, New Mexico — Don’t Expect Disney

The Blacksmith shop which was burned in the 1997 fire at Shakespeare.
The Blacksmith shop which was burned in the 1997 fire at Shakespeare 

For travelers on I-10 in Southern New Mexico, there’s an escape from the truck traffic and even from the 20th century:  a side trip to the ghost town of Shakespeare, located about three miles south of Lordsburg . Because this place is privately owned by the Hill family, a visitor has to catch one of the weekend tours (Call ahead to schedule).

Janaloo Hill, who grew up on the property, and her husband, Manny Houghes, will show you the silver mine set up by the Shakespeare Mining Company and the buildings that flourished around it in the 1870s. You can see the office where the assayers worked as well as the tools they used, the powder magazine where explosives were stored, saloons where miners and cowboys played cards and drank, the tables and dishes they handled, the wooden staircase leading up to the rooms and narrow beds where they slept, and the blacksmith shop and corrals where the horses stood. Billy the Kid worked as a dishwasher in the hotel for awhile, the story goes. A recent fire drew firefighters from all the nearby towns, but dry winds and the isolation of Shakespeare led to extensive damage. Fees from visitors will help rebuild the general store that was partially destroyed, but the property that went up in smoke is irreplaceable.

Manny Houghes demonstrates the use of old tools.
Manny Houghes demonstrates the use of old tools.  

To call the artifacts lying around in these rooms antiques is misleading if you think of antiques as fragile items in museums or decorators’ showplaces. The items here look like they were laid aside by people who will return before long, pick them up, brush off the dust and get to work again. Walking the narrow paths and studying the bare hills on the horizon, stepping in and out of shadowed rooms, observing a cow and her calf who raise their heads to stare at you from behind a rail fence, listening to the same dusty wind that blew a century ago, you feel like a visitor on an empty set, waiting for the actors to come around the corners where they are waiting, to speak their lines and resume their lives.

Like so many out-of-the-way places in this under-populated state, Shakespeare has the feel of a parallel universe existing along side our modern world. Headlines, headaches and hustlers seem to diminish to a point and just disappear.