The impressive ruin of the Public School in Monticello, New Mexico, is another example of how quickly history can be forgotten. Built in 1935 by the WPA, it’s a reminder of a time when Monticello was a thriving town with hundreds of families. But, just twenty years later, the school was closed due to a decrease in students. And, at some point, it burned down, but no-one seems to quite know when.

IMG_0395There is a rumour that the blaze was the result of an experiment in a chemistry class, but that’s clearly untrue for two reasons. Firstly, the school was closed due to failing attendances (along with another two local schools in the same year, 1956) not because it burned down, so it clearly didn’t happen while the school was open, and secondly, such a conflagration at a working school would surely have made the local newspapers – which reported just about everything back then. Yet there is nothing in any of those newspapers.

Nor is there any later report, so it seems that by then the school had stood empty for such a long time that a fire wasn’t even a news story. Monticello is mentioned in many books on ghost towns (although people still live there), but the school is usually vaguely referred to as ‘burning down decades ago’. So, what really did happen – or has that already been lost forever?




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Ballarat, at the base of the Panamint Mountain Range in southern California, was founded in 1897 and named after a gold camp in Australia by an Australian immigrant called George Riggins. However, Ballarat wasn’t a gold strike itself; instead, it was a supply town serving the mines in the Panamints.

KODAK Digital Still CameraFor its first few years, Ballarat thrived. Some 500 people made their homes in this desolate part of California and the town had seven saloons, a post office, school, jail, morgue, three hotels and a Wells Fargo station. But, apparently, no church.

Then, towards the end of the first decade of the 20th century, mining began to decline. The Ratcliff Mine in Pleasant Canyon, which had been one of the biggest markets for Ballarat, closed in 1903 and the town was soon dying. In 1917 came that final death knell, the closure of the post office. A few hardy characters – including the famous Shorty Harris and ‘Seldom Seen’ Slim hung on, but Ballarat is today most renowned for ‘residents’ who never lived there: the Manson Family.

KODAK Digital Still CameraIn the 1960s, Charles Manson and his followers moved into the Barker Ranch south of Ballarat, travelling through what was left of the town to get there. In October 1969, he and others were arrested at the Barker Ranch, Ballarat being the last place Manson was a free man. Today Ballarat has a small store run by Rocky Novak with irregular opening hours, the remaining building are mostly in ruins (a plan in the 1960s to make an RV park here failed miserably and finally petered out in the 1990s) and the only reminder of the Manson Family connection is an old Dodge Power Wagon.

There’s argument over exactly who this belonged to – although it definitely wasn’t Manson himself. Some believe it belonged to Charles ‘Tex’ Watson who broke down in Ballarat trying to escape. While Watson did own one of the two Power Wagons the Family needed to drive up Goler Wash to the ranch (they did get a Chevy school bus up to the ranch, although no-one’s too sure how they did it), and it did indeed stay in Ballarat for a while, it was eventually traded off to Leon Griffin, caretaker at Briggs’ Redlands Camp. Leon took the Power Wagon to pieces and then died.

KODAK Digital Still CameraSo, where did the Power Wagon now in Ballarat come from? One theory is that it belonged to Bobby Beausoleil and had been left at the ranch. When the arrests and trials were over, Kirk Barker, owner of the Barker Ranch, moved that Dodge down to Ballarat as a runaround. But no-one seems to know for sure.

Ballarat does have one other claim to a place in popular culture. At the beginning of Easy Rider, when Peter Fonda throws away his Rolex, he did so in Ballarat.




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