by Cynthia Ackley Nunn, Arcadia Publishing with Fonthill Media LLC
Book Review by Craig MacDonald
"Randsburg, the Mojave Desert's Liveliest Ghost Town, isn't just a place in Kern County. It's an experience, where all 5 senses are engaged with taking in everything." -Cindy Nunn
You can tell from her extensive research, writing & photos that Historian/Photographer Nunn loves visiting abandoned—or largely abandoned—towns; documenting what was there and what's still there & trying to figure out what it was like to live there back in time.
"I can almost hear the creepy echo of old boots thumping across the wooden planks of the porch & the door slowly creaking openů," she writes in her book, "Abandoned Randsburg." You can feel her excitement in carefully-chosen expressions, such as, "The mellow beige tones of the bricks give this little edifice of worship an understated charm and sense of gentle peacefulness."
Current relevance is sewn throughout: "Political correctness did not build the early towns of the Old West. Necessity & survival did." There's true humor: The town barber's name was "Walter Ruffhead." Charlie's was "The Best Little Ore House" in Randsburg.
Nunn takes you with her as she grasps the past from old-time, surviving locals and even describes where she spent the night: "Every nook & cranny (at Goat's Sky Ranch & Hotel) is filled with some interesting piece of Randsburg History, just waiting to be admired & enjoyed."
Helping bring the old mining camp back to life are her quotes from many hours of research in old newspapers: "Evangelist Henry Nagle has decided to establish a church in both Randsburg & Johannesburg. The two towns are so near together he can easily work in both, while it may be truthfully said that both places afford a wide field for evangelical work." (Los Angeles Times, 1897)
In 1895, gold was first discovered in the area, which produced the Rand (later named Yellow Aster) Mine. It would become one of California's largest producers of gold. The Big Butte Mine produced more than $600,000 worth of gold. At one point, more than 50 eager newcomers arrived in Randsburg each day, seeking their fortunes. Its population burst beyond 3,000.
In 1904, the Drug Store installed a Soda Fountain. Today, it's now the General Store, where you can still get, what the author says, is "a gut-busting banana split." The hard-working mining town even once had a skating rink & an Opera House! It also had churches, saloons & a Red Light District.
The author says Randsburg is still a place "where people are known by nicknames, like Big Randy." She tells you who you can see & what you can enjoy there today; how weather conditions can be extreme & intense, and even about Private Property & the need to treat everything with respect.
Nunn's ever-observant eyes & curiosity are front-and-center in her variety of absorbing photos—from collapsing buildings, an old church's cross & spire, a spigot handle, and a mine hoist house to gravestones, harlot's cribs and the ageless business district (which has been featured in movies).
Reading "Abandoned Randsburg" will want many of you to visit it today. Every September, the town goes "hog wild" with its really fun, Randsburg Old West Day Celebration, including live music, gunfights and people wearing costumes from yesteryear.
If you like reading the history & seeing the fascinating photos of the Randsburg Region, you'll probably be interested in another new book she has written: "Abandoned California (The King Solomon Mine)." Located near Johannesburg in Kern County, this mine sits atop a 3,800-foot mountain. It was discovered in 1896 & operated until the late 1940s. It's on Private Property but she gained access through the caretaker & a guide. Nunn writes: "It sits quiet, a sentinel in the desert, waiting in hope for the day when it will come to life again for modern-day gold hunters."
(The reviewer first wrote about Randsburg over 50 years ago. He wrote about mining camps & ghost towns for Sierra Heritage Magazine, Desert Magazine and other publications.)