Zane Grey's Rim Country Legacy

Part 5

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The expectation of replicating the famous Zane Grey hunting lodge in Payson reminds us of the thousands who visited the renowned author's Tonto Creek ranch.

For 30 years after Zane Grey left Arizona, his lodge fell victim to the elements and to vandals. It was on the brink of total ruin when the property caught the attention of Phoenix businessman William Goettl.

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Zane Grey's cabin -- once a historical Rim country landmark -- burned during the Dude Fire of 1990. A replica of the cabin will be rebuilt at Green Valley Park.

The Goettl Air Conditioning Company began in 1939, when two brothers, Adam and Gust Goettl came to Phoenix to visit their brother William. Like so many in those days before modern medicines, Bill had come to the desert hoping for relief from tuberculosis. The three men saw an opportunity in manufacturing swamp coolers for desert dwellers.

During the Second World War, the Goettl units were cooling military barracks and hospitals, and the brother's sheet metal business also extended to linings for coffins.

After the war, in 1947, Adam and Gust sold their share of the business to brother Bill, who now focused on refrigeration instead of swamp coolers that were ineffective when the humidity rose. His business thrived, especially as tract homes began to be built in the 1950s and 1960s and Goettl landed the contracts.

By the mid-1950s, he had become acquainted with the Zane Grey property near Tonto Creek, and desired to restore the historic site. Negotiations with the family estate were finally completed in 1962, and Bill Goettl took on the task of preserving the lodge. He spent his weekends with the carpenters and took up saw and hammer himself as the lodge was restored to its original condition.

He also began collecting the personal effects of Zane Grey from the family and other collectors. Game trophies, rare editions of Grey's books and vintage photographs were displayed in the cabin, along with authentic furniture from several of Grey's homes. The lodge soon became a major tourist attraction, and more than 20,000 people a year visited the site.

A friend of the Goettls was Margaret Sells, a Southern lady who had fallen in love with the literature and life of Zane Grey. She convinced Bill Goettl to allow her to become the curator and manager of the lodge, and spend time acquiring the collectibles that made it into a museum.

In a later interview, Mrs. Sells described the steady stream of world travelers who were drawn to the Zane Grey cabin, many of whom did not speak English.

"They come from all over the world --astern European countries, Pakistan, Arabia, Japan," she said. "If they can't speak English they just look, and look. An Austrian doctor has visited us three times. Last month we had a Russian man who was here because he read ‘Riders of the Purple Sage' when he was 12 years old."

Goettl also hired Richard Haught, the son of Grey's guide Babe Haught, to be a caretaker, a task later taken up by artist and aficionado Mel Counseller.

William Goettl died in 1979, but not before he was able to see the lodge placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Goettl family sold the property to a real estate investment company in 1988, and there were plans to commercialize the site with an art museum, an amphitheater, and nature walks. The fans continued to come and for 27 years the place became an internationally famous tourist attraction. Visitors included such personages as President Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Anwar Sadat, all of whom professed to being fans of Zane Grey novels. General Eisenhower carried Zane Grey books with him throughout Europe. Churchill said that he read Grey not for recreation but for rejuvenation.

Then the unthinkable happened.

In June of 1990, the lodge and the Haught family cabin burned to the ground in a wildfire that claimed 28,500 acres of ponderosa pine forest, 60 homes and six human lives. The fire's advance gave enough warning that much of the memorabilia was rescued from the lodge before it burned. The property was then subdivided and today private residences occupy the sites. It is not open to the public and nothing is left there relating to Zane Grey except the view.

This worldwide love affair with the romance of Zane Grey's western stories continues years after his death, and the replica of the hunting lodge in Payson's Green Valley Park will not only be a museum but something of a shrine for the many who still esteem his writings.

Since his death, at least one Zane Grey book has been republished every year, and they continue to sell half a million copies annually in this country. They are also translated into 24 languages.

In addition to his novels, he wrote almost 300 short stories, numerous sporting articles, a series of books for boys, and a comic strip called "King of the Royal Mounted."

Between 1915 and 1924, he had a book on the bestseller list every year but one, and his books were outsold only by the Bible and McGuffey's Reader.

Zane Grey was a romanticist who captured the hearts of his readers. Through his books, millions felt a passion for the wilderness, and as that wilderness continues to shrink, his descriptive narratives will become even more significant. He was a major architect of the genre of literature called "the western," and his writing was a major factor in creating the world's image of America's West.

How important it will be for Rim country residents and businesses to contribute generously to the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation for the rebuilding of The Lodge.

To borrow a phrase from Kevin Costner's "Field of Dreams," "If we build it they will come," and we will hear them exclaim, as they have in the past, "It's just like he described it."

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