By Richard Gorby
At 7:50 a.m. in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Admiral of the Pacific Fleet Kimmel was putting on his white uniform in preparation for a pleasant Sunday when he heard explosions. Rushing outside, he saw airplanes overhead, the Japanese Rising Sun symbol on their wings. They circled and began diving on the battleships in the harbor. Kimmel looked on in horror as a neighbor cried, "There goes the Arizona!"
Prescott, that Sunday, was a town of 6000 people, many of whom had never heard of Pearl Harbor. For those leaving church, and for others, Prescott's downtown Plaza was the place to go. On Montezuma Street there was the Palace Café, the Green Frog Restaurant, the White Café, Antler's Buffet, and St. Michael's Hotel and Restaurant on the corner. Across Gurley was the Owl Drug Store, featuring homemade ice cream, and across the Plaza to Cortez Street was the Santa Fe Buffet and Schaley and Stepans.
And after lunch, the MOVIES! At the Elks, Betty Grable and Victor Mature in "Hot Spot", selected short subjects and Metronome News. Matinee was at 2:15 p.m. At the Studio Theater on Cortez Street, "You'll Find Out", with Kay Kyser, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, with short subjects and Universal News. Continuous shows from 1 to 11 p.m.
Prescott had no Sunday paper then and the suggested Extra was deemed unnecessary because "news coming in was so inconclusive." Apparently, many citizens finished Sunday knowing little or nothing about what was happing across the Pacific in Hawaii.
On Monday, December 8, 1941, from the Courier:
"This city remained relatively calm yesterday in the midst of announcements of Japanese bombardments of our Pacific possessions. A tension was created early by virtually mass realization that the attack meant war, but there were no scenes. The general attitude reflected in street comments seemed to be one of mixed courage and relief, which could be summed up with the observation:'Well its been coming and now that it's finally here we can go ahead and lick the.......out of them.'"
The restaurant in the St. Michael Hotel put up a sign saying: "No Japanese Served Here." However, Prescott apparently had no Japanese. "There have been no Japanese in Prescott for years. The only Nipponese seen here has been a little man visiting from California to do assessment work on a mine in this area."
A special assembly was held Monday at Prescott High School so all students could hear President Roosevelt deliver his war message to congress. Many teachers at the Prescott Junior High School provided radios for their classrooms for that purpose.
On Tuesday, December 9, 1941, Prescott's Civilian Defense Council was formed, meeting in the city hall building and making plans for defending Prescott and taking care of evacuees who may come from the coast, due to "probable enemy attacks." The council also planned the purchase of anti-aircraft guns and investigated the possibilities of using old abandoned mine shafts as air raid shelters. Fire Chief, Charles Hartin, emphasized that sounding of 5-5-5 (the old National Guard call), now used for defense purposes, will not necessarily mean an air raid is in the offing. 5-5-5 would be blown for any defense cause that develops. Albert H. MacKenzie , commander of the Ernest A. Love post, American Legion, demonstrated his willingness to cooperate in Prescott's defense program by offering to patrol the water line from the city to the dam each night. His only request was that someone relieve him about 4 o'clock each morning.
It was suggested that the Elks building might be used for defense meetings. At the Elk's Theater, on December 10, 1941, was Walt Disney's "Reluctant Dragon" and "Tell Tale Heart", Edgar Allen Poe's study of a murderer's conscience. How appropriate!
Richard Gorby is a volunteer in the archives at Sharlot Hall Museum.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bub8019p)
Reuse only by permission.
The events in the Pacific had little immediate effect on Prescott. This 1936 photo of the Studio Theater which stood on the corner of Cortez and Union Streets shows a peaceful time in pre-war Prescott. Originally built in 1879 as the Goldwater Brothers Store, the building was torn down in 1979.