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Embracing Arizona’s History

With Arizona’s Centennial this week, we decided to feature Flagstaff Historian Richard Mangum and wife, Sherry for this month’s community profile. 

The original town of Flagstaff burned to the ground in 1886.

“A dancer in a saloon did a high kick and knocked over a kerosene lamp. At the time, they used sawdust on the floors to soak up whisky and such. The lamp fell on a patch where there was whisky and started it. In that day, buildings were made of wood and there was no fire department. It burned down 20 buildings in 20 minutes,” said Richard Mangum, historian and expert on the history of Flagstaff. “One building, made of stone, survived.”

On Arizona’s Centennial Statehood Day, Feb. 14, which also happens to be Mangum’s 35th wedding anniversary to wife Sherry, he will give a talk about the history of the Flagstaff Courthouse beginning at 9:00 a.m. in the lobby.

Mangum knows the courthouse inside and out. He served there as a superior court judge from 1976 to 1993.

He, in fact, is a third generation Flagstaff native who loves to share his knowledge of the area.

For 15 years, he and Sherry dressed in period costumes and led walks through downtown Flagstaff for tourists and locals.

“We did it because it was a community service and so we could pass on the love of the town and our knowledge of history,” he said. “We enjoyed doing it.”

“It’s a painless way of learning history,“ he said. “We keyed it into the thing you might stop to look at that it used to be a saloon. Instead of a lecture or reading it out of a book, you are actually there. We have a picture of how the building looked back then. A lot of the buildings are still there, they may have new facades, but they are still there.”

Most of the people who took the tours were adults, mostly visitors, but a lot of townspeople enjoyed them, too. The breakdown was about 60 percent tourists and 40 percent locals.

“It was run through the Visitors Center,” he said. “A lot of people found out that way and we had some posters up. It was free of charge.”

He was the head of the Arizona Historical Society, Flagstaff branch and he and Sherry are Historians in Residence at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

While doing the history walks was nice, they eventually made a career change and got into the book-publishing business.

“Our first book was ‘Flagstaff Hikes,’ a hiking guide for the area, following that up with ‘Sedona Hikes,’” he said.

They then proceeded to publish 11 different titles, including historical and regional guides like a guide for Route 66.

“With desktop publishing, it is not hard to produce a book. We didn’t actually print it, but we got it ready for the printer.”

They sold the books online, to wholesalers and at sporting good stores.

“I did the writing. Sherry did the photography. It was a beautiful combination of pooling our talents,” he said.

He met Sherry, almost a native, having moved to Flagstaff at the age of seven, when she was a court reporter.

“We were both in the law business,” he said.

They married on Valentine’s Day in 1977.

The couple had a blended family, with three children.

Mangum was one of the first babies born at the new Flagstaff Hospital.

He went to Flagstaff schools and lettered in baseball during high school, where he served as senior class president.

He earned his undergraduate degree at the U of A, Tucson. He also attended law school there.

“My dad was a lawyer. He steered me in that direction. It looked like a pretty good life,” he said.

Mangum had a law firm of general practice before becoming a judge for 15 years.

His most memorable case as an attorney happened in 1969 when a multi-agency task forced did a big raid on a Native American ceremony during which peyote was used. About 100 people were arrested and many were still in jail when he was summoned there.

“Everyone there wanted me to be their lawyer,” he said.

“I looked at it as a religious freedom case. We took the position that using peyote in a ritual was like drinking wine in the Catholic Church,“ he said. He won.

His case set a precedent that still stands, despite several appeals. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided not to hear it.

Over the years, he had many clients who were in business.

“I would talk to them and find out what kind of problems they had and what their solutions were,” he said. “It’s tough. Many areas are getting tougher, but for people who are really good and have talent and know-how, the opportunities are still there,” he said.

The recession affected Mangum’s book sales, which dipped with the economy.

“A book is something you can do without,” he said.

Mangum said he and Sherry don’t really feel retired.

“In Flagstaff, you don’t sit under a palm tree with a drink in your hand, there is plenty to do.” FBN

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