Collecting and writing the history of an institution like the Wort Hotel might be daunting for some, but author Charlie Craighead jumped right in.
The result? A 75th anniversary limited edition of “Meet Me at the Wort,” a book detailing the colorful past of the Wort and commemorating where it all began.
The Wort Hotel opened its doors on Labor Day of 1941, so Thursday is the hotel’s 75th birthday.
Craighead will be signing his books from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Wort during the hotel’s community celebration and street party. Mayor Sara Flitner will speak at the party, and the band Major Zephyr will perform at 7 p.m. in the Showroom.
There will also be cake, beer and wine — provided by Cinder Winery from Boise, Idaho — on Glenwood Street … because what’s a birthday celebration without treats?
When Bill Baxter, owner, and Jim Waldrop, general manager, approached Craighead, he had a few qualms. But after digging into the project a little bit, Craighead said he “got hooked right away.” The book was originally published in 2006. The 75th anniversary edition added three chapters covering the last 10 years, including a big feature on the work that went into re-creating the Silver Dollar Showroom. Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson wrote an epilogue.
Both Baxter and Waldrop will be at tomorrow’s event to say a few words.
“There are so many great stories there,” Craighead said. “It belongs to the town, and a lot of history is made and stored there. It’s just such a unique place, especially in light of what’s happening to the rest of the town and the valley — there just aren’t very many places that stand up to the pressure of development.”
While some might consider the research process arduous, Craighead was up for the challenge — and even helped Waldrop and Baxter build an archive at the same time.
“I did all the research,” he said. “I’ve done it for films before, so the process was familiar. And honestly, I just love doing that. I didn’t write any of the chapters until I had everything.”
Craighead said that the project let him learn about “the undercurrent of history” and that some stories he stumbled across are sworn to secrecy and not published.
“I really enjoyed the process, learning all that hidden history,” he said. “There are stories people took to their graves.”
Craighead also enjoyed shining light on some of the supporting characters throughout the Wort’s history.
“People, like waitresses, thought their lives weren’t important and that their stories would never be told,” he said. “To find out that someone cared and wanted to know about their life and hear their story — to be able to do that was really rewarding.”
Craighead worked with a friend and designer in Arizona to lay out a storyboard and figure out how text and visuals could fit together to create an aesthetically pleasing final product.
The book is chock-full of old newspaper clippings and photos.
Craighead says the book’s title, “Meet Me at the Wort,” is very fitting.
“Simply put, it’s such an easy place to meet,” he said.
Sheila McCann, marketing manager at the Wort, agreed.
“Pretty much everyone says, ‘Meet me at the Wort,’” she said. “It’s a central place to get together for visitors and locals alike. It’s been the social hub of the town of Jackson for 75 years.”
Craighead fondly recalled his own memories at the hotel.
“I’ve celebrated everything from dinner before my high school senior prom to concerts there,” he said, naming off shows by James Cotton and Bob Watson as particularly remarkable “I spent a lot of New Year’s Eves in there. For years, it was the only place in town where you made memories like that.”
The Wort will continue to thrive and withstand the test of time, Craighead believes.
“I think it’ll always be there as long as there are interesting people who frequent it,” he said. “If we run out of interesting people here in the valley, that might be the end of it.”