That explains Willie's bargain price. Nelson and Donna Scott continued to see each other over the years. They're still friends; Scott says she last saw Nelson three years ago. Committed to keeping live music, current owner Martin Zanzucchi sticks mostly to local country bands. With a 250-person fire limit, the...
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That explains Willie's bargain price. Nelson and Donna Scott continued to see each other over the years. They're still friends; Scott says she last saw Nelson three years ago.

Committed to keeping live music, current owner Martin Zanzucchi sticks mostly to local country bands. With a 250-person fire limit, the club is simply not big enough to handle an expensive concert act. But Zanzucchi keeps it interesting. Reggae, blues and even rock 'n' roll can be heard at the Museum Club. Robert Cray and James Harmon played there recently.

The club's most unusual musical performer, though, was actor Robert De Niro. In 1986 De Niro was in Flagstaff filming Midnight Run. He became a Museum Club regular, drifting in at night after shooting had finished for the day. Impressed by the local talent onstage, De Niro asked to sit in with the band.

"We figured out pretty quick that he couldn't carry a tune," Zanzucchi says with a laugh. "We solved the problem by turning off his mike. People in the crowd didn't know. They were all amazed and said things like, `I didn't know he could sing like that.'"
Sadly, Don Scott's ownership of the Museum Club came to a tragic ending. On June 19, 1973, Scott's wife Thorna fell down the stairs leading to the club's upstairs apartment and broke her neck. Nearly two years later, a distraught Don Scott closed up the bar for the night, sat down in a rocking chair and put a .22-caliber pistol to his head.

THE FATE OF THE SCOTTS gave rise to the first stories that the Museum Club was haunted. Dark as a tomb at high noon and prone to creaking and the kind of ominous settling noises all-wood buildings make, the club is undeniably spooky.

Take a room full of stuffed animals, whose souls no doubt hover overhead, damned to an eternity of seeing their marble-eyed bodies frozen in embarrassing positions. Add to that karmic overload the countless human melodramas that have occurred there during its 74-year life span, and you have a veritable spiritual soup.

Donna Scott is convinced that the spirits of her parents still inhabit the place. "I have no doubt that my mother and father are there. That's their home," she says.

Martin Zanzucchi, however, isn't so sure.
"It's haunted, all right. But we don't know by who. Most of the sightings concern a blond woman. Thorna Scott was a brunette."
Since Zanzucchi purchased the club in 1978, there have been several incidents he can't explain. One involved a musician who returned to the club early one morning after playing the night before. He found a fire blazing in the fireplace and a rocking chair teetering back and forth with no one in it.

Then there's the couple from Mesa who wanted to buy a drink for a blond woman sitting alone in a back booth. When the bartender went to deliver the drink, there was no one there. Assuming the woman went to the rest room, the bartender and the couple waited. The bartender later told Zanzucchi she was sure the man and woman from Mesa weren't drunk and seeing things. Eventually, a search of the bathroom and the rest of the club convinced the couple they had seen an apparition.

Gary Nelson, the club's current manager, has been there only four months, but has a story of his own to tell. One night after closing time, he was sitting in the club's office alone when he heard voices. Assuming the video machine had been left on, Nelson walked out to check it. The machine was off, and the voices had also stopped. When he returned to the office, they started again. Thoroughly frightened, Nelson turned out the lights, locked the front door and fled. The most convincing evidence that the Museum Club is haunted is what happened to Richard Bentley, a handyman Zanzucchi hired in 1984. Zanzucchi tells the story.

Bentley lived in the club, in the Scotts' old upstairs apartment. One winter night in 1984, Bentley woke up to find what he said was a blond woman sitting on his chest, pinning his arms to the bed. As he struggled to get free, the woman told him not to be afraid because "only the living" could hurt him. Wrenching himself away, Bentley dove headfirst through one of the front windows of the club, rolled across the porch roof and dropped onto the front parking lot. Running to a nearby motel, Bentley called Zanzucchi at 3:30 a.m.

"When I got there, he was pale and shaking like a leaf," Zanzucchi said. "The next day he quit and left Flagstaff."
Zanzucchi has an obvious stake in perpetuating strange tales about his club. Once a place has a reputation for being haunted, the tourist dollars roll in. But Zanzucchi says that these days, even he's spooked. "My wife and I have four children, so there have been lots of years when I've had to get up for feedings," he says. "It used to be that, instead of going back to bed, I'd get dressed and come down here and work. But now I won't come in until it gets light. It's too creaky, or, for lack of a better word, ghostly, in here for me."

THE ZANZUCCHIS are not a family who scares easily. Descended from an immigrant from Italy who came to Arizona to work the mines at Jerome, the Zanzucchis bought their Flagstaff dairy in 1929. During World War II, Martin's grandfather, a veteran of the Italian army, was interned in El Paso as a security risk, while his sons were sent to fight. Martin grew up with his ten brothers and one sister on a farm off Route 66 west of Flagstaff. In the late Seventies, Martin Zanzucchi and his brothers Matt and Hank and their cousin Paul owned two other clubs, Shakey Drakes and Granny's Closet; a cocktail lounge called D.J's Lounge; two liquor stores; and a Nautilus health club. They added the Museum Club in 1978. At the time, because the legal drinking age was 19 and the national campaign against drunken driving hadn't begun in earnest yet, there was big money to be made in the bar business.

Some of that money went into drugs. In 1985, nine years after Martin split with his brothers, both Matt and Hank Zanzucchi were arrested and convicted on charges of possessing and distributing cocaine. The entire family had its property seized. After two years of legal wrangling, Martin and his parents eventually regained possession of the Museum Club and Granny's Closet. His parents continue to run Granny's Closet. For Martin Zanzucchi and his family, living down the stigma of a drug bust in a small town like Flagstaff has been difficult. But Zanzucchi has stayed the course. One thing that's won him good will is his offer of free taxi rides to and from the Museum Club. Unlike many of the club's past owners, Zanzucchi doesn't hang out and party with his customers. He does, however, take great pride in owning a landmark. He knows its history and is dedicated to keeping it alive.

DRESSED IN JEANS, boots and a black, purple and white leather jacket with Route 66 road signs on the sleeve and back, the 41-year-old Zanzucchi is one of the more placid personalities to own the Museum Club in its 74-year history. While Zanzucchi is eager to brag that there hasn't been a fight inside the bar in two years, the Museum Club will never be the Gold Room. On a recent Saturday night, the ratio of four-wheel-drive vehicles to cars was ten to one. And while the new rest rooms Zanzucchi has installed are a definite improvement over the club's once ancient plumbing, on the same Saturday night, the shining new fixtures in the men's room were dusted with chew. And although the plumbing is new, the Museum Club is filled with bona fide artifacts of the Old West. Previous owners carried things off, but Zanzucchi has put things back. He's bought new mounts, and preserved the papers and memorabilia of earlier owners.

In 1982, Zanzucchi made a trip to the Valley to attend the auction of what was left of the Legend City Amusement Park. For $5,000, Zanzucchi bought the mahogany bar and matching bar back that have become such a cherished part of the club's Western atmosphere. Built in Alabama 120 years ago, the gilded-and-mirrored bar was recently appraised at $125,000.

Martin Zanzucchi has a key bit of family history entwined in the Museum Club. It's where his mother and father first met.

THAT WAS IN 1941, and the road in front of the club was Route 66. In towns all along what John Steinbeck called "The Mother Road," there has been a ground swell of interest in reviving the highway immortalized in song and obliterated by Interstate 40. Seligman and Kingman have already changed the names of their main streets back to Route 66 in hopes of increasing tourism. Even the Wigwam motel in Holbrook has reopened after an extensive renovation. One day last year, Zanzucchi decided it was time for the Flagstaff business community to get with it.

"One day I was sitting in the Museum Club and this couple comes in," Zanzucchi begins, leaning over a table near the back of the club. 'They were hot and tired and looked pretty wrung out. They asked me, `Where's Route 66? We've been looking for it all day and no one around here knows where it is.'

"I said, `It's right out front. It's what you drove in on.' Right then it hit me that Flagstaff has forgotten a cherished part of its history." Last fall, Zanzucchi hand-carried to all the businesses along Santa Fe Avenue a petition to change the name of the street back to Route 66. Out of 156 owners, 128 signed immediately. Many of the rest were won over. Eventually, only 12 businesses opposed the name change. Armed with this petition, Zanzucchi went to the city council. On February 4, the Flagstaff City Council passed a resolution changing Santa Fe Avenue back to Route 66. By March 1, 1993, those once-extinct black-on-white shields will lead people who want to get their kicks back to the Museum Club.

Those signs are the same ones my father followed that night in 1950 when he discovered the Museum Club. As for the full-scale reconciliation that took place there 35 years later, it didn't last.

part 2 of 2

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