Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography by Bryan Black
Once you’ve met Marshall Shore, you won’t soon forget him. With his bold and eclectic taste in vintage fashion, his edgy pompadour and his larger-than-life personality, Shore stands out in any crowd—which is the way he likes it.
It’s only apropos that Shore has become the unofficial ambassador for something else that shouldn’t be forgotten: Arizona history. In fact, as self-proclaimed Arizona’s Hip Historian, Shore has made it a point to dust off and share some of the most notable—and quirky—bits of local lore.
For example, even people who have lived in the Valley for years may not know the haunted and harried history of the downtown Clarendon Hotel. In its early days, it played host to Hollywood stars, and it still does, thanks to renovations that have brought back its “Mad Men” swankiness.
Ask Shore about the hotel, though, and he’ll tell you stories that go beyond the allure of its mid-century architecture and rooftop bar.
With the skill of a true wordsmith, Shore draws audiences in with the story of the jilted lover who put on her best dress and threw herself to her death from the roof of the hotel. Some hotel patrons claim they can still smell her rose perfume in the room where she stayed.
He’ll also tell you about Phoenix’s most notorious unsolved murder that happened just outside of the hotel’s front doors: the car bombing murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. In fact, that’s just one of the tales he can tell about the days when Central Phoenix was home to quite a few mob figures.
He takes tourists and locals alike on guided tours, sharing stories about infamous Phoenix murderess Winnie Ruth Judd, and about the governors, prostitutes, and other colorful characters who share an unlikely eternal companionship in the downtown Pioneer and Military Memorial Park cemetery.
There’s nothing routine or predictable about Shore or his tours. He’s been known to play bingo in cemetery tours, and the yellow school bus he uses for others make learning about Phoenix history more of an adventure than the intellectual pursuit that it is.
In fact, Shore is doing a bang-up job of turning a town with “no history” into a fun historical mecca. Not bad for a guy from a one-horse town in Indiana.
Shore grew up in Odell, Indiana—and you’re not alone if you haven’t heard of it. With a population of 25, and boasting two roads and one stop sign, it’s probably safe to assume that Shore is Odell’s most colorful export.
“I always marched to my own drum,” he says, his eyes smiling from behind peculiarly shaped green wire rims. “That drum has just gotten louder.”
At 23 years old, Shore bought a one-way ticket to New York, where he landed a job in a library in Brooklyn. It was a practical decision.
“It was ingrained in me early on, ‘Don’t be an artist! Don’t be an artist!’” Shore explains.
The library gave him an opportunity to dig through books and archives for stories about the people and places that surrounded him. Every story he read made him feel more alive and connected to the city.
A few years later, his parents moved to northern Arizona. He soon followed, but not too closely. He didn’t want to leave the glow of the city lights, so he took a job as a librarian in Phoenix.
“As soon as I got here, I heard all of these stories about how there is no history here,” he says. “Yet, I was working in the Central Library and I was hearing all of this fascinating oral history. It gave me a whole fresh perspective. Now, I kind of look at stuff and I think, ‘Look at that building. I wonder what happened inside.’ And I find out.”
Shore combs through old newspapers and other documented accounts, and he reaches out to authors and others who either remember or have researched old stories.
To Shore, who refers to himself as an “information curator,” each of these stories is a thread in the fabric of our city, and finding them has been a personal journey.
“When I first moved here, I was like, ‘I moved where?!’ It really was about finding things that connected me to this place, and finding all of these amazing people who were finding themselves and forging new paths.
“That’s still true today. There are people today whose stories we’ll be telling generations from now. The idea that we’re all trying to leave our mark is nothing new.”
Anyone who has been to one of Shore’s now-famous ghost tours, Phoenix in Film, Arizona LGBT History, Arizona by Design or any of his other experiences at local bars, Scottsdale Museum of the West, the Alwun House, the Arizona State Fair or other venues knows what a good time history can be—especially when its told by Phoenix New Times’ Best Unofficial Phoenix Historian and Phoenix magazine’s Best Bespectacled Phoenix Celeb.
Give him an hour and Shore will pique your interest and make you want to know more.
“I’m most interested in the people and events that have made Phoenix what it is today,” he explains. “Sharing my passion is how I got connected to Arizona. I could be anywhere doing anything, and history is why I’m here.”
He’s also set his sights on creating a little history of his own. Currently, he’s collaborating with Marilyn Szabo and the Casa Grande Historical Society to put together a book about the life and work of Casa Grande photographer James Gorraiz. Gorraiz’s work documented the incredible post-war boom that Phoenix experienced in the mid-20th century.
Like so many other Phoenix characters, he’s always got a few other tricks up his sleeve, too. The best place to find out what tours and fun he’s got coming up is to follow his Facebook page.
Being a hip historian isn’t the only thing Shore does. He’s on the board for Arizona Apparel Foundation, where he works with emerging designers in helping them brand apparel unique to Arizona.
Shore has become a liaison for the city’s most notable destinations, people and events, and he’s doing it with spectacular style.
“There’s a whole city to explore!” he says. And with Shore, exploring it is a treat.