Tombstone Impressions

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic

I wrote this after my first visit to Tombstone, AZ in 2016. I did it originally just as a way to preserve vacation memories with the pictures that I took.

Jon has always been the western movie fan in our marriage.  I watch with him and have some favorites and some not so favorites. Number one on my list is Purgatory with Eric Roberts, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you do for a western with a twist.My interest has piqued in recent times as we watched the Deadwood series, fell in love with the movie Tombstone and did light research on some of the events, folk heroes, and outlaws of the Old West. So imagine how thrilled we both were when we went to visit my brother-in-law and his wife in New Mexico and found out that we were only two hours from the famous Tombstone, AZ.  It was a given that we were going to have to make that trek because we couldn’t be that close and not go to such a historic place.


There is history there. Just look between the tourist attractions and the modern conveniences. It’s there if you just look and let yourself remember that with every step you are walking in places that people you have only read about walked 150 years ago.   Some good, some bad, and some just like the rest of us and trying to live the best we can in a world that doesn’t exist anymore.


Tombstone itself, wasn’t too different from what we had seen so far, dry and dusty. We walked up to Allen Street, the main drag of historic Tombstone and could instantly envision the hustle and bustle and rowdiness that a mining town at the time was known for.  To our left was a stagecoach and horses and to our right, the O.K. Corral. Where to begin?  Right across the street at the Visitor’s Center.


The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the gleaming woodwork.  It shone in the early morning light and almost to the point of being out of place.  The elderly woman at the desk sat with shoulders bent, a weathered face, and almost emotionless face. With her braids and cowboy hat she appeared Native American. As I approached she gave me a very quick rundown of the must-see sights of the city and handed me a map.


The Visitor’s Center was housed inside the original bank and greeted new guests with Wyatt Earp’s portrait and 2 of his long guns hanging on the back wall.  The Information guide sat behind the original teller window that might’ve been used by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate, and other notorious residents. In 13 years, Tombstone produced an estimated $45-80 million in silver bullion (between 1 and 2 billion in today’s value) so I’m sure the bank saw a lot of business during that time.


Rather than just hustle to points on a map, we opted to mosey about and explore.  It was cool because with the storefronts, the occasional gunslinger, and the stagecoach tours, it was the tourists that seemed out of place; but even that didn’t diminish the feeling of walking through history.


Our first major stop was at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for lunch.  It was nearly empty so finding a seat was easy. The bar was the original bar from the downstairs area, but I felt that it had the look of a theme restaurant more than a historical site. It was a little harder to picture the saloon as it might’ve been because of the almost overwhelming amount of kitsch and memorabilia hanging all around. Still the food was good, and it was fun to try and imagine it with sawdust floors and Doc Holliday holding court.


From there we continued taking in the shops and talking about what we could remember from the movies and little bit of internet research we had done.  Jon’s sweet tooth started salivating when we stopped at the Fallen Angel Sweet Sin Parlor. They advertised the ‘World’s Greatest Fudge’ and for $18/lb., it should’ve been.  Wasn’t to our liking, but no one ever bakes as good as my Grandma. 


Anyway, back to the thoroughly historic Tombstone.  Our next stop was the Bird Cage Theater. I was probably most excited about going here.  I had seen on Ghost Hunters that this was considered one of the most haunted places in America.  Those that know me well understand why I wanted to go here and at the same time was a bit leery of it.


We walked in on creaky floor boards and the unmistakable smell of old.  It is the original building, the original bar, the original most everything.  I expected to ‘feel’ something at this point but didn’t.  I loved the story of the oversized portrait that the performer Fatima gave to the Bird Cage. It hangs at the back of the bar (which was much smaller than I imagined) and when patrons would get drunk, they would see her in the mirror and think she was stepping out of the frame at them.  Many would react by turning and shooting at her or throwing their knives. I can’t remember exact totals but I think that the guide said that there were at least 14 bullet holes and 2 knife tears in the portrait.


That modest bar area was just a small part of the Theater and I didn’t hesitate to pay the extra to walk through the rest of the theater.  The next room was the theater itself with 2 floors of ‘cribs’.  They looked like box seats for an opera that working girls could use as their office by drawing the drapes and pulling the loveseat into a bed.  There was a lot going on in this room because there were antiques of all kinds stacked up everywhere. It was about more than my ADD could stand and I was very uncomfortable in this room and felt the need to keep moving.  The backstage area had also been packed with antiques, including 2 hearses, a child's coffin and several adult-sized.  Death makes me uncomfortable anyway so I can’t really discern anything specific here either but I wasn’t sure.  I took a lot of pictures throughout and several in this room. There are a couple of possible interest, both with Jon near the hearses. In the first picture, at least one of my sisters and myself, see a face in one of the hearses. The very next picture in sequence has a blue streak in the window of the hearse, just ahead of Jon and where we saw the face.  I see a couple of faces in this one. Mom says it’s the wood grain and shadows, but even when I try to view it as such, I still see the faces. When I was researching the number of Fatima’s bullet holes as I was writing this, I came across an article that showed several people have pictures and video of a man sitting up in one of these same hearses. So now, I will go back and look at my pictures again and have my family look as well.


From backstage, we were able to go downstairs to the poker room. It has only been open to the public in recent years.  The table and chairs, etc. are the actual furniture used in the 1880’s.  This was the site of what is believed to be the longest running poker game in history-8 years, 5 months, and 3 days, 24/7.  Gamblers would pay the $1000 buy-in and then go on the waiting list. They would be sent for when a spot opened on the table. It is estimated that more than $10 million dollars crossed the table during that time. To put that in perspective, 25 years after the game ended, in 1914 (earliest comparison I could find) $10 million is the equivalent to $234 billion in 2015.  That’s a lot of money and the house kept 10%. Not bad for letting a bunch a drunk guys play poker night and day.


I have a love/hate relationship with the paranormal.  I won’t say that I walked in and immediately felt what I have in the past but I was uncomfortable enough to know that I would not be taking the ghost tour after dark.   All in all the coolest part of it is the realization that everything in there was at least 130 years old and knowing that the floorboards that creaked under my feet, also creaked under the feet of many of the legends of the Old West.


A few blocks back stands The Crystal Palace. We didn’t go inside but I wish we would’ve.  It is the original building and sits at the intersection where Virgil Earp was ambushed and nearly killed.  Right across the street is the Oriental Saloon, previously owned and operated by the Earp brothers. It is not the original building, just the location and we did not venture in.  A couple of visits we’d like to make on a return trip with more time.


At the end of Allen Street sits the O.K. Corral, a name synonymous with gun fighting and the ruthlessness of the Old West.  It was much smaller than I expected which I heard from several visitors around us as well.  We couldn’t leave without watching the re-enactment.


Doc Holliday was our gracious host and emcee for the event and the role was cast superbly.  It highlighted the feud as it built up to the big moment and then as the gunfire filled the air, the bad guys were left standing. Wait. The crowd was silent in their confusion until Doc loudly proclaimed ‘April Fool’s’!  We all had a good laugh as they reset the scene and played it out as legend says it happened.It was fun to watch but hard to get a feel for what the actual air of emotion might’ve been at the time.


We spent a short time at Boot Hill Cemetery walking among the markers of true western pioneers.  The blunt, politically incorrect, and humorous epitaphs are a truly interesting encounter.  I was glad that we had done a little research before going and thankful for the additional literature available on site.  Knowing the stories, sometimes a little truth and a little legend, gave life to the names we read.


We chose not to take a tour of the silver mine. I was afraid that going down the narrow shaft would send my claustrophobia into overdrive and we would be making a whole new memory from Tombstone.  We also opted out of seeing the world’s largest rosebush.  I’m sure it was gorgeous, but not we were on limited time. 


We spent most of the day touring historic Tombstone but could’ve spent two.   We have fallen in love with the Old West and the New West, for that matter. Not just Tombstone and the legends, but the entire area and history.  The landscape itself, with the majestic mountains against the dry desert and blue skies, are like walking into a painting and I can’t wait to go back with more time to immerse myself in the historic southwest.


Submitted: October 29, 2020

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