Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tombstone, AZ

Tombstone, Arizona is an interesting mix of history and tourism. It has earned a reputation as "the town to tough to die", as it has gone from booming mining economies to almost a ghost town and back to a thriving community more than once! Tombstone traces its beginnings to 1877 when prospector Ed Schieffelin undaunted by fierce Apaches found a rich silver strike just outside the current city limits. Prior to his find the soldiers at nearby Camp Huachuca had jokingly stated that the only thing he would find would be his tombstone, so upon staking his claim he named it "The Tombstone"! He named another claim "The Graveyard". Ed and his brother would have the last laugh when in 1880 they received $6,000,000 for their claims!   
In 1878, the year after his first claim (The Tombstone), the Good Enough Mine was established by Ed Schieffelin. It produced some of the purest silver ore ever discovered! It wasn't long before Ed had filed 19 claims nearby and formed the Tombstone Consolidated Mines Company. It is said that 300 miles of mine tunnels run under and around the city of Tombstone! One even leads to the basement of Big Nose Kate's Saloon and can still be seen today! A variety of tours are offered of the Good Enough mine. The basic tour is $15.00, and reviews say it's well worth it!
In 1881 Schieffelin Hall was built as a venue for theatrical and musical performances. It is where the respectable folks went.
By 1881 Tombstone's population had reached 10,000 and rivaled both Tucson (the Pima County seat and Prescott (the territorial capital)! The residents voted to separate from Pima County and the territorial legislature subsequently formed what is now Cochise County. The Cochise County courthouse was built in 1882. Tombstone was the Cochise County seat until 1929 when it moved to Bisbee. Today the courthouse is a museum managed as a state park. Admission is $5.00.
The main street of historic Tombstone is blocked off from vehicle traffic except for a tour trolley. There are stagecoach and carriage tours, as well as, walking tours providing narratives as to the history of the community. These tours are approximately $10.00 each. I found the shops and restaurants in this tourist area to pleasantly intermingle tourism with history. The restaurants seem reasonably priced, but it becomes quickly obvious that a lot could be spent quickly on tourist attractions! Here are a few things to see while in town with the 2015 prices. I found while researching attractions online that admission prices seemed only scarcely available! Here are a few things to do that we discovered:  a. The O.K. Corral at the Historama - $10.00 gets a 45 minute film viewing of Tombstone's history and an O.K. Corral shootout re-enactment. b. Tour Big Nose Kate's Saloon/gift shop/mine entrance - free! c. Step into the Crystal Palace restaurant to see the ornate 1800s wood/mirror bar replica. d. Walk through the rebuilt Oriental casino (now a clothing/gift shop) to see an ornate 1800s wood/mirror bar - free! d. Tour the historic Epitaph Newspaper building - The museum of period printing equipment and a video of the process of printing an 1800s newspaper is free! e. See a bar room cowboy gunfight set-up in the historic Watt and Tarbell Undertakers building - $8.00. f. Tour the original Bird Cage Theater - The lobby is free and the self guided tour of the theater is $10.00. g. See the world's largest rose tree - Even without blooming the price was $5.00.  It blooms around March or April. h. Boot Hill Cemetary.  It is said to be certified as the original.  It is now a tourist attraction with a gift shop. - free! There are other museums and ghost tours of which fees are unknown. You get the idea, though. Choose your tourist attractions wisely!        
In 1883 Tombstone was on the fast track from being a mining camp to being a municipality! It boasted a large red-light district and more gambling houses and saloons than any town in the Southwest! During this period, some 110 saloons were constructed, among them being the elegant Crystal Palace. There was the Bird Cage Theater and Schieffelin Hall for theatrical and musical performances. There were multiple newspapers, four churches, a public library, and a swimming pool!
Over the years two devastating fires swept through Tombstone. The businesses were rebuilt with different appearances, but in their original locations and often bearing the original names. Those with name changes bear plaques as to the businesses they were in the 1800s. This view is down Allen Street. The red building on the right is the Crystal Palace. The building to the forefront of the picture on the right is The Oriental, where the Earps had a partial share in the gambling house profits.  The building on the left side of the street is now the Longhorn Restaurant, but has been occupied by several businesses.  It was under construction while the Earps were in town and is said to be the location of the building that Virgil Earp was shot from. The intersection in front of the Crystal Palace appears to be where scenes from the move Tombstone were filmed. In researching the filming location for the mission and train station scenes, I'm fairly sure they were filmed in an old movie studio called Old Tucson. Old Tucson is open for public tours and is located in the city of Tucson.
Big Nose Kate's Saloon was the original Grand Hotel where many famous people including the Earps and Doc Holiday stayed! The town fire destroyed the ornate bar that was originally on the first floor, but the downstairs bar survived the fire and was moved upstairs. This is the building that has a mine entrance right into the basement gift shop! The saloon owners encourage people to walk through and just browse!  
This is the original and notorious Bird Cage Theatre building!  The theater opened on December 25th, 1881 and by 1882 the New York Times was quoted as calling it "The wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." The theater was a gambling parlor and brothel that operated from 1881 to 1889. During its 8 years of operation it was the location of 26 deaths! There are a reported 125 bullet holes still in the building!           
The Watt and Tarbell Undertakers building is an original. It is located close to the Birdcage Theater which sounds like a good location given the reputation of the Birdcage! I was told the building front is where the movie, Wyatt Earp, showed the wooden caskets leaning against it.  The building now has gunfight re-enactments held in it.
Here are some shady looking characters looking for a fight on the main street of Tombstone! The wide open spaces of southern Arizona and New Mexico provided a vast un-policed area in which stage robbers and cattle rustlers could operate unchecked. Ranchers on both sides of the United States and Mexican border were being targeted. In what appeared to be an organized effort, stolen beef would be sold and then find its way into Fort Huachuca and Tombstone butcher shops at greatly reduced prices. This method was used by the cowboys as a means of funding their wild and reckless lifestyles. Several crooked government officials appeared to be in cahoots with the lawless elements around Tombstone!
Here are the graves of the Clantons and McLaurys, who died in the O.K. Corral shootout. The graves are located in the Boothill Cemetary on the edge of Tombstone.
Here is a modern day Tombstone Marshal vehicle for going through desert terrain. The marshal told us that military vehicles that are no longer in use by the military are loaned to police departments, but must be returned to the military source once they are no longer in use by the police department. He stated that prior to getting this Humvee 3 regular trucks were broken from constant use in rough terrain. The Humvee's 4 wheels operate separately from one another and it's said that you can drive 100 miles on a flat tire! It looks like it could stand up to some gunfire in its border patrol duties, as well as, handle the rugged environment!