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Sunday, June 16, 2013

All About Arizona - Tombstone

O.K., my first installment of "All About Arizona" is already a day late, but if you read my previous post about Father's Day, you'll understand why.  BTW, the crafts we did for Father's Day will be featured soon because they can be used for a number of different occasions.

Now, on to Tombstone.  This is one place many non-Arizonans are familiar with, even if it's only a reference to the O.K. Corral or the movie with Kurt Russell.  Tombstone is everything you would expect from a scene right out of a movie:

 You might notice a few "modern" items in the picture - the garbage bin and fire hydrant in the foreground, but that's because this isn't a movie set, it's the real thing.

It's called "The Town Too Tough To Die" and it more than lives up to that reputation.  It was built on a rush for silver and then mostly abandoned when the next silver rush popped up nearby.  It has survived two devastating fires back in the day and countless acts of violence.  This is definitely the heart of the Old West.

If you're looking to see what it was really like, here it is, much like the way it was in the late 1800's.  Ed Schieffelin founded it in 1877 while he was prospecting for "stones" deep into Apache territory.  People told him "Ed, the only stone you're going to find out there is your tombstone," so when he struck silver, he named the prospecting town Tombstone.  True story.

So much of Tombstone is straight out of a dime-store novel.  By the mid 1880's, it was the fastest growing town between St. Louis and San Francisco.  There were prospectors, lawyers, bankers, Chinese, Mexicans and a thriving brothel area with "ladies of the evening."  Tombstone has the oldest standing adobe structure in the United States, the infamous Bird Cage Theater.

The Bird Cage theater was a combination saloon, theater, gambling hall and brothel.  Today visitors come to the Bird Cage and can see the original stage and reserved boxes on the upper level overlooking the theater.  Those were favorite areas for rich gentlemen who were not only entertained by the act on the stage, but also by the prostitutes who shared the "private box" with them.  It is said that girls entertained the patrons by swinging from ropes strung from the ceiling, inspiration for the song "Bird in a Gilded Cage."  There are over 140 bullet holes you can see in the walls.  In the basement of the Bird Cage Theater there is a museum of sorts - the former brothel where you can see actual relics and insight into the small, cramped and dirty rooms where infamous prostitutes worked.

If you go to the other end of Allen Street, you'll find the O.K. Corral, the place where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday clashed with the McLaury boys and Billy Clanton.  The gunfight wasn't actually in the O.K. Corral, but on a side street.  It is still a subject of debate who shot first and the descendants of the McLaurys and Billy Clanton insist the Earps were the lawless ones, even if Wyatt Earp was the lawman.  Typical of Tombstone, Wyatt Earp didn't escape until after two of his brothers were ambushed and shot down in revenge for the O.K. Corral.

Lawlessness was a common theme in Tombstone, and probably the reason it still survives as a place for tourists.  While it sounds somewhat romantic in a western kind of way, you can't hang around Tombstone very long before you feel the pall of the horrible stories of killings, assassinations and senseless violence that still scars the buildings and businesses that remain, despite the fires in the 1880s which twice destroyed the town.  Just in case you aren't sensitive to the many crimes that occurred in the streets and the buildings you are walking through, today there is a show that depicts most of the most horrific ones (probably not for younger children).

One of the more famous buildings where some semblance of justice occurred is the Tombstone Courthouse.  Built in 1882, it was the county seat for Cochise County (which has since relocated to Bisbee).  It's a beautiful structure, with original courtrooms and offices that offer a bit of a respite to the crime that plagued the rest of town.

After the mining industry pulled out over $37 million in silver in the hills surrounding Tombstone, the mines flooded and the prospectors moved on, taking with them the other people who supported the town.  In the 1930s the population sunk to about 150.  Today it stands at about 1500.

If you visit Arizona and get a chance to venture to the southeastern part of the state, you must see Tombstone.  It is the real West, in its original glory and stark evidence of what that "glory" actually means. Please don't take my comments about the history of Tombstone suggest it is not worthy of a visit, whether you live in Arizona or not.  In fact, every Arizonan should visit to get a better idea of how the state was built.  History isn't always pretty, it just is.


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