The Town Too Tough to Die

"All gunfighters are lonely. They live in fear.

They die without a dime, a woman or a friend."

Wyatt Earp

State 25: Arizona - December 27, 2017


After spending 4 days exiled in El Paso over the Christmas holiday, the cold front finally passed, and we were freed from winters wrath! Santa was very generous to the Cross Country Couple, and gave us 2 nights in a hotel to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Unfortunately, neither Lori nor I got much rest as we have grown accustomed to sleeping inside our Rosie. A precursor for a good night’s sleep is the sound of shopping carts smashing in the corral, car doors slamming, and gusty winds rocking Rosie from side to side. The symphony of sounds from the Walmart parking lot have become the white noise machine soothing us to sleep every night.

In our efforts to escape a rapidly approaching cold front, not only did we have to depart Colorado early, we were 554 miles off course! We were supposed to enter our next state from the Northeast, but our current location would instead have us entering from the Southwest! After some head scratching and debate, we departed for a long 294 mile drive West to the 25th state on our cross country journey to discover America, and find a new state to call home; Arizona: The Grand Canyon State. This motto now joins; Idaho: Famous Potatoes, and Illinois: Land of Lincoln on the Cross County Couple's list of “No Shit Sherlock” motto's! I doubt there is an American alive who does not know the Grand Canyon is in Arizona! Can’t the marketing agencies contracted by the states for top dollars come up with anything other than the blatantly obvious? Can someone please come up with a state motto which tells us something about your state everyone doesn’t already know?

Our first scheduled stop in the “Grand Canyon State” is the Cross Country Couple's “Can’t Miss Attraction”; Tombstone, Arizona. Founded in 1879, Tombstone is a city in Southern Arizona, and one of the last boom towns in the American Frontier. During the 1880’s local mines generated an estimated $40 to $85 million in silver bullion, and in less than a decade, Tombstone went from obscurity to over 14,000 residents! In spite of the town's mining success, it also experienced it's share of setbacks. Tombstone twice burned to the ground! One of the fires destroyed the pumps, flooded the silver mines, and ended mining in the town forever! Thousands moved out of Tombstone, and by 1910, the city nearly became a ghost town! However, in the century since, the city has reinvented itself as a tourist destination, and the entire town has been declared a National Historical Landmark. Americans desire to connect with the old American West combined with countless Hollywood movies has continued to funnel tourists to Tombstone.

Above all else, Tombstone AZ, will forever be immortalized as the location of the most famous shootout in the old American West; the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In 19th century Tombstone, stealing cattle in Southern Arizona and selling them across the border in Mexico was big business! A loosely organized band of outlaws known as The Cowboys were the biggest cattle thieves in the region. Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holiday arrived in Tombstone to restore law and order in the town! Unsurprisingly, the Earp’s had ongoing conflicts with the cowboys, specifically Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury. The three cowboys repeatedly threatened the Earp’s over many months until the conflict escalated into a shootout on October 26, 1881, which resulted the outlaw's deaths.

Admission to the actual sight of the historic gunfight was $10.00 person, and included: a museum of artifacts from 19th century Tombstone, historical re-enactment of the shootout, a 30-minute movie about the town's history, and a copy of the 1881 Tombstone Epitaph. We began with the historical reenactment gun fight, since the next show was about to begin. The actors were comical, interactive and very entertaining! The show began with the character playing Wyatt Earp yelling at the audience, “ARE YOU READY FOR A GUN FIGHT?”. After the entire crowd erupted in applause, he responded, “You people are sick!”, and exited stage left. The audience was encouraged to cheer for the lawmen when they entered, and to “BOOOOO!” the outlaws when they entered. Upon being booed, the outlaws frequently taunted the audience by yelling “Is that the best you can do?”. One time when the audience cheered after Wyatt Earp entered, he flashed the crowd the “A OK” hand gesture, which was quite funny considering we were currently in the O.K. Corral. Overall, the show was very entertaining and performed by 6 very talented actors. My only point of contest was the show was a tad short at 15 minutes in length, and could have benefited from a buildup of the backstory! Please see the pictures below!

After departing the site of the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral, we moseyed around the town taking in the sights and sounds of this iconic old western town. Please see the pictures below.

At the far end of town, we came across a remarkable historic building called the Bird Cage Theater. The Bird Cage Theater opened on December 26, 1881 and remained open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, until 1889. The venue offered the silver miners a bar to drink at, a theater to be entertained in, a poker room to gamble in, and the services of “the world’s oldest profession”. After the silver mines flooded, most of the residents of Tombstone moved, and the Bird Cage Theater closed in 1892. In 1934, the building was purchased by new owners whom were delighted to discover nothing had been disturbed since it's closing 42 years prior! The Bird Cage Theater has been a tourist attraction ever since! Unsurprisingly, the theater is allegedly haunted, and has been featured in the paranormal investigation shows: Ghost Hunters in 2006, Ghost Adventuress in 2009 and 2015, Ghost Lab in 2009, and Fact or Fake: Paranormal Files in 2011! People have reported hearing laughing, screaming, singing, and piano music coming from the theater in the middle of the night! I hope there is none of that during my visit!

Although admission was steep at $12.00 per person, The Birdcage Theater is the only original building in the Tombstone surviving the 2 fires which burnt the town to the ground. Even more interesting, many of the contents are also original to the building! In it's hay day, The Bird Cage Theater gained a reputation as one of the wickedest theaters between New Orleans and San Francisco. There were 16 gun fights in the theater, and 140 bullet holes can be found throughout the building even to this very day! Searching for bullet holes became a fun scavenger hunt! We found one on the bar, one in the ceiling, and one on the stage! Please see the pictures below.

Upon entering the theater, a long ornate bar flanks the far right wall, which is the only bar original to the town of Tombstone! The bar was made in Pittsburgh, shipped around the tip of South America to the West Coast of Mexico, and then hauled by wagon to where it rests to this very day! In the far left corner of the room, sits a working antique coin operated phonograph to play music! Even the creaky weathered wood plank flooring is original to the building!

The walls surrounding the reception area are plastered with posters of acts performed at the theater, and some of which were: the "Female Hercules" whom specialized in picking up heavy objects with her teeth, "The Flying Nymph", whom flew from one side of the theater to the other on a rope, and "The Human Fly" whom dressed in tights walked across the stage ceiling upside down. Other entertainment included masquerade balls, cross dressing entertainers, and singers performing vulgar ballads. There was even a balcony up above where the ladies of the night would strut their stuff for the men. It must have been quite the memorable experience catching a show here back in the 1880’s! What a first impression! Please see the pictures below!

Next we walked into the main seating area where a 15-foot stage rose 5 feet above the main floor at the far end of the hall. At the base of the stage was an orchestra pit, which included a spectacular example a rectangular grand piano original to the theater! On both sides of the main hall were 2 balconies divided into 7 boxes on each side! It is these very balconies for which the Bird Cage Theater’s name is derived! These were the most prestigious seats in the house, and is where the wealthy and other VIP’s watched the show. There was even an antique wooden barber chair to the left of the stage where one could get a shave and a haircut, which also original to the building! Even the 140-year-old wallpaper was original, and peeling off the wall! What an experience! Please see the pictures below.

Next we walked up a staircase to the back stage area, and then down another to the dirt floor basement. Legend states, this very basement was the site of the longest-running poker game in the world played continuously 24 hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days! $1000 was the minimum buy in, and the wait times for a seat averaged 3 days! It is estimated as much as $10,000,000 changed hands during the duration of the game, and the house retained 10%. Some of famous participants of this marathon poker game were Doc Holiday, Bat Matherson, Diamond Jim Brandy, George Hearst, and Adolphus Bush of the Anheiser-Bush Brewing Company. The bar, mirror, stove, poker table, and chairs are all original!!! Please see the pictures below of the world’s longest running game of poker!

Although some may view the Bird Cage Theater, as a building which should have been long ago condemned, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my entire cross country trip. With the exception of the addition of electric and HVAC, the entire building's including contents are original with over a century's worth of dust to prove it! The Bird Cage Theater is a literal time capsule, and the best representation the Old American West! I to date, have driven 25,000 miles across the country and have not encountered anything even remotely comparable! I literally felt like I had stepped back in time 140 years! Please see additional pictures below!

After leaving the Bird Cage Theater, we hopped back into Rosie, and drove ½ mile across town to the Boothill Graveyard. Formally known as the “Old Cemetery”, The Boothill Graveyard consists of 250 plots used after 1878 to bury the residents of Tombstone, and is one of the town’s most popular tourist attractions. The name “Boothill” comes from the many whom died with their boots on referring to the many violent deaths occurring in Tombstone.

Albeit a tad eerie to pay to enter a cemetery, admission was very reasonable at $3.00 person. Upon paying the devil his dues, we were handed a paper brochure and granted admission to the burial grounds. The graveyard consisted of 11 rows of burial plots on a beautiful hillside overlooking the mountains! Each grave was marked with a white painted wooden cross, along with the name of the deceased if known. The pamphlet provided additional information about the lives of a few of the departed! Some of my favorite were: James Hickey who was shot in 1881 by Clayborn for his over insistence's they drink together! Be careful next time you turn down your buddy for a guy’s night! George Johnson was hanged for stealing a horse. After the hanging, it was discovered George had unknowingly purchased the stolen horse from the real horse thief! The problem with capital punishment is you can’t take it back! The 3 cowboy outlaws; Billy Clanton, Tom Mclaury, and Frank Mclaury whom died in the streets on Tombstone at the gunfight at the O.K. Coral. They are pictured below in the order in which they are mentioned.

The bodies buried at Boothill Cemetery tell a story of Tombstone's violent past. This is the final resting place of victims of suicides, hangings, mining and stage coach accidents. It is also a place where murders and their victims are buried side by side! Many of the plots had huge cacti growing, which is the most effective way I think can conceive to prevent people from walking on the graves. Ouch!!! Please see the additional pictures below of our visit to Boothill Cemetery!

At this point on our cross country trip, we have few old western towns under our belt. Albeit more touristy than others, Tombstone still possessed an authentic Old West feel with a few fascinating historical sites sprinkled in. The saloons and houses of ill repute of yesterday have been replaced by the souvenir, and ice cream shops of today! The gun wielding outlaws of the past have been replaced with historical re-enactors shooting blanks! Automobiles have never drove down the town's dirt streets, but horse drawn carriage rides can be purchased for $15.00 per person! Although times have clearly changed in Tombstone, it remains as one of the few places one can go to; walk the same streets as did Wyatt Earp, seek entertainment in the very same theater as the town's 19th century silver miners, and relive the legends of the old American West by visiting grave sites of Tombstone’s outlaws. The town successfully preserved it's past while reinventing itself giving credence to Tombstones motto as “The Town to Tough to Die”!

After departing Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone, we drove 70 miles Northwest to a Walmart in Tucson to spend the night!

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