Travel Destinations

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tombstone Arizona: Historic and Haunted Ghost Town

Tombstone AZ Attractions Stagecoach Rides
Visitors can take a stagecoach ride through Tombstone.
I will preface this article by stating I am not a believer in ghosts.  Superstitious?  Yes.  Ghosts?  Not so much.  So when I learned many of Tombstone, Arizona’s attractions are haunted and that Tombstone is said to be one of Arizona’s most haunted towns, I shrugged my shoulders and didn’t give it a second thought.  Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, Tombstone’s attractions will appeal.  Kids will love the period costumed characters walking down the street and the stagecoach rides.  History buffs will love how much history has touched Arizona’s tiny ghost town.  Ghost hunters and believers will love even more the possibility of ghostly encounters.  But we didn’t encounter any ghosts.  Or did we? 

Our visit to Tombstone was for an afternoon on a daytrip from Tucson.  We had traveled to Arizona with our dogs, so we were on the lookout for dog friendly attractions.  Luckily, Tombstone is surprisingly dog friendly.  One of Tombstone’s attractions that is not dog friendly, however, is the O.K.Corral.  But that’s okay, because even if you don’t make it into the O.K. Corral, you can see the beginning of the show on the street, which is how our visit to Tombstone began.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Tombstone AZ
Reenactments of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral start in the streets of Tombstone, AZ.
The gunfight at the O.K. Corral may be the most famous gunfight in United States history, even though it only lasted 30 seconds.  Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holiday were marshals of Tombstone.  Billy Claiborne, Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury were cowboys.  A feud between the two groups resulted in the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury were killed.

When the gunfight is reenacted in Tombstone, the confrontation starts in the streets.  Cowboys and lawmen stride down the street arguing before they move into the O.K. Corral for the show.  Reenactments occur three times a day starting at noon.  Some believe the dead cowboys still haunt the streets today.

The Bird Cage Theatre Music Hall Tombstone AZ
The music hall of The Bird Cage Theatre.  The top "cages" were used by prostitutes to entertain clients.
Down the street from the O.K. Corral is The Bird Cage Theatre, one of Tombstone’s most authentic attractions and most haunted.  It is believed 26 people were killed in The Bird Cage Theatre during its eight-year run and there are over 120 bullet holes in the building.  The Bird Cage Theatre was cited as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast” by the New York Times in 1882.

We were surprisingly able to tour The Bird Cage Theatre with our dogs, as the theatre is dog friendly as long as the dogs are small enough to be carried.  Our visit started in the upstairs music hall.  The hall is packed with photographs, news clippings, and artifacts from the time period. 

The Birdcage Theatre Backstage Tombstone AZ
Ghostly coffin and hearse backstage at The Bird Cage Theatre.
After examining the music hall and stage we went downstairs to where the real action happened.  In the basement was a bar and gambling hall with rooms along the side occupied by ladies of the night and their short-term guests.  The original furnishings and fixtures are still present.  The gambling hall was the site of the longest continuous poker game recorded.  The game started when The Bird Cage Theatre opened on December 25, 1881, and continued for over eight years.  Players would have to give notice before vacating their seats and there were always players waiting to step in to take their place.

The Bird Cage Theatre Gambling Hall Tombstone AZ
The site of the longest continuous poker game ever recorded.
So here’s the weird thing about our tour of The Bird Cage Theatre.  We brought our two dogs, Henry and Charlie.  Rome carried Charlie and I carried Henry.  During our entire time in the theatre Henry wiggled and squirmed and every once in a while whined, especially backstage, which is very unlike him.  When we finally exited through the gift shop, the lady working the shop asked us if we’d had any ghost sightings, and also requested that we email them if we found any pictures with orbs.  Then she asked if the dogs had felt anything or acted strangely.  Her question caught me off guard as I hadn’t even thought about ghosts as a reason for Henry’s unusual behavior.  Were there ghosts?

After The Bird Cage Theatre we visited The Rose Tree Museum, which as far as I know is not haunted.  But it does have the world’s largest rose tree and it is also dog friendly.  The Rose Tree Museum tells the story of the Macia family, members of which still operate the museum. S.C. Robertson and Alice Macia moved to Tombstone in 1880 to start their married life and make their fortune in the silver mines. 

Largest Rose Tree at The Rose Tree Museum Tombstone AZ
Who knew a rose plant could grow to be so huge?
The Rose Tree Museum displays the original furniture the Macias brought to their new home from Colorado to Arizona along with an assortment of small items collected through time. There’s even an invitation to an execution.  In the back is the plant listed as the largest rose tree in The Guinness Book of Records.  The rose tree was planted in 1885, prior to the Macias purchasing the property.  Mr. Macia had the trellis built and now the blooms spread over 8,000 square feet.

On our way out of Tombstone we stopped at Boothill Graveyard, the final resting place of some of Tombstone’s earliest pioneers.  Many of the residents of Boothill Graveyard succumbed to violent deaths.  The most famous are Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury, the victims of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

O.K. Corral Victims Buried in Boothill Graveyard Tombstone Arizona
Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury, killed in the O.K. Corral shootout, are laid to rest in the Boothill Graveyard.
Many of the wooden grave markers have comic epitaphs describing how the person met their usually untimely demise.  You’ll also be given a pamphlet providing more detail.  George Johnson’s marker reads, “Here lies George Johnson hanged by mistake 1882.  He was right we was wrong but we strung him up and now he’s gone.”  George Johnson unknowingly bought a stolen horse and was hanged for a crime he didn’t commit.   Lester Moore’s grave marker reads, “Here lies Lester Moore.  Four slugs from a 44.  No Les no more.”  Moore was a Wells Fargo agent.  He had a dispute with a man over a package.  Both men died as a result of the altercation.

Dutch Annie Boothill Graveyard Tombstone AZ
Dutch Annie was a well-loved Tombstone Madam.  Are those orbs prior customers paying her a visit?  Henry's not sure.
I love all cemeteries and Boothill Graveyard is especially enjoyable with its quirky histories.  Boothill Graveyeard is also dog friendly if you can carry your dog (no peeing on the graves please).  Since I was already weirded out by Henry’s reaction to The Bird Cage Theatre, imagine my feelings when I began noticing orbs in half of our graveyard pictures.  Ghosts?  Or was it just because we visited before sundown and the sun was shining at an angle?

Boothill Graveyard Chinese Graves Tombstone AZ
Chink Smiley was shot and the two Chinese died of leprosy.
And I'm really just trying to prove I can take a picture without sun spots trying to act like paranormal orbs.
Some other things to do in Tombstone include visiting the Crystal Palace Saloon, Tombstone Courthouse, Tombstone Epitaph Museum, and Tombstone Historama, and taking a stagecoach ride (also dog friendly).

What's happening?!  That's the sun, not a ghost orb following us out, right?
Whether or not you believe in ghosts you will enjoy Tombstone’s attractions and history.  But if you do believe in ghosts, you’ll have a field day seeking out paranormal experiences.  

Travel the World: Tombstone Arizona attractions are fun for kids, history buffs, and ghost hunters.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.