I am such a nerd. I just adore anything/everything history, and I’m a sucker for tourist traps. I mean, there’s usually a good reason why they are tourist traps, right?
If you are a history buff like me, you have a special affinity for tourist traps with tons of history.
That would be Tombstone.
This was actually the second time we went. The first time I knew next to nothing, so I bought a few books the next day and read up. I was MUCH better prepared this time. So here are my best tips for visiting Tombstone:
- Become familiar with the famous (notorious?) characters of Tombstone. This would include 3 of the 4 Earp brothers (Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan), Doc Holliday, Jimmy Ringo, Ed Schefflin, Big Nose Kate, and a few others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. I loved the book The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn. It goes in depth about the events leading up to the shootout at the O.K. Corral, including short biographies of each of the major players, based on objective research and not, say Wyatt Earp’s autobiography, which seems to be a little *ahem* inflated.
Fun fact: The gunfight was actually in an alley behind the corral on 3rd and Fremont. For a long time, it was referred to as “The Gunfight on 3rd and Freemont” but Hollywood came in and decided that wasn’t a cool enough name, so, in usual Hollywood style, they just arbitrarily changed it.
- The first thing you should do upon arriving at Tombstone, aside from finding parking (there are a lot of free lots around town), is to hop on the trolley for a tour. The trolley is located on the corner of 4th and Toughnut St. It is well worth the $ as the tour is about 30 minutes, but they take you to all of the notable spots around Tombstone and give you a brief history, both the authentic history (such as Wyatt Earp’s house), as well as the Hollywood history (such as which hotel John Wayne usually stayed at during filming). This will help plan your day and what you would like to explore further on your own. The history given on the trolley tour is very bare-bones and quick. That’s why I recommend studying a bit prior to going.
The highlights that we saw:
- Allen Street. When you think of “Tombtone,” the wood sidewalks and original facades of Allen street are probably what comes to mind. Yes, most of the buildings contain gift shops and restaurants now, but it’s still really cool to take a stroll up and down Allen.
- The O.K. Corral. I mean, how can you not?
- The courthouse museum. That was absolutely fascinating- the old gallows are still standing around back.
- The Birdcage Theater. This is definitely something on the “don’t miss” list. We didnt go into it on our first trip, but we heard about the history there on the trolley, so we made a point of going this last time. The story goes that when it closed down, the owner just closed the door, locked it, and walked away, leaving even the poker tables downstairs exactly as they were, cards and chips and liquor bottles frozen in time. Bullet holes are still embedded with slugs. The hand-painted french wallpaper is still there, although its in tatters. That place was awesome. Sadly, while I got photos, I do not have permission to share them on social media.
- We actually started our day at Boothill Graveyard before we got all the way into town. I would recommend saving it for last on the way out, after you become familiar with some of the names. But regardless of when you can squeeze it in, do. Sadly, most of the grave markers have been destroyed from weather or vandals, so about 90% of them are recreations. Still cool.
What we missed that I wish we had gotten to see:
- Wyatt Earp’s house is apparently sometimes open to visitors to go inside and look around. It wasn’t open when we were there.
- The Rose Museum. Home to the largest rose bush in the world, it gets over a million blooms. Apparently it’s in the Guinness Book of Word Records. It was sent to Tombstone from Europe when the owner of the boarding house became homesick.
- We wanted to take a mine tour, but we missed it while we were in the Birdcage Theater. Poor planning on our part. Next time.