Tombstone in the American state of Arizona is one of the most famous towns of the Wild West. The name alone is still a legend. In its heyday, this place was one of the roughest in America and the scene of legendary gunfights such as the ‘gunfight’ at the OK Corral. It is a nice city to visit and experience the atmosphere of the past. The main street Allen Street was partly restored and there are also many other sights and fun attractions. You will find the old courthouse, the Boothill Graveyard with funny inscriptions, the striking Bird Cage Theater and a few authentic saloons where you can enjoy a drink. What should you see and do in Tombstone?
- Tombstone (Arizona): sights and attractions
- Allen Street, Tombstone’s main artery
- OK Corral
- Bird Cage Theater
- Tombstone Courthouse
- Boothill Graveyard
- Rose Tree Museum
- The saloons of Tombstone
Tombstone (Arizona): sights and attractions
History of Tombstone
Tombstone only came into existence in the late 1870s. The Apache still ruled this region and the relationship with the white invaders was completely lost. The Indians attacked the immigrants whenever they could.
Prospector and city founder Ed Schieffelin decided to brave the dangers in 1877 and searched the nearby Dragoon Mountains in search of valuables. His dream came true a year later: he found gold and silver. Schieffelin decided to name the place Tombstone because friends had warned him that he would find nothing but his own grave here. Fortune seekers and desperados soon flocked to the city like flies, and by 1880 Tombstone was home to ten thousand people. In no time it became one of the wildest places in Arizona and in the entire Wild West. At one point the city was even bigger than San Francisco.
The fairy tale was short-lived. In 1886, water was encountered at great depths and the mine was permanently flooded. Within no time the town emptied: almost all residents left to try their luck elsewhere. Tombstone was in danger of becoming a ghost town, but in 1962 it became a national monument. The city turned out to be too tough to die and has lived on as a tourist attraction ever since.
You’ll find Tombstone in Arizona, about 70 miles southeast of the city of Tucson. You take the I-80 highway to the Benson exit, from where you follow Highway 80 for 22 miles. In total it takes about an hour and a half to drive from Tucson to Tombstone.
Attractions in Tombstone
Walking around the town among the many attractive historic buildings is fun and enjoyable. If you want to visit one of the many attractions, you usually have to pay admission. You pay $10 admission for the OK Corral and the Bird Cage Theater, and $5 for attractions such as the Rose Tree Museum or the Courthouse. Prices can of course always change.
Allen Street, Tombstone’s main artery
This is the main street in Tombstone. Here you will find one historic building next to another, eateries, saloons and shops. Initially the main street was a bit longer, but much has been lost over the years. What you see today is the restored part, but it gives a good impression of what it once was like. Dusty streets, wooden sidewalks and swinging doors form the backdrop here. Dilapidated wagons line the street corners and signs mark the locations of famous gun battles.
The OK Corral is the biggest attraction in Tombstone. The legendary Gunfight at the OK Corral took place at this stable on October 26, 1881 around 2 p.m. Brothers Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp, together with Doc Holliday, faced the clan of the McLaury and Clanton families after a years-long feud. The gunfight lasted no more than thirty seconds and claimed the lives of two of the McLaurys and Billy Clanton. There has always been an aura of mystery surrounding the true circumstances and the cause of the incident, which has led to a lot of speculation and wild stories.
When you visit the building you will see the hearse with which the victims were taken away. In the courtyard, dolls indicate where the members of each clan stood. You can also see the room from which Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday’s girlfriend, is said to have followed the shooting. Finally, in a studio next door, photos of Geronimo and other Apache warriors can be seen.
Every day at 2 p.m. there is a short show in which actors in traditional costumes bring the shooting incident back to life.
The Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone / Source: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay
Bird Cage Theater
The strikingly colored Bird Cage Theater was the place in Tombstone for entertainment and evening performances. The building was at the same time a saloon, dance hall, gambling temple and brothel. The name refers to the fourteen bird cages on the ceiling, supposedly boxes from which you could follow the performances, but because they had a curtain they were mainly used by prostitutes. The Earps and their friends used the boxes on the left, while the sheriff and Clantons occupied the ones on the right.
It’s fun to stroll through the theater. You can breathe in the bygone atmosphere of that time thanks to the many objects from that time. Even the old gaming tables where people once gambled for a lot of money are still there. The ‘ghost tours’ in the evening are also fun. The spirits of the deceased are said to still appear regularly. Documentaries about the strange events in the building were even broadcast on American TV.
The courthouse is a reminder of the time when Tombstone was the most important town in the area. Later, the neighboring town of Bisbee would take over that role.
Interesting sights in the Courthouse include information about the Apache and bandits from the Wild West, a coroner’s report about a highwayman in the sheriff’s office and a video reconstruction of a famous murder from 1897. Of course you can also visit the former courtroom. Also take a look at the garden: the gallows on which criminals (whether justified or not) were hanged at the time are still there.
Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone / Source: CyberpunkLibrarian, Pixabay
The Old Tombstone Cemetery is located just under a mile outside of downtown on Highway-80. It was closed in 1884 and has 276 graves. Remarkable: the cause of death is stated on almost every grave. Murdered, Shot, Suicide or Killed by Indians are just a few examples. You can visit the final resting place of the losers of the incident at the OK Corral, but even more fun are the many funny epitaphs.
‘Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a 44, no Les, no More’
‘Here lies George Johnston, hung by mistake, 1882, he was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he’s gone’ The
entrance to the cemetery there is a souvenir shop but it is free. For a few dollars you can buy an overview of all the graves with place names and a short biography.
Rose Tree Museum
This is a special place in Tombstone and definitely worth a visit. Here you will find the largest climbing rose tree in the world. It’s an incredible sight. You might not have thought that a tree could grow so big! The small tree, planted in 1886, was originally from Scotland and grew over the years into a spectacular mastodon.
The best time of year to see this attraction is April, when the tree is in bloom and the whole place smells of roses. You can also see the top of the tree from a viewing platform. There is also a small but interesting museum.
The saloons of Tombstone
If you spend the night in Tombstone or nearby, be sure to visit the town again in the evening. Only then can you really feel the atmosphere of the old west, when most of the tourists have disappeared. Then do like the cowboys and spend a nice evening in one of the beautiful saloons!
Crystal Palace Saloon
This lively 1879 saloon in Tombstone has been restored. You can eat something in the restaurant here or just enjoy drinks in the bar until late at night. The long counter, stuffed deer and other decorations from that time bring the past back to life. According to rumors, there are also bullet holes in the ceiling and blood stains on the floor, but is it true?
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon in Tombstone
This bar in Tombstone is also a gem where you will feel like you are back in the Wild West. You can enjoy a drink here until midnight in a rough but cozy atmosphere. The bar is named after Doc Holliday’s girlfriend and it doesn’t take long to guess how she got her name. Are you here in the afternoon? It’s also fun, with live music on some days.
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