(Thanks to sweet Carol Cox for filling in for Judy Miller today. More on the "why" below. And welcome back, Carol…)
My current book is set in a fictional town not far from Tombstone, making it the perfect place to visit when researching the area. It’s a great place to dig up nuggets of information, both fact and myth.
The founding fathers didn’t plan for Tombstone to become the poster child for the wild and woolly West. Their vision was of a city whose level of refinement would equal that of Chicago or San Francisco. The first edition of the Tombstone Epitaph boasted: “Tombstone is a city upon a hill promising to vie with ancient Rome upon her seven hills in a fame different in character but no less in importance.”
In some respects, Tombstone lives up to that image. There’s the sentimental story of Mary Gee, a homesick Scottish bride who planted a cutting of a Lady Banks rose sent from her home in Scotland in 1885. Despite the desert heat, it grew . . . and grew . . . and is still growing today, spreading its branches over more than 8,000 square feet at the Rose Tree Museum.
There’s also Schieffelin Hall, built to provide a center for cultural activity. Its stage was the largest in any theater between Denver and San Francisco.
Another theater, the Bird Cage (pictured below), hosted notable performers, too—Eddie Foy, Lotta Crabtree, Sarah Bernhardt, and Ethel Barrymore. But it offered less savory entertainments as well, along with some serious gambling, including a non-stop poker game that lasted nearly 8 ½ years. Not quite the upstanding image early town promoters wanted to portray.
And that infamous shootout that took place in the O.K. Corral . . . didn’t.
It actually occurred in an empty lot next to C.S. Fly’s photography studio. Why the corral got all the promotional benefits is a bit of a puzzle. And it seems a shame that Fly, who took some of the most noted photos of his day, didn’t capture an image of one of the iconic events in Old West history, especially since he was in the studio at the time the lead started flying.
One reason may be that he was too busy saving his skin to focus on getting his equipment set up. Another is that he simply didn’t have time. The long exposure time needed in early photography required subjects to sit still for minutes on end. It’s safe to assume the participants weren’t in any mood to strike a pose long enough for him to get his shot . . . the photographic kind, that is.
Here’s one last item to round out our tour of Tombstone trivia—Eleanor Dumont, otherwise known as Madame Mustache, one of the premier card dealers of her day. It isn’t hard to figure out she how got the nickname. With all the hair removal products at our disposal today, it’s hard to imagine a woman being willing to live with a wild and wooly growth like that. But maybe her ability to turn an unsightly imperfection into a trademark should inspire admiration.
On the other hand, I suspect Stevie Wonder didn’t have her in mind when he sang, “Isn’t She Lovely?”
Many thanks to Judy, who is without internet access at the moment and asked me to blog for her this week. I always enjoy visiting with the Writes of Passage readers. Your hometown may not have the degree of quirkiness we’ve seen in Tombstone, but I’ll bet you can find some fun stories of your own.
Anybody want to share?