Discovering Tombstone’s Undead
For Part 1 of this 3-part series, click HERE.
Tombstone, Arizona is about 75 miles south of Tucson, down I-10 and southeast on Route 80 (or 83 South to 82 East to 80 South to avoid some super-slab) and has become a tourism Mecca, inspired by its tagline, “The town too tough to die.” A closer look, though, reveals it also offers a dusty home for ghosts too tough to stay dead.
Tombstone remains a living monument to a romantic if murderous era. Its clapboard buildings and wooden sidewalks stir up images of cowboy heroes and villains, the likes of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo, as well as the Clanton and McLaury clans, now taking up permanent residence on Boot Hill, where moldering graves are marked by rotting wooden tombstones. Their historic shootout near the OK Corral is known around the world. The Wild West is preserved in the town’s original 1880s’ buildings. The celluloid stuff you saw on TV is here to experience, live and undead.
Tombstone’s Cemetery. Might their ghosts still wander this dusty old town?
Tombstone’s Torrid History
As a silver-mining boomtown, Tombstone attracted every sort of cowboy, hustler, rustler, investor, gunfighter, gambler and prospector. As hardscrabble a life as that was, women had it even harder. Opportunities were few—school teacher, saloon girl, wife or prostitute were about their only choices. If widowed, which was fairly common, women were often forced to sell their bodies or starve. As they aged, they were pushed further and further toward the town outskirts. Many committed suicide. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, among many others, married or lived with “soiled doves” as they drifted from one boomtown to the next.
Vice and lawlessness ran rampant, but everyone was too busy trying to dig a fortune out of the town to care much. Even the renowned Earp and his brothers Morgan, James, Virgil, and much lesser known Warren, the youngest Earp, came to Tombstone to make money, not clean up the town. Wyatt was later appointed Deputy Sheriff with ambitions to become Sheriff, a position that doubled as tax collector, which earned 10% of Pima County’s tax revenue. For the Sheriff, this could top $1 million in today’s money per year in commission.
The lovely, if haunted, Tombstone Bordello B&B.
Tombstone Bordello B&B
Some citizens, however, sought treasures of the heart. Or close enough. The Tombstone Bordello B&B was once a working “cathouse”, which saw more than its share of carnal love and spilled blood. Unlike some other locations where the air can feel heavy and with just a little imagination, menacing, the Tombstone Bordello B&B doesn’t feel at all threatening; in fact, the love sold here seems to have left some change.
We stayed in a room predominantly decorated in standard brothel red, perfectly appropriate. On the dresser was a well-used guest journal. Some guests experienced nothing but a pleasant stay and fine breakfast, but others had written something more. Reports of midnight disturbances of the spectral kind filled the journal. Most described being touched on the leg or arm while in bed, some felt a distinct tug. After an unexplained tug on her leg, one woman wrote someone, or something, got into bed with her. Her and her mother, who shared the room, leapt from their beds and ran out the door, never to return. The journal went on to describe a “comforting” feeling, a protective “energy” that permeated the house. All except one:
A guest felt hands tightening around her neck
A guest felt hands tightening around her neck, uncomfortable, but not choking. This lasted several minutes, according to the guest, a long time to feel strangled and yet she didn’t believe she was at serious risk. Some believe this was the spirit of Dutch Annie, who reportedly was strangled by an unsatisfied customer. Other sightings include human-shaped mists, some in period dressing gowns, drifting from one room to the next; a phantom cowboy entering through a window and vanishing through a door; an employee who lost their balance on the steep indoor stairs but was steadied by an invisible force; and the sound of gunshots behind the B&B, echoes of a miner shot to death in an argument over one of the girls. And who says love kills slowly?
A mural within the Bird Cage Theater in town, depicting this once “den of iniquity” in its heyday.
The property was built sometime between 1881 and 1888, according to incomplete records. Big Nose Kate, outlaw, gambler, saloon and brothel owner, but best remembered as being Doc Holliday’s sometime girlfriend and later his common law wife, originally owned the Tombstone Bordello. The building was later moved a couple of hundred feet to its present location, refurbished a time or two, including additions. The red porch lights that still burn are a nice touch. Add a few ladies in period costume, someone banging on the antique piano keys, and rotgut cocktails being served on silver trays and it would feel like you just stepped back in time. Service prices posted on the wall.
The Bordello B&B is managed by the warm and welcoming Mary, who also bakes while her husband, Will, cooks. The hearty breakfast is not to be missed, nor are Mary’s homemade muffins and cookies. She leaves cookies out for the guests every night, or for the ghosts, whomever gets them first. Ditch your low-carb diet for your stay; it’s well worth it. The heart of Tombstone is about a 5-minute walk away.
Our accommodations while staying with the good folks at the Tombstone Bordello B&B.
After asking the spirits to show themselves or at least say something, taking photos in the dark and other proven ghost hunting measures, sad to say neither Valerie nor I felt nary a tug or pull, breath on the neck, floating orb, disembodied voice or even boney hands around the throat. Valerie, however, did report a sinister snoring that had no natural explanation.
Tombstone’s haunts don’t end there. The Bird Cage Theatre, once a clamorous and lustful casino and dance hall, operated for only nine years, from 1881 to 1889. What a wild and wicked run it had. Operating 24 hours per day every day for nearly a decade, exotic and can-can dancers and national headliners performed on stage as prostitutes plied their trade in the 14 bird cage cribs that line the walls of the theater. It was the scene of at least 16 gunfights, leaving some 140 bullet holes in the floors, walls and ceilings. According to some witnesses, a few unlucky patrons are still waiting for the next show. While sitting at the original card table used by gamblers long dead, a palpably eerie feeling came over me. What a great biker bar it would have been.
The Indian Super Chief Limited felt right at home here.
Tombstone: Portal to the Other Side?
Why is there so much paranormal activity in Tombstone? Aside from being the scene for many a murder or otherwise violent death, some locals believe the honeycomb of silver mines beneath the town acts as a kind of spectral battery, charging up otherwise dormant or “resting” souls and entities of unknown origin or intent. Why only some of us can see, hear or feel them while others cannot may have something to do with an individual’s particular “positive” charge attracting the ghost’s “negative.” We are both beings powered one way or another by electricity, so this theory makes as much good sense as any other.
I wandered about town late at night, my motorcycle boot heels striking Tombstone’s clapboard sidewalks, echoing, I fancied, the footsteps of Earp and Masterson and the drunken swagger of Holliday. I passed what quickly became our preferred eatery, the Longhorn Restaurant (originally the Bucket of Blood Saloon), then the once-bawdy Crystal Palace and Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, now all pretty tame, at least in the bright daylight. I walked among ghosts dressed in their western finery, and ghosts-in-the-making still throwing back whiskies in the barrooms.
Next: Long Road Home On An Indian
*Photos by J. Joshua Placa, B. Valerie Gibbs, Tombstone Bordello B&B
Tombstone Bordello B&B
107 West Allen Street
Tombstone, AZ 85638