Tombstone, Arizona, may be one of the most haunted cities in the country. That’s not surprising considering it proudly held the title as one of the most violent towns in the U.S. back in the early days.
Tombstone’s post office was established in December 1878, thanks to the discovery of silver by Ed Schieffelin. According to legend, Schieffelin was standing with some soldiers at Camp Hauchuca, staring at the mountains to the northeast. He thought the mountains looked like a promising place to prospect, and idly wondered out loud what those mountain might hold. The soldiers warned him that the mountains were swarming with Apache and supposedly told him “All you’ll find in those hills is your tomb stone.” Schieffelin ignored the warning and went alone into the mountains. Maybe he should have listened a little more closely, because he spent two nights hiding from the Apache. Then again, maybe it was fate, because his hiding place turned out to be the resting place of very high grade silver ore. Upon his return to Camp Huachuca, in memory of the soldier’s warning, he registered two claims … The Tombstone and The Graveyard.
When word of the discovery of silver leaked out, the area was suddenly awash in men (and women) hoping to make their fortunes. Between 1880 and 1886, over 40 million dollars in silver (that’s 1.7 billion dollars in today’s currency) was taken out of The Tombstone and The Graveyard, as well as The Lucky Cuss and The Toughnut (registered to Schieffelin’s brother, Al) and other mines in the area.
With this kind of money, it was inevitable that a town would spring up … a town designed to cater to prospectors, miners, mine owners, cowboys and homesteaders. Very shortly, it had over 15,000 residents, as well as numerous bars, gambling halls, whorehouses and more, all of which attracted plenty of less than reputable men to the area. However, Tombstone also developed some of the nicer establishments like schools, churches, an opera house. In 1881, and again in 1882, main street burned to the ground, but the citizens were too stubborn to give in to disaster and rebuilt the town. Since then, Tombstone has been called “the town too tough to die.”
What is probably the most famous shootout in history took place here between the Earps and the Clantons at the O.K. Corral. Acting in his capacity as deputy federal marshall, Wyatt Earp, arrested two men (Stillwell and Spence) who had robbed the Bisbee Stagecoach. Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy Claiborne objected to the arrest of their friends. On Oct. 26, 1881, these men arrived in town, fully armed, and there was a misunderstanding about how and where they should disarm according to city law. Things came to a head, not at the O.K. Corral, as history would have us believe, but in a vacant lot next to Camillus Fly’s photography studio, six doors down Fremont Street from the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral. Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury were killed. Today, the ghosts of the participants (the Earps, Clantons and McLaurys) appear from time to time around the O.K. Corral, but since the battle was a block away, these ghostly figures might belong to other cowboys who died in the area.
Other spirits haunt Tombstone as well. Aztec House, an antique shop, draws the curious ghost of a woman in white to window shop. At Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the ghost of numerous cowboys still whoop it up, including knocking over cases of beer in the basement. At Nellie Cashman’s Restaurant, ghosts are blamed for moving items and causing loud crashing noises. The ghost of a man in a black hat and long coat frequently crosses the street to the old Wells Fargo Building.
However, one of the most haunted spots in Tombstone may actually be the Bird Cage Theatre. The Bird Cage had an unsavory reputation. Ladies of the evening lured men to their cribs, a row of 14 cages suspended from the ceiling (seven on each side) of this gambling hall. The ladies pulled their curtains when they were entertaining, but the rest of the time was spent calling down from their cages and encouraging the rowdies below. Cowboys, cattlemen, outlaws and lawmen rubbed elbows here, gambling, drinking and pursuing other unsavory habits. Legend has it that 26 people were killed in the theatre, and the Bird Cage was only open for eight years!
Today, visitors and employees at the birdcage have reported seeing the ghosts of former prostitutes and men in cowboy hats. Many people have been touched or even pushed by unseen forces, and the parties still rage at the Bird Cage late at night when the theatre has long since closed. Laughter, shouts, music echo through the empty building.
Tombstone is a great town to visit, and not just for the ghosts. You can experience reenactments of the O.K. Corral shootout and others famous gun battles, tour some of the mines, take a jeep tour into the wilderness to some of the nearby abandoned ghost towns and mines, enjoy an historic trolley tour, visit Boothill Graveyard, and much more. Tombstone offers terrific shopping, get places to eat, and unique locations to spend the night, like Crazy Annie’s Bordello Bed & Breakfast and Saloon. For more information, visit www.tombstoneweb.com.