The Sheepshead as seen from Tombstone, AZ.
Today, Tombstone has a population of a little less than 1500, keeping in line with its historical demographics, if not violent past. Many of the old western style saloons and other architectural fixtures remain intact while trolleys and horse-drawn carriages dot the streets with tourists. Cosplayers–they prefer to be called “living historians”–who dress the way individuals it did in the city’s heyday, catcall for business and tours, and the smell of sweet barbeque permeates the air. What was once a lawless town with a fearsome name and reputation, is these days part small town, part family-friendly tourist destination (though a cosplayer or two might pull a knife out on you or your kids to show you how things were done in the old days).
I am seen here geeking out with a group of kindly cosplayers
I let my nerdier side take over and I took the time to visit a few of the museums in the area and shop around. Unlike at Disney, which often samples and reproduces versions of real places and their culture, I was being exposed, in some ways, to the actual culture of a time in Tombstone’s history. I couldn’t resist the impulse and switch to my boots, picked up a few things–a sarape, badge, and hat– along with some souvenirs and walked around town channeling badasses like Jaime Foxx in D’Jango Unchained or young Clint Eastwood in The Man With No Name. I got to watch a campy daytime theatre production of old western life in what was called “Old Tombstone” and went on a trolley tour where our velvet-voiced guide pointed out the various historical landmarks and points of interest. I also chatted with lots of people who lived in the city to try to get a sense of who they were and what the town had become. One woman who ran the museum talked about how she had spent her entire life in Tombstone and didn’t have “itchy feet” as she said I did. Her only fear it seemed was a reasonable one: She didn’t want to become like her mother. Another encounter involved a cute and industrious couple that gave up their fast lives in finance in the heart of Chicago to move for a slower, yet more fulfilling life in Tombstone. I could feel that the people who stayed in a town so ominously named, while few, were bursting with love, life, and pride for the place they lived.