When exploring the infamous town of Tombstone, Arizona, you’re likely struck immediately by the sense of history and scale in the town. While it’s not a metropolis by any means, the town has dozens of buildings that look like they stepped right out a western movie – in some cases, they did. You’ve seen the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral on the big screen several times, but do you ever wonder if the ghosts of the wild west stick around those historic and striking buildings from the days past? What if you were to find out that a few famous ghosts wander the dark streets after dusk? Would you stay the night in an old brothel or get a drink at a saloon with a bloody past? Come with us as we explore the ghosts and haunts of the famous, and aptly named, Tombstone.
Located near one of the largest silver mines in the southwest, Tombstone is considered one of the last boomtowns of the old west. Set up by a prospector in 1879, by then many of the other gold rush towns had either run dry or been abandoned. Tombstone, on the other hand, began to grow rapidly in the 1800s, the population booming from 300 to over 15,000. The town boasted many modern amenities in the 1880s, including bowling alleys, over 110 saloons, 14 gambling parlors, and even an ice cream shop. At the height of its population, the town was considered an oasis in the middle of the unforgiving desert.
Probably the most famous event in Tombstone’s history is that of the shootout at the O.K. Corral in 1881. Tensions had been growing as a band of outlaws known as “the Cowboys,” lived up to their moniker by rustling nearby cattle from the ranchers surrounding the town of Tombstone. The source of the conflict stretched all the way back to the Civil War, with many of the outlaws in the gang being former Confederates, causing mayhem in a town settled primarily by northern state Republicans. Famously, the three Earp brothers; Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan, rolled into town with their friend Doc Holiday, where they immediately ran into conflict with the Cowboys. All of this tension culminated in a shootout, which occurred on Fremont street near the O.K. Corral. While two of the Earp boys were wounded, Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton ended the fight face-down in the street, dead.
The casualties of the shootout are buried in the Tombstone Boot Hill Cemetery, which is also considered to be one of the most haunted places within the old silver mining town. It’s far from the only haunt, however, as many of the old buildings on the main street through town boast a ghost or two behind their walls. The nearby Bird Cage Theatre that provided entertainment for many a prospector or cowboy is reportedly the site of over 26 deaths during its tenure. Visitors to the theater have reported the smell of cigar smoke, the sound of loud parties in empty rooms, and even a few apparitions– all of which were said to be dressed in 1880s attire. The spirit of one lady of the evening, The Painted Lady, met her end in the most gruesome way, stabbed through the throat with a stiletto.
The hauntings don’t end there, however, with many more businesses on the street claiming their own paranormal activity in the once-active silver town, including Schieffelin Hall. This opera house and theater was advertised as a more “classy” location for entertainment than the Bird Cage, but it has just as many spirits behind its doors, including a woman in a red dress that has been seen as a full bodied apparition on the stage and wandering the halls. She’s said to be a former performer at the establishment, and the concentration of other paranormal activity seems to take place behind the scenes in the dressing rooms
A frequent collaborator and rumored lover of Doc Holiday, Big Nose Kate, had a saloon in Tombstone aptly named “Big Nose Kate’s Saloon,” where it’s rumored that some patrons see the spirit of the woman herself, despite her death and burial occurring hundreds of miles away in Prescott, AZ at an advanced age. Finally, the Bordello which was also owned by Kate is considered one of the most haunted buildings in Tombstone. A miner who died in the establishment after a disagreement is said to still walk the halls, wearing his dirt-covered duster and spooking patrons by disappearing around corners. More ghosts are said to be that of the ladies who worked in the brothel and never left, with brightly colored 1800s dresses seen out of the corner of one’s eye.
A n infamous wild-west legacy and a current location for enthusiasts to visit and get a little taste of the rough and tumble town of old, Tombstone has more than just ghosts behind its walls, it has history and stories that live on long after those who called tombstone home have left the mortal coil. Don’t forget to stop at Boot Hill Cemetery, where some of the graves are fictitious, but the spirits caught on camera within the fences are certainly anything but.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.