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Has Tombstone Become the Town Too Dumb to Die? – Part II

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According to the venerable Tombstone historian Ben Traywick, the ever-present quest for Tombstone authenticity is something from which newly arrived residents frequently suffer. After awhile they will realize all Tombstone has ever been about is making money.

Some people just do it better than others. (See Part I)

Prospector Ed Schieffelin wanted to hunt for gold and silver in southern Arizona during the days of the Apache rebellion in the late 1870s. He hired on as a scout at Camp Huachuca, now Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, and did a little prospecting in his spare time.

After he started prospecting in an area known as Goose Flats, someone told him the only thing he was going to find was his tombstone. In 1879, Ed Schieffelin made one of the largest silver strikes in American history. The town that soon sprang up around his mines became known as Tombstone.

Within months of his strike, the little community of Tombstone had exploded into one of the largest towns in the Southwest – larger than Los Angeles. Tombstone was all about money. It attracted miners, gamblers, lawmen, outlaws, sinners, and saints. By 1880 the town had a number of restaurants: American, French, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, and gourmet. There were several newspaper stands. There was a bookstore, a gymnasium, and a bowling alley.

The community was wealthy enough to attract some of the finest physicians in the country, several of whom opened competing hospitals. The two primary newspapers, the Epitaph and Nugget began one of the nations more infamous ‘newspaper wars’.

There were hotels – two of them extremely upscale. The saloons were more extravagant than San Francisco, with the townspeople extremely well dressed in the latest “Paris” fashions. There was even an ice skating rink!

Tombstone had everything in the world going for it, and then the mines began leaking water. Within a few years they flooded to the point where it was impossible for the expensive, imported pumps to even keep up with the seepage of water. The mines died. The town began to die.

The low point was the early 1960s when the decision was made to demolish the courthouse, now a national treasure. It was only the fortitude of a few people like Ben Traywick and stalwart business owners who kept the dying community alive.

Then came the movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp. The wonder that was once Tombstone was rediscovered by people the world over. With the influx of new visitors came the demand for “authenticity”. The little town, once dying, began to experience the almost unknown feeling of the birth pain of new business and growth.

New houses began going up on empty lots. Old buildings were renovated. Inspired by the legend, people began relocating to Tombstone instead of fleeing from it.

Growth always brings problems, and Tombstone is no different. There are kids strung out on drugs, along with the usual breaking and entering to steal items for those drugs. Periodically the motorcycle gangs will ride into town, get drunk, and decide to start a roaming fight from Fourth Street to Fifth Street.

A few years ago, Chris Simcox moseyed into town, and low and behold the Minutemen were born. Fortunately it was a fad that did not last, and you can still find illegals roaming the outskirts of the town early in the morning in their quest to reach greener pastures.

Then came the Tombstone Trolley. It was a great idea, designed for people who did not want to tour the little town in the leisure of one of Dusty Escapule’s stagecoaches. There were a few individuals in the town, primarily connected to Escapule who felt the Tombstone Trolley was stiff competition for the stage rides.

Once re-elected mayor, Escapule came up with an excellent way to perhaps put an end to his competition, or so more than a few residents of the little town say. If the town council were to close off the cross streets of Fourth and Fifth Streets at Allen, the trolley would basically be put out of business – so they say. Mayor Escapule and the various committees have decided, for the sake of authenticity, Fourth and Fifth Streets really should be closed to create a walking mall.

It is a great idea, at face value. There are several serious problems with the closure, aside from losing close to 60 parking spots; the town’s main handicapped parking areas would be eliminated.

Do you require handicapped parking or know someone who does? If so, they probably will no longer have access to Allen Street in Tombstone. Handicapped parking, from what I have been told, will be limited to a few spots on Sixth or Third Streets. Sixth Street is slightly uphill from the parking lot, making a wheelchair difficult to push.

If a person is handicapped, or simply cannot walk the distances required, they are out of luck. Granted the area being turned into a “square” is no larger than your average shopping mall, but shopping malls are required to have handicapped parking in easily accessible locations.

This is something I would not be paying attention to if my mother had not experienced a serious cardiac incident several years ago, nearly resulting in her death. She talks a good game, but has a very difficult time making it from one side of a large department store to another.

Tombstone will soon be completely inaccessible to her and to anyone who has serious physical problems. Constant Tombstone visitors who have physical limitations have found themselves asking if those who are not physically perfect are even wanted in the town now. In my mother’s case, the ones who will suffer are the local merchants.

All protests to the contrary, my mother is a Major League shopper. One of our favorite shopping spots is The Shady Lady’s Closet. It is a great place for unusual items, skirts, shawls, shoes, handbags, hats, and jackets, in all price ranges. My mother hits it several times a year for birthday and Christmas gifts, usually spending no less than several thousand dollars, all totaled.

I’ve been in retail and know what it means to lose a customer who spends that kind of money. The loss of just a half dozen customers like that would soon run into the five-figure mark for a small retail store.

My sources have told me that complaints have been filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has already agreed to look into the situation. It is a Federal lawsuit just waiting to happen.

Those who are having a problem with the “authenticity” problem of eliminating usable handicapped parking are also asking if the gorgeous new green metal benches placed in select locations are “authentic.” Of course, people like my 85-year-old father will be unable to enjoy the benches because it will be difficult for him to walk the few blocks necessary now that there is no place for him to park. The only restaurants that will be available for someone like my parents will be those on the outskirts of town.

Part III will focus on the shootout outside of the OK Corral.

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