I’m standing outside Boothill Cemetery studying its surrounding walls, trying to match what I see with a memory from my childhood. I’ve just traveled along a dusty desert road. The toxic, nostril burning smell of a skunk (who has met an unfortunate end sometime earlier in the morning, I’m sure), leaks through my car’s air conditioning vents for most of my journey from Tucson to Tombstone–a distance of a little over seventy miles.
The gatekeeper to the graveyard refuses my debit card, saying she only takes cash for the $3 entry fee. I’m invited to use the ATM inside the gift shop–if it hasn’t run out of money yet today, she adds. She will take quarters though, and so from the dark recesses of my purse I dig out the exact amount. In my classic awkwardness I accidentally drop one down a crack in the wooden counter as I hand over the change. Thankfully, its recovered, and I’m handed an informational pamphlet and allowed to pass.
As I enter the graveyard, I am swept away by imagining what life must have been like in the 1800’s. Walking thoughtfully between the rows of wooden markers that face an epic barren landscape, I wonder how a town such as Tombstone emerged in the middle of what seems like a lonely nowhere.
The gruesome stories of those buried in the cemetery range from being shot, lynched, poisoned, stoned in the face–and to being hung by mistake. Some of the most notable figures buried there include Billy Clanton, and Tom and Frank McLaury who were murdered on the streets of Tombstone during the infamous battle of the O.K. Corral.
Like an amusement park ride, the only way to exit the historic site is by passing through a gift shop. In some ways, it seems a little disrespectful after acknowledging the nearly 250 lives that lived in such a rough and rugged era. But if it helps to fund the care of the cemetery, then it’s probably very necessary.
The morning air is warming as the hour inches towards noon. I’m in the car putting Tombstone into my GPS and wondering what adventure lies ahead. I’m still searching to match that image of a memory with a location that for some reason became imbedded in my mind decades ago. Has time changed the little town since then? Time has certainly changed me. Maybe I won’t find what I’m looking for, but I can’t help feeling a little excited as I turn the key in the ignition and pull back out onto the dusty desert road to explore what lies ahead.
(All photos by Jennifer R. Monroe)