I’m laughing at myself as I drive towards the center of Tombstone from Boothill Cemetery. It’s taken me all of two minutes to make the trip, yet, for some reason, I still had to ask my phone for directions before driving. Yes, in case you were wondering, there are plenty of signs between these two points of interest that make such an act…very unnecessary.
The little child inside of me has held onto a memory of visiting Tombstone several decades ago. In this memory is a wall, but the memory is incomplete. Now I’m returning, curious if I can find this wall again–if it still exists–and fill in some blanks as to why I remember something so seemingly insignificant, so vividly.
Parking near the Tombstone Courthouse, the excitement I feel for being out and about in a historic town is bubbling inside me like mad. With my Nikon in hand, I spring out of my car…only to be slowed down to wait for a horse-drawn wagon filled with tourists to pass. Still, it doesn’t stop this history-loving-bookworm for long. Off I go.
Where I’m headed is a section of East Allen Street. But along the way, my introverted please-don’t-draw-attention-to-me-in-public radar picks up on a rugged, costumed man standing in the doorway of a saloon. Despite my best efforts to avoid being seen as I walk on the opposite side of the street, he shouts out to invite me to a gunfight show happening soon somewhere inside. I pass, intent on quietly exploring more of the town.
My first glimpse of East Allen Street has the little girl inside of me doing a crazy-happy-dance despite the high number of tourists already present so early in the morning. Blocked off to modern traffic, this portion of East Allen Street has been preserved as a nod to what life was like in the 1800’s. However, as I stroll down the wooden walkways along the storefronts, saloons and theaters, my senses aren’t sure how to process the information I’m taking in.
On one hand, I grasp the historical significance of where I’m at. And yet, amongst all the history is a heavy presence of the 1993 movie, Tombstone. I’m a fan of the movie, but the images of Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, and Sam Elliott are unescapable. So too, is the commercialism. I can’t help but make comparisons to my young-adult memories of visiting Knotts Berry Farm–a western themed amusement park in Southern California.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve made this trip with barely enough quarters to have covered the entrance fee at Boothill that’s making me a bit over-sensitive–but for every historical building I enter with an excited, expectant heart, I can only go so far before being pitched a high entrance fee if I want to see or learn anything more.
The desert heat is becoming intense as the walkways become congested with tourists anticipating the scheduled reenactment of the famous gunfight that secured this town’s place in the history books. For a moment, I pause to swoon over the layered costumes of the gunfighters lingering about. Their somber, long, black frock coats and wide-brimmed hats demand respect. I snap back to reality when I look over to a driver sitting atop a stagecoach. Dressed in 1800’s garb, he’s looking at his iPhone and working on sending a text.
Seeing all that I can see on my limited, nearly non-existent budget, I resign myself to calling it a day. I finish out my return trip down East Allen Street, heading towards a man who is undoubtedly channeling outlaw Johnny Ringo in an amazingly impressive, sinister way. For a second, I look away to glance over to my right–and I see it: The Wall of my childhood memories. I stop and try to get a sense of where I am. Behind me is a sign inviting me to view the OK Corral.
In my memory, I remember being told that something was “closed”. My grandfather brought me to this wall and lifted me up, not wanting me to miss out on experiencing something historically significant. I don’t remember being able to see what was on the other side. I don’t even have a memory of anything else about Tombstone. What I would remember from my visit long ago, was this act by my Grandfather.
Preparing for the drive back to Tucson, I ask my phone for directions without hesitation–considering I’ve got further than a two-minute drive ahead of me. Back out into the lonely landscape, I’m already thinking about making another trip to Tombstone someday–but with a little more cash in my pocket next time. Two visits in, some thirty-plus years apart, and I still haven’t seen the OK Corral! Ultimately, that’s not what matters. When we travel, (and if we’re lucky to travel with those we love), the memories we create…need no entrance fee.