White Pickets and Red Bricks The Town Too Tough to Die

White Pickets and Red Bricks - A break in the cloudy sky let sun light the face of a Tombstone Apartment.
White Pickets and Red Bricks – A break in the cloudy sky let the sun light up the face of a Tombstone Apartment.

You may have noticed that history is one of my frequent photo themes, whether it’s human history, historical buildings, or the geologic origins of a mountain. I don’t know where this passion came from because I was a terrible history student in school—I could never keep my dates straight. Maybe it’s an old-person thing. Ironically, we geezers try to cram useless facts into every unused nook and cranny in our brains, only to drop dead before using any of it.

Whenever Queen Anne and I visit a place like Tombstone, we like to see all the hot spots that every tourist goes to. The gunfighters, the courthouse, the palatial bars, and we even rummage through the gift shops (ya gotta have new T-shirts). When I get home and write about my photos, digging up the background on the above subjects is relatively easy. But, as is the case with the building featured in this week’s picture, not every historical building has a bronze plaque.

When I shot the Tombstone County Courthouse featured a couple of weeks ago, I started across the street and circled the building. I snapped images as I went, but I was looking for something different—an angle no one had seen. The shot I presented was taken from the alley out back, and the wall, tower, and clouds gave me what I wanted.

When I finished my loop, I was back at the starting point—in front of a red-brick home across the street from the courthouse. This century-old home doesn’t have a written story—well, not online, it doesn’t—but I want to know more. Who was it built for? Why was it converted into apartments? Where did they get all of those bricks?

I’m a sucker for picket fences. I would never own one because they’re a pain in the ass to maintain, but I can’t pass one without getting out my camera. I took two versions of this photo; the first was when I started my courthouse walk. In that one, the sky was overcast, and the building was entirely in its shadow. When I finished my lap, the clouds had partially opened, allowing the sun to shine light onto the apartments. This pattern of light and shadow is my favorite light. Here’s why: if you combine the way the building is lit and the broken clouds in the sky, this scene will never happen exactly again. That means I captured a specific moment that can never be reproduced. If you think about it, it’s a moment of history.

I called this shot White Pickets and Red Bricks because those are the essential elements that make up this image. You can see its larger version on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join us next week when we come back with our final Tombstone image.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

I want to note this week’s passing of David Crosby, a founding member of two bands that were part of my formative years; the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and subsequent derivatives). They pioneered the transformation of folk music to folk rock. Several of David’s albums in my collection get regular rotation in my listening room. Peace-out David.

Crystal Palace The Town Too Tough to Die

Crystal Palace - When we travel to Tombstone, we make a point of stopping in the Crystal Palace and admire its back bar.
Crystal Palace – When we travel to Tombstone, we make a point of stopping in the Crystal Palace to admire its back bar.

How adventurous are you? Do you try new things or stick with the tried and true when you return to a location? I’d say that Queen Anne and I are 25/75 split. We always seem to return to the joints we’ve enjoyed but try to see what else is out there. I’m unsure if that’s adventurous or what other people usually do.

That holds for Tombstone as well. It may not be a surprise that when we get to town, one of our first stops is a bar—not just any bar, but we specifically make a beeline to the Crystal Palace. We don’t go there because the beer is cold or the wine is vintage; let’s face it, beer is beer, and bar wine is—ugh. When we are belly-up to the bar, the alcohol is only a vessel for a toast to a great piece of furniture—the Crystal Palace back bar.

The Palace is on the south end of town on Allen Street. During winter, they keep the front doors closed, but you can bust your way through a pair of a traditional cowboy swinging doors during summer. As you look around the cavernous room, you’ll see a bigger-than-life roulette wheel hung as wall art. The ceilings are two stories high and covered in stamped tin tiles. There’s a stage along the back wall where rows of cancan girls danced. On the room’s left is a massive mahogany back bar dwarfing the bartenders. The room smells of stale beer, French fries, and hamburgers smeared on a leather saddle.

The cabinet that is the source of our admiration reaches about three-quarters of the way to the ceiling. It has three arches supported by Corinthian columns with mirror inserts. I wonder how often those mirrors were targets of bullets or flying cowboys. It looks like one piece, but I’ll bet there’s a seam hidden beneath the center trim and festoon. On each of its flanks are matching liquor hutches. If you don’t have time to drive to Tombstone, you can see its twin sister in one of Prescott’s Whiskey Row bars (I don’t recall exactly which bar it was because I spent too much of my life doing research for this article).

We don’t grow mahogany in Arizona or any other hardwood that would be nice enough for cabinets like this. This one was ordered from furniture makers in New England and then shipped around South America’s treacherous Cape Horn (no Virginia, the canal wasn’t yet built). Once the sailboat reached the Sea of Cortez, the bar was unloaded and carried overland by wagon.

If you’re hungry, you can order food. It’s not the worst place in town, but it’s still bar food. They prepare onion rings in-house, notably better than those awful versions at Jack’s or The King. If the tour busses are in town, the place will be packed, and the crowd can overwhelm the staff. Then you’ll have to be patient with your food and bill. But it’s not any better at the other restaurants.

There is one more thing about the Crystal Palace that I should warn you about—especially in spring. For some reason, enough couples are getting hitched in Tombstone; the town provides them with sideshows. On one of our visits, we noticed a table full of guys having a bachelor’s party. They had a great time drinking beer and being loud when suddenly an attractive woman dressed in a bright red dance costume burst through the swinging doors. She was followed by three men with handlebar mustaches wearing long black dusters and deputy badges. The young woman walked over to the groom-to-be and pointed her finger at him. She shouted for the entire world to hear, “That’s him! That’s the slime ball. Last night he promised to love me forever, and today he’s running off with another woman.”

Then the deputies grabbed the scoundrel under his arms and dragged him through the side door to the hanging tree out back. The crowd emptied the bar and filled the streets. Once there, the posse strung him up but stopped until someone fetched the bride.

Once she arrived (accompanied by her entourage), the lawmen presented their case. After hearing what they had to say, she promised that after their wedding, she’d set him straight, and he would never do it again. The sheriff polled the crowd, “Do you believe her?”

Most of the mob said yes, so he removed the noose, and we all went back into the bar and ordered another beer—on the groom.

I called this week’s picture Crystal Palace, and it’s of the cabinets described in my story. I was happy that my shot was sharp in such a dark room without using a flash or a tripod. I lightened the wood in post-production to show off its luster and grain. To get a clean shot, I had to wait for the bartenders to go to the kitchen window. Sometimes it pays to be patient.

You can see a larger version of Crystal Palace on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join us next week when we come back with another Tombstone story.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Are you ready for flowers? With the frequent rain this winter, we will have a bumper crop of wildflowers. Now is the time for you to come up with some strategery on where to go to photograph them.

Gunfighters The Town Too Tough To Die

Gunfighters - Actors dressed in Earp costumes try to stay warm on Allen Street while they coax visitors to come see the 3:00 pm show.
Gunfighters – Actors dressed in Earp costumes try to stay warm on Allen Street while coaxing visitors to see the 3:00 pm show.

Ghost towns in Arizona are a dime a dozen. There are enough of them to fill a book. I know because I currently have five of them sitting on my shelves. The morphing of a city into a ghost town follows a familiar pattern. It starts with some loony prospector finding a valuable mineral—gold, silver, copper, diamonds, or another precious stone. News of the bonanza spreads quickly and lures a gaggle of opportunistic people. Half of them want to get rich by picking nuggets from the ground, and the rest want to pick them from someone’s pockets.

A new town springs from the ground like a children’s pop-up book. More people settled in the town and either got jobs at the mine or open shops that every mining community needed, like bars, gambling halls, and whore houses. Eventually—in a year, a decade, or a century—the gold (or whatever) pans out. The excitement of living in a mining town slowly dies, and its residents move on to the next boom town. Mother Nature reclaims the land without caretakers; all that remains is a pile of rotting wood, some foundations, and the eerie spirit of ghosts.

Of course, there are exceptions to my rule. In a handful of cases, when the mine goes bust, its residents look around and say to themselves, “This is a great place to live.” They find other sources of income. I call these places amusement communities. Examples that come to mind include Oatman, Jerome, Bisbee, Bagdad, Clifton, and Tombstone.

Of those locations, Tombstone is the odd duck. There are no gaping open pits to gawk at, historic hotels, or James Beard-worthy restaurants. I suspect that most of its visitors don’t even know about the silver mine. That’s because the silver vein wasn’t gigantic, and that’s how it got the name Goodenough Silver Mine. A gunfight between the Earps and the Clantons secured Tombstone’s historical spot. If it weren’t for that singular gang fight, Tombstone—’The town too tough to die’—would be a pile of splinters by now.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a list of exciting things to see in Tombstone. It was the Cochise County seat for a while, so there’s the old courthouse (with its gallows patio), the Crystal Palace back bar, the world’s largest dead rose bush, and the Birdcage theater should be on everyone’s checklist. Of course, if you have the time and money, you should see the show at the OK Coral, but realize that the actual gunfight was on Highway 80—behind the Coral.

I took this week’s photo on a cold, windy December afternoon. We had checked into our motel and started into town before the light faded. Standing in the middle of Allen Street (dirt, then paved until the street department poured dirt over it again—for authenticity) were four gunfighters dressed in black wearing badges. They tried to stay warm while they hawked visitors to the 3:00 pm show. I don’t know how successful they were because the streets were empty as people sheltered inside the bars. I titled this shot Gunfighters.

You can see a larger version of Gunfighters on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join Queen Anne and me throughout January as we show some of the exciting Tombstone scenes we found.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Queen Anne and I are working on our calendar for the year. We’re putting together a list of places we’d like to visit and this year’s book topics. If you have any requests, let us know in the comments section.

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