Day Two Thursday Aug 28th (continued) Tombstone – the Town
Tombstone today, with a population of about 1,400, is for the tourists and a very cleaned up version of the bustling, hastily improvised silver boom-town of the early 1880s, when numbers were up to about 14,000 at the height of the boom. However, the small street plan is still in place and a handful of the original structures are still relatively intact. Best of these is the Bird Cage Theatre, opened in December 1881, and inspiration for the Music Hall song “She was only a bird in a gilded cage”. Lily Langtry was an early visitor, among the leading vaudevillians of the day. Goodfellow would almost certainly have been a frequenter and would also have availed himself of the poker and faro games in the basement, if not the company of the ‘soiled doves’ in the curtained boxes lining both sides of the auditorium.
Anyone who would raise an eyebrow or two at the entertainments on offer at the Bird Cage could find more respectable highbrow fare at Schieffelin Hall: concerts, amateur dramatics and visiting theatre companies.
Here it was that Wyatt and Virgil Earp’s brother Morgan would have gone to see the W.H. Lingard Theatre Company perform the comedy Stolen Kisses by Mr Paul Merritt, on the night of Saturday March 18th 1882. Later, playing pool in Campbell and Hatch’s saloon, he was shot in the back by an unknown assailant firing through the glass of a rear window. The bullet had passed through his kidney and Goodfellow was unable to save him. Last recorded words: “I have played my last game of pool.”
One of the classiest watering houses in the original Tombstone was the Crystal Palace Saloon, on the ground floor of the Golden Eagle Brewery. Dr Goodfellow’s office was on the floor above, as was the office of Deputy US Marshal Virgil Earp.
I couldn’t resist the lure of a shop sign offering 6 shots from a Colt 45 for $3. Purely for research purposes, you understand. The gun was firing neither live bullets nor blanks but rather paint-balls, so it was not a full simulation of the experience. “This is real gun, simulated ammo, so there’s no kickback and it won’t make your ears ring. It’s modeled to look just like an 1873 Colt – almost exactly the same gun Wyatt Earp shot.”
“I’ll get a picture of you.That way you can tell your friends that you were holding on to and fired a real big gun.”
OK. Time to watch the professionals at work. The actual site of the original street fight – a vacant lot not much bigger than an alleyway about 100 yards down the block from the OK Corral – is occupied by life size dummies squaring up to each other at a distance of only a few yards. The re-enactment takes place in a custom built arena a horseshoe’s throw away, and allows itself a little more space to manoeuvre. I’ve commented above on the pantomime tone of the performance: it’s popular theatre fleshing out an occasionally shaky historical skeleton. The original fight was over in thirty seconds with an average rate of one bullet fired per second. There are endless competing versions of who fired at whom and when, including several presented at the subsequent Inquest Trial, which exonerated the Earp party of the judicial murder of which they were accused. Without the benefit of slow motion (which I used in my production) I’d be hard pressed to say which version this show committed itself to: Youtube will have the answer. Emphatically not a judicial killing. But it was a crowd-pleaser and the actors were effective in their roles. With back-story, the performance lasted about 30 minutes.
Goodfellow’s presence in the aftermath of the event is not documented. One unreliable source has him pulling off the boots of the dying Billy Clanton. It is more likely that he would have attended to the lesser wounds of the Earp group.