Boothill Graveyard

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The most famous of cemeteries in Arizona, and one of the most notorious in America, is Tombstone’s Boothill Graveyard. Established in 1878 with the whirlwind formation of the surrounding boomtown, it provided the city’s deceased with a final resting place for only six years before it was replaced by the current cemetery. Yet, it acquired upwards of 300 bodies, most of whom died an unnatural death in this infamously violent town.

Among the cemetery’s more famous dead are Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury, the three men shot to death in the world-renowned gunfight at the O.K. Corral. As it has for decades, their collective headstone states that they were “Murdered on the Streets of Tombstone,” a biased, though not necessarily inaccurate, accusation that their deaths at the hands of Doc Holliday and the Earp family were unjust. Fans of Wild West lore will also recognize the names of others buried here, like Frank Leslie, Dutch Annie and Billy Claiborne, as well as John Heath, the only man ever lynched in Tombstone.

Even in a place that stands as a sobering reminder of the city’s pervasive bloodshed, the irreverent wit of the Old West survives. As such, a few men have been made famous in death thanks entirely to their grave markers. George Johnson, for example, was sentenced to hang for possessing a stolen horse, which he insisted he had bought without knowledge of its theft. His defense was eventually corroborated, but not until it was too late. He was buried with the following exoneration:

Here Lies
George Johnson
Hanged by Mistake
He Was Right
We Was Wrong

But We Strung Him Up
And Now He’s Gone

Just as memorable is the epitaph of Lester Moore, a Wells Fargo agent shot by a man who was upset over a damaged package:

Here Lies
Lester Moore
Four Slugs From a 44
No Les
No More

Many of those interred here remain unidentified. For years, Boothill lay neglected, its graves eroded by the elements and its wooden markers faded or stolen. For some time, people actually used the site as a dump. When conscientious citizens began restoring the cemetery in the 1940s, a lack of detailed records resulted in a staggering number of markers labeled “Unknown.” Countless graves lie across the hillside still overlooked.

Some of those lucky enough to be identified are remembered only by their nicknames––men like the Kansas Kid, Six Shooter Jim and Red River Tom. Slightly luckier are those whose means of death were recorded, though without explanation: “Died a Natural Death,” “Killed by Indians,” “Drowned,” “Stabbed” or “Shot by a Chinaman.” Eight committed suicide, 11 were hanged and 25 died of illness. One suffered fatal injuries after falling off a pair of stilts.

So many brutal deaths in such a short amount of time has led to Boothill Cemetery’s reputation for unusual supernatural activity. Really, it’s no surprise the spirits would be restless, given such violence

and graveyard neglect. Visitors commonly sense a feeling of uneasiness and experience unusual cold spots even amid the Arizona heat. Some who stand outside the fence at night report seeing strange “spook lights” drifting between the brush. People sometimes witness apparitions, as well, dressed in late-19th-century garb.

Tourists’ photos reveal a surprising number of anomalies. Most consist of amorphic or vaguely identifiable figures, but on occasion someone will catch something strikingly bizarre. Probably the best example was taken in recent years by Terry “Ike” Clanton, a relative of the Clantons involved in the O.K. Corral shootout. In a photo he took of a friend, another man is clearly seen in the background, wearing a black cowboy hat and apparently holding a knife. Oddly, the unidentified figure can only be seen from the waist up, as the lower half of his body evidently disappears into the ground.

Theories on who the man may have been vary greatly, but few people disagree that the image is frighteningly strange. So unusual is the clarity of the figure that the photograph has been voted one of the best ghost pictures in history, securing Boothill as an attraction not to be missed.

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