This weekend finds me in the midst of a long shift at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I’m working fifteen nights out of twenty-one with two three-night breaks. After the fire at Kitt Peak, we have a real risk of landslides if there’s rain. Because of that, those of us on staff have to convoy up the mountain at either 8:00am or 2:30pm and we can only leave the mountain at 3:45pm. So, if I finish a shift on Friday night, I can’t actually leave until 3:45pm on Saturday. The upshot is that three-day breaks are actually closer to two-day breaks and given that I have a five-hour drive home, a two day break rapidly becomes one day.
Because of this, and because I’m working on some short stories, my wife suggested a weekend a little closer to Tucson. So, we spent the first of my two breaks in Tombstone, Arizona, site of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. I’ve been to Tombstone on other occasions and I enjoy the Old West ambience and the saloons that serve up a nice range of burgers and local beer. She found a new bed and breakfast in town called “The Dragon’s Keep Inn.” It seemed clear from the description that the owners were science fiction and fantasy fans near and dear to our heart. Currently the inn has two rooms and two RV spaces. They hope to open a small shop in the near future and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual Tombstone establishment that names everything after Wyatt Earp or Ike Clanton.
My goal for the weekend was mostly to write. I’m working on a story set on a railroad among the mining towns of Colorado, so being in a mining town in Arizona seemed like good ambience. The Dragon’s Keep proved a nice place to write and I made good progress on my story. Still, being in Tombstone, we wanted to see some of the sights. One place I hadn’t visited before was the Bird Cage Theatre, which is one of the few buildings in Tombstone that actually dates back to the time of the famous gunfight.
The Bird Cage Theatre also has a reputation as a very haunted place, so they offer nightly ghost tours. Since The Dragon’s Keep Inn is on the south end of Allen Street, not far from the Bird Cage, we decided to go on the ghost tour. One thing that made the ghost tour worthwhile is that it’s a small group. We were on the 9:30pm tour and we only had four people in our group. The tour guide was quite knowledgeable and I enjoyed learning about the history of the Bird Cage. You get to see the small rooms where bordello girls plied their trade. There are bullet holes in the ceiling where rowdy cowboys fired off their weapons during shows. They also have some artifacts from early Tombstone such as this Black Mariah hearse, which carried many of Tombstone’s residents on their last ride to Boot Hill.
Admittedly, I’m something of a skeptic when it comes to ghosts. If the Bird Cage is haunted, the ghosts were rather quiet that night. The one odd occurrence I experienced happened while standing near the Black Mariah. I could swear I felt someone touching the back of my head. I looked around and no one was there. It was a very light touch, almost like I’d walked into a spider web, but I saw nothing to account for it. Perhaps my favorite artifact at the Bird Cage Theatre was the faro table used by Doc Holliday.
I had a special connection to this faro table because when I wrote my novel Owl Riders, I made a point of writing in a couple of scenes where Doc Holliday and Ramon Morales play faro on an airship ride from New Orleans to Tucson. Of course, Doc couldn’t bring the full table along, but he had his shoe for shuffling cards and a mat for laying out the hands. I found it great fun to actually see a piece of history directly connected with something I had written about. You can learn more about Owl Riders at: http://davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html