Tombstone (AZ, USA): Boothill Graveyard

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For a death researcher a visit to Tombstone, AZ and its famous Boothill Graveyard is compulsory. Both the town and the graveyard are an interesting reminder of the era of the wild wild West. The cemetery was founded in 1878 and holds about 300 dead who mostly died ‘with their boots on’ – hence the name ‘Boothill’. Although many gravemarkers state ‘unknown’ a significant number of markers describe rather violent causes of death: ‘murdered’, ‘killed’, ‘hanged’ or ‘legally hanged’. Sometimes with a little more detailed information provided like: ‘Found dead in his cabin with bullet wounds’, ‘Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake 1882. He was right we were wrong. But we strung him up and now he’s gone’ and the humorous ‘Here lies Lester Moore, Four slugs from a .44, No Les No more.’

The cemetery (like the rest of Tombstone) is a somewhat kitschy tourist attraction and at the same time an interesting example of the huge popularity of old western towns and a kind of nostalgic longing for the old days – seen as adventurous, straightforward and full of hope for the future. On several graves, we saw how visitors had placed money (both coins and paper) and it was explained that they did so to express the fact that they were moved by this particular grave and the story connected to it. Not surprisingly money could be found on the graves of children and infants but also on the graves of sheriffs and other law enforcers. Something noted on other pioneer cemeteries as well.

Initially being the only cemetery in town it was used to bury all deaths that occurred after a new cemetery opened in 1883 Boothill was only used on occasion, generally to inter outlaws. But also the separate plots for Chinese and Jewish inhabitants seem to be in use afterward – most of them were buried in unmarked graves. The graveyard was restored and preserved after it fell into despair in the 1940s. In 1984 a memorial was resurrected at the Jewish cemetery plot that was from that moment on also more noticeable for visitors.


All photographs are taken by dr. Claudia Venhorst, May 2018

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