TOMBSTONE, Ariz. — For years now, tourists drawn to Tombstone have been visiting Boothill Graveyard, the final resting place of some of the town's early residents and notorious history makers. The cemetery is now going through a few cosmetic changes, with care taken to preserve its Old West appearance.
Heading the project is City Councilman Steve Troncale, who is using money collected through the graveyard's tourist donations to implement the renovations.
"We've reinforced the ocotillo fence around the graveyard by adding more ocotillo, changed the signs over the gift shop and changed the monument sign at the entrance of the parking lot so it looks less like a billboard and more like a monument," said Troncale. "And we're now in the final stages of changing the grave markers." For the past 70 years, the majority of the graveyard's 250 markers have been metal crosses. The Tombstone City Council approved replacing the metal with wood, for a change that Troncale and others believe is much more authentic looking.
While a few naysayers have objected to replacing the metal crosses, claiming they carry historic significance, Boothill manager Dave Askey argued that the former markers are not from the 1880s era, but are more like post World War II. The graveyard needed a good sprucing up, Askey added. "We have a lot of repeat visitors here and most of the tourists that have seen what we've done have nothing but positive comments about the changes."
Roger Edelen of Tempe is one of those repeat visitors. "I think these look like the real deal," he said. "I enjoyed visiting Boothill before, but these make a nice addition to the graveyard."
About six of the cemetery's markers were already wood, including the markers of OK Corral shootout victims Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury. Those six markers will remain. In addition, the granite headstone of M.R. Peel, a mining engineer who was killed in his office in 1882, is the cemetery's only original marker and it will not be replaced, Askey said. "We have about 250 identifiable graves here. There were actually more graves at one time, but they were lost over the years."
Boothill was opened in 1878 and closed to new burials in 1884, with the exception Emmett Crook Nunnelley, who died in 1946. At one time, Nunnelley owned the Birdcage Theatre and was instrumental in the restoration of the graveyard during the 1940s, Askey said. "He owned a steel factory in Indiana and donated all the metal markers that were being used until now." Passionate about Tombstone and its history, Nunnelley requested that he be buried in Boothill, and the town complied.
The Boothill Marker Restoration Project is nearly complete, with just a few of the metal ones remaining. Each marker costs the city $42.50 to construct and about $70 to install, said Troncale. Once the project was approved by the city council, Troncale offered to take charge of it to get it completed. "I love this town's history," he said. "You tell me what needs to be done, give me the money to do it, and I'll see that it gets done. And I have fun doing it."
In addition to Boothill, he has been overseeing a restoration project at Schieffelin Hall, where the historic building has been painted inside and out and window drapes have been replaced, along with carpeting on the stairs leading up to the building's second floor. Schieffelin Hall's restoration project also is funded with money collected at Boothill, through tourist donations.
"The visitor center and gift shop at Boothill actually support restoration projects throughout Tombstone," said Troncale. "Boothill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and I felt we really needed to do something to enhance its overall look and give it a more authentic, 1880s appearance. I think that's what we've accomplished here."
Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, http://www.svherald.com