There are many items that can be purchased for $3. Three Arizona Iced Teas, a couple of lighters or maybe even a pair of Polar Pops from Circle K, but you will need $3 now to visit Boothill Graveyard.
Who wouldn’t want to spend lunch money to see the headstones of the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton who were shot in the O.K. Corral shooting in 1881?
Row-by-row—seven to be precise, are some of the most well-known and unknown figures of Tombstone history and with the cemetery on the outskirts of downtown, it is the first attraction tourists see when visiting.
Boothill used to operate on donation fees and wasn’t operated by the city, but by the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce. On March 14, the city took over Boothill, built a guardhouse and demanded a $3 entry.
“We went through our legal counsel and they checked the status of historic cemeteries and legally we have a right to charge as an admission just like anything else,” City Councilman Bill Barlow said. “We always want to make sure it’s taken care of. We don’t add anything to the cemetery or take anything away other than trying to maintain weed control and make it a clean, neat, attractive place since it is historical for people to come and visit.”
In 12 days after the city began collecting the fee, Boothill raked in $16,761 compared to the previous three months where the graveyard brought in $24,427. In January and the first two weeks of March, Boothill collected less than $7,300.
As the town took a step to improve tourism revenue, council inducted local businessman and owner of the Larian Motel Gordon Anderson as well as Jon Donahue as directors of tourism.
“I moved here three months ago and they didn’t seem to have enough tourists. I picked a town where old people like me who know about westerns are starting to die,” Donahue said.
Donahue saw Tombstone setting a high expectation for its revenues, but the town never came close.
“I picked a town that’s basically going along the general economy. Overall, I didn’t think Tombstone was keeping up with inflation,” Donahue said.
Donahue’s primary focus for tourism is connecting with international sister cities in Europe, Canada and Mexico. Sister cities are modeled similarly to Tombstone, admire the old west and communicate marketing tactics to increase tourism.
Donahue envisions more.
Going along with the economy and keeping up with the Joneses was something Tombstone has been doing the last five years. And Boothill has underachieved since 2010. Tombstone was expected to revenue over $100,000 in every year except for 2013-2014 and the closest it ever met the expectation was when it reached $96,142 in 2011-2012.
But even in that fiscal year, the estimated revenue was to reach $150,000, which was the highest it’s ever been.
Before, Boothill had a donation box for every tourist to offer up $3, but now the town is demanding payment from anyone over 16. So with the cemetery bringing in the bigger bucks, where will the money go?
Well for one: the four part-time employees running the booth are now on city salary. But if Boothill collections can continue at its $1,396.75 per day pace, that’s would be record numbers.
“That’s good money for a cemetery so obviously [Mayor Dusty Escapule] made the right choice,” Anderson said.
The town will pay for Foothill’s maintenance, which includes weed control, pesticide and ensuring the gravel is even, because rain showers occasionally shifts the rocks. The city spent $44,931 on expenditures for Boothill in 2016.
What does the city do with the rest of the money? Donahue and Anderson believe it will go straight into the city’s infrastructure.
“That’s like free money,” Anderson said. “If you loaned $100 through me and I just charged you a $1 fee, it’s no big deal, but if I charge you a $50 fee, that’s different.”
International tourists like Susan and Graham Ella, who have been visiting Tombstone from England twice a year since 2001, said they have dealt with worse prices when it came to historical attractions.
“$3 is nothing. You pay more for that than coffee in a lot of places. Go to Lincoln in England and we’ve got a Cathedral with a big sign that says, ‘Suggested donation: $10,’” Susan said.
No one foresees any issues with the now-mandatory fee.
“That will have no effect whatsoever on tourism. People coming in here don’t mind paying $3 to go to a tourist attraction. Nobody cares,” Donahue said.
Justin Spears is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org