Cuts may threaten Tombstone Records

Mold spores are embedded throughout this copy of Tombstone's earliest city ordinance book. The state says many historical documents are at risk of being destroyed.
Mold spores are embedded throughout this copy of Tombstone’s earliest city ordinance book. The state says many historical documents are at risk of being destroyed.

The Tombstone City Council wants to get out of its contract with the Foundation for the Tombstone Archives and move the city’s historic archives back to City Hall.

But first, it must have a temperature-controlled storage area that will help the city preserve the documents, many of which are already damaged with mold.

The council has been discussing plans to terminate the foundation’s contract since last November.  Under the contract, the foundation reimburses the city for the $32,000 salary paid to a full-time archives manager.

Councilman Herbert Linn said the foundation owed $9,000 to the city as of last November; that amount has increased to $12,000, said Councilman Armando Villa, who also volunteers for the foundation.

City Attorney P. Randall Bays says that the city has no legal provision to terminate the contract early because the city never established a payment plan. He recommended that the council keep the contract in place until Nov. 30 and figure out how much the foundation owes before it sends out a past-due bill. Bays said the city should then follow up with a lawsuit 30 days later if the money has not been reimbursed.

“The whole purpose (of the contract) was to rebuild City Hall and to maintain the stored documents and I don’t see that happening without being reimbursed for funds,” Mayor Stephen Schmidt said.

Melanie Sturgeon, director of the Arizona History and Archives Division, offered to store the Tombstone records in state facilities if the city does not want to bear the financial responsibility. She also said she was worried that if the city improperly stores the documents, which have grown fragile with age, they could further deteriorate.

City Hall could also be an open door for thieves. The records now are in a building that only the archive manager, Nancy Sosa, can access.

At City Hall, access is open to the public “so there is a greater chance of someone being able to take a record from the archives,” Sturgeon said. Some original Tombstone documents can sell for $6,000 to $10,000 for a single page from a document like Billy Breckenridge’s handwritten account of the shootout at the O.K. Corral, she said.

“One thing is unanimous: that these records are vital to the history of the town and that no one wants to see them leave the city,” Sturgeon said, “Tombstone has its own legend. To keep the record in the city helps keep the legends alive.”

“You sell Tombstone with the history of the town,” Sosa added. “In a town that has thrived through myth and legend, the history is the truth. It’s where we can look up what actually happened. It’s our connection with the city.”

The City Council will meet in executive session to discuss what it will do with the foundation contract and the archives.

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