The weekend of Helldorado Day’s is a lifeblood for Tombstone. But, many are asking, could that be threatened after the shooting during a staged street fight.
Helldorado board member Barbara Furnas seems confident it won’t. “Helldorado will still go on.”
The festival is Tombstone’s biggest event of the year. It symbolizes the end of a slow, tough summer and the beginning of its’ busy winter season. It’s a celebration of tradition and history that reunites people from all around the world.
“It’s a nice escape from all the negative and toxic stuff that’s out there in the world right now,” said Jan Robinson, who’s from Tucson and was a member of the Arizona Gunfighters for many years. Now, she attends for the pure fun of it and to catch up with old friends. She’s dressed head to toe in a traditional hot pink and black old western gown. “People come here to leave it all behind for a while by stepping back in time. I think people are just craving Old Western history.”
When her eye catches a glimpse of the camera she instinctively smiles and strikes a pose while men dressed in cowboy boots and hats stare.
“I mean where else can you do this?” said Sylvia Scott, a Tombstone resident. She’s all dressed up and sits on a bench outside of Doc Holliday’s Saloon. In her hands, she holds an iPad and a lit cigarette.
It’s like an around-the-clock Halloween because everyone is always in costume and playing pretend like their little kids again, said Scott. It’s a big part of the allure because, “there’s a little bit of actor in everyone. It’s just fun,” said Scott,
The historically entertaining gun show ran by the Tombstone Vigilantes was also just for fun until one of the re-enactors fired off five rounds of live ammunition. The incident brings to life the harsh reality of Tombstone’s lack of gun safety.
“Surprisingly no one got seriously hurt or killed,” said Deputy Ivan Bernal of the Tombstone Marshal’s Office.
The incident has concerned many.
“It’s an inexcusable stupid mistake that almost cost people their lives. Not to mention putting a very very black spot on Arizona re-enactments,” said Neil Thomas, president of The Prescott Regulators & Their Shady Ladies, a non-profit organization of history performers who had about 30 of his 70 members attending Helldorado for the weekend.
Thomas believes this whole near tragedy could have been prevented if event coordinators were much more cautious.
“It was honestly a mistake that was waiting to happen,” said Thomas, who has been coming down to Tombstone for years and has continuously seen huge lapses of basic safety protocol when dealing with gun safety in the town.
But it’s not guns that’s the attraction for people who come to Helldorado Da’s.
Tradition, good weather, reunion, friendly atmosphere, nostalgia, history and just pure fun are some of the words people used when asked why they came to Helldorado this year.
Another huge part of Helldorado are the herds of motorcycle bikers who ride in from all across the country and rumble slowly through town with their worn leather jackets and shiny spurs.
Vincent Ayub, is from Texas and has been riding to Tombstone for the past five years on his Harley-Davidson to reunite with his friends, who are also traveling on their motorbikes.
“We’re on iron horses and the cowboys were on real horses. We like to ride and I’m sure they did too,” said Ayub as he straps a shiny metallic black helmet to his head. He stands next to his bike. “Everything these days is so modernized and up to date so we just like to go back to the roots. It’s fun and educational.”
Visitors gathered on the weekend to escape to a simpler but harsher way of life. For a tradition that’s 86 years old, whether the festival will be hindered by the shooting can only be determined with time.
Based on whatever new regulations and security are implemented will determine whether The Prescott Regulators & Their Shady Ladies come back next year, said Thomas.
Bob Love, owner of the O.K. Corral, believes the shooting could possibly draw more visitors than turn them away based on the national publicity. “I don’t know if the shooting will effect Helldorado or Tombstone one way or another. People remember your name, they don’t remember the context.”
Furnas believes all will be fun for the festival’s, and the town’s, future.
“Helldorado has such a great following I don’t think it will really impact it at all,” she said.
“I think it was a pretty successful event for the three days. Its carried on a tradition that’s been going on for many years so I don’t feel that the event on Sunday is going to impact it in the future,” said Furnas.
Emily Lai is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.