Helldorado Days in Tombstone

Helldorado Banner on Allen Street
There to Announce the Historic Yearly Event

The History: Its Beginnings

This month is Helldorado in Tombstone. So we thought we’d go over its beginnings – as it is a historic event.

In the late 1800s & turning of the 20th century, Tombstone Arizona’s economy was struggling. Silver took a hit, population waned to under 650. Some forward-lookers & creative thinkers didn’t give up, brainstorming actions. By 1907 things were rosy again, including via WWI’s effects.

Author Frederick Bechdoldt published a 1919 Saturday Evening Post Series & then a book featuring Tombstone. That rolled into more publicity, inducing more tourism. In turn encouraging further historic preservation.

From the Bisbee Daily Review – Fri. Aug. 8, 1919 Pg. 3

In 1926 George H. Kelly was the new owner of the Tombstone Epitaph. His son William, as editor, was into promoting Tombstone. He had an idea. He knew 1929 marked 50 years since Tombstone formed. Let’s mark it with a special celebration! And so it began.

Planning Begins for the 1st Event

With weekly town forums, 24 committees & city backing, it was decided the 3rd week of October 1929 as the date. Tombstone was prepped to appear as 1880s, except it was during prohibition! Saloons served soft drinks.

The Crystal Palace (it had been remade a theater) & Bird Cage were brought back in their Old West appearances. Authenticity was sought by engaging historical consultants.

Celebrities of the day were invited: government officials, old timers from the Founding Days of Tombstone, pioneering citizens, authors. The local citizens were encouraged to dress in 1880s entire & participate in planned reenactments. Plus be there for local flavor & welcoming effect. An opening day parade was planned.

It was publicized by newspaper articles in many areas. Ads were created for Arizona newspapers. Publicity articles were written & published throughout the U.S., particularly via UP & AP. Canada, too. A Southern Pacific train was arranged for Sun. from Phoenix direct.

The Name & The Inaugural Event

William MacLeod Raine – Taken April 12, 1919
NY Tribune public domain photo

Now Tombstone was about to present itself in remembering Wild West History – as other memorable Western Towns had been doing: Deadwood, Cheyenne & Dodge City – to mention some. The Schedule: 4 Days – Thurs. thru Sun., Oct. 24, 25, 26 & 27 of 1929. Big parades on Sat. & Sun.

Well, Here’s One of Raine’s Works!

Newspapers overall named it an achievement! Quoting Breckenridge: “Helldorado was a pefect success.” The Tucson Citizen said “hundreds of ‘old timers’…flocked to the ghost city…” They counted the total attendance from Tucson as over 500, & Sunday’s finale totaled about 7000. But mentioned the 1st 2 days brought much less.

Not everyone was quite so happy about it at the time. Especially Tombstone Epitaph’s founder John Clum, brought back as Helldorado’s Honorary Mayor. He didn’t think the design evoked his memory of Tombstone.

But what made the event even more somber – a few days later came “Black Tuesday.” The entire timing was during the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

A Stressful Economic Time
Image Credit: Lars Plougmann – at Flickr

Continued On!

They continued on with Helldorado in 1930, still beginning on Thurs. 2 years later, it was cut back starting on Fri. They also advertised a rodeo as now part of the program – maybe trying to attract more people?

It was difficult times. A Phoenix newspaper said “due to present economic conditions a minimum charge” to enter Helldorado. Also stated Bird Cage would be open for it, as “its doors are closed at all other times of the year…”

~1933 they just cancelled it that year. 1934 Labor Day inaugurated the Scenic Road thru Chiricahua National Monument. A huge celebration included a Tombstone “Helldorado” pageant, substituting for Helldorado that year.

In 1935 Tombstone entered a “Helldorado” section into Tucson’s historic non-motorized Rodeo Parade, held in February. Likely thinking of the publicity it would bring. In 1936, they thought of another idea – add a poetry contest. Winner crowned “Poet Laureate of Helldorado” at a Pink Tea!

Try Sex Appeal? 1937 brought in selecting a “Miss Helldorado” who that year appeared in a short-sleeved white shirt & vest, hat & boots. And short-shorts, with a ship’s anchor (huh?) on the right leg. Can’t show the pic, not enough time to publish this & get permission! Find it in the San Fran Examiner’s June 6th, pg.88. Surely it made some of the populous happy – but not others. Some said the shorts were “too up-to-date and citified…”

Struggles – But Mostly Continues On

Evidence suggests it still continued in some way until the 1940s. And possibly in some form every year since its beginning in 1929. Although we saw a 1933 newspaper clipping stating it was totally cancelled that year. But maybe there still was some minimal observation that we haven’t found.

In March 1960 the Helldorado Corporation met & couldn’t elect new officers – no one was interested. It was in danger of being disbanded. In July they found & elected board members & continued. By 1962 Helldorado profits were said to be a few hundred dollars.

In 1969 the event was again endangered. The prior year interest lagged, so planners wondered if it was worthwhile. The board issued a poll to local businesses. They replied with “enthusiastic endorsement.” So worth it! Since they set “record turnout” – “largest …ever recorded…” that year in 1969.

Helldorado Parade Coach Carries the Board

1970 brought the Event more forward looking for the times! Parade Chairman Ed Hurley announced 3 women would be co-Grand Marshals of the Helldorado Parade.

Hurley stated they were selected as women who had marched in the inaugural 1929 Helldorado Days Parade. Then he said who they were: “the three are Mrs. John Sebring, Mrs. E.M. Webb, and Mrs. Charles Kendall.”

Well, I have to say it: I’m glad they were selected. But, I found out who their husbands were – and not who they were!

Today’s Helldorado Days in Tombstone Arizona

Always held the third weekend of October. It begins on Fri. There’s no entry fee. Watch free entertainment on Allen St.: gunfights & historic reenactments & skits, musical entertainment. Many Old West groups involved. Enter a vintage revolver raffle. Beard & mustache contest on Sat. Parade Sun., 11 am followed by Cowboy Walk-down.

Still on this year. Starts Oct. 16 – 10am, til Oct. 18 – 3pm. For an update on this year’s Helldorado, see our Facebook Event Link by clicking here: TTT FB Events Page

Helldorado Days Tombstone Arizona Banner

Historical places & events create curiosity for facts about people who roamed the Tombstone area & the Old West. What’s the true story? Can we discover the authentic history?

And we enjoy sharing what we find with you.

We hope we’ll see you in town sometime, (sigh – eventually in the future!) seeing areas where they spent time – back in the 1800s.

Let us know if you’ll be going to an upcoming event! Tell us how you liked any of them, or what you visited here! Just reply to this newsletter for easy input! (Let us know if we can use your comments – & how to credit you.)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *