Longtime readers may recall that we’ve looked at heritage tourism in the American West (and particularly in Tombstone, AZ) a couple of times. This topic came up in a fascinating discussion on social media a few days ago, when Kara McCormack shared a series of tweets about preservation, historical memory, and tourism in Tombstone at the Arizona Historical Society’s Twitter account.
McCormack is the author of Imagining Tombstone, an examination of the ways that popular mythology and the desire for historical authenticity have shaped the town’s preservation and tourism efforts. She notes that the 1940s marked the point when Tombstone boosters really started to play up the O.K. Corral shootout, due to the success of John Ford’s Earp film My Darling Clementine. But while the town has benefited from Hollywood-driven Earpmania, preservationists have struggled to assert the town’s authenticity as a real historic site. Hence “the constant tension between the use of entertainment to attract visitors and the imperative of maintaining #historic #authenticity that the town must negotiate,” as McCormack writes.
As I’ve noted before, it’s been my experience that historic sites associated with gunfighters have a tendency to be kitschier than many other sites. Sometimes it’s to the detriment of a site’s educational value. But does that make the experience of visiting them any less authentic? I don’t think it necessarily does. Just about any historic site is a mixture of “original” and “reconstruction,” and of presenting things the way they were alongside whatever alterations or accommodations are necessary to make it a public facility. Most of us prefer the mixture to be as convincing and unobtrusive as possible. But no matter how it’s done, you’re still on the spot where it all happened, and thus having some type of firsthand, physical engagement with the past.
Anyway, read the whole tweet series. It’s very interesting stuff. (And it looks like I’m going to have to order McCormack’s book, too!)