By Carolyn Niethammer
This Saturday I will drive 72 miles from my Tucson home to Tombstone and for a few hours do a bit of time travel to the 19th Century. My new Wild Oak novel, The Piano Player, begins in 1882 Tombstone when Mary Rose gets a job playing piano at The Bird Cage Theater. It only takes Mary Rose a few days to learn she has left behind her old life as a pampered only daughter and she must forge a new identity as Frisco Rosie.
I will be signing books outside the original Bird Cage Theater. The business has a most interesting history. It opened in 1881 and a year later The New York Times called it “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”
When Tombstone’s brief arc began to fall after a series of floods and fires in the silver mines, the owners walked away from The Bird Cage in 1889 and locked the doors. The building was not unlocked until 1934 and inside was a perfectly preserved museum of those colorful days.
Today the western-clad guide who does the orientation delights in pointing out the numerous bullet holes in the entryway. Also just inside the door is a 12-foot tall painting of the bare breasted Fatima, a belly dancer who appeared at the Bird Cage in 1881. The knife gash below her bellybutton has been partially repaired.
The merchants and residents who keep the Tombstone legend alive are a dedicated group. It was William Faulkner who wrote, “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” That is certainly the case in Tombstone. When I told the owners of the Bird Cage that my fictional Frisco Rosie had become involved with one of the real life members of The Bisbee Five, he was interested in which one. Never mind that it was more than 130 years ago that these outlaws had been tried, hanged and buried in Boot Hill. They are as real as his current neighbors. It was a good thing that I am up on my Tombstone history so that I was able to engage in the discussion of that day when all of Tombstone showed up to watch the Bisbee Five meet justice.