All of Tombstone burns!

Historama

Field review by the editors.

Tombstone, Arizona

Vincent Price was a busy man in 1964. He had the lead role in four films, globe-hopping between Hollywood and Europe. You wouldn't think that he wanted any more work, but at some point -- maybe between starring in The Last Man On Earth and Masque of the Red Death -- he recorded a 25-minute-long narration for the Tombstone Historama.

The Historama still serves as Tombstone's unofficial Newcomer Orientation, and we recommend it in combination with a visit to the O.K. Corral next door. A triumph of Great Society technology, it features a big, lumpy mound on a turntable, decorated with small vignettes from Tombstone's early history, set on a stage in a small theater.

Historama building.

Every half-hour the house lights dim, the curtain lowers and then rises again (it stays open between shows so that you can admire the mound) and the story of Tombstone unfolds through blinking lights, recorded sound effects, and a projection screen that lowers and raises to show Western movie clips, although it often raises and lowers in the middle of whatever it is that you're supposed to be watching. The screen also serves to hide the lump, which silently, magically has turned to reveal a new scene when the screen is raised.

Despite Price's celebrity cache, the star of Historama is the lump. It was designed for a generation that demanded less from its special effects, and reminded us of other mesmerizing Paleolithic-tech A/V attractions such as the World's Largest Cuckoo Clock, and the mechanical Lincoln at 1880 Cowboy Town. One imagines that Historama's robot brain is powered by punch cards and vacuum tubes.

Mining Mules on rotating platter.

To depict the fires that destroyed Tombstone, tiny red light bulbs flicker in a few representative buildings. To show the murders of Morgan Earp and Frank Stillwell (who killed Morgan), small wooden people have their internal supports pulled away, allowing them to collapse onto the turntable with an audible "tonk" of wood on wood. We'll leave it to you to guess how the flooding of the silver mines is depicted.

But why Vincent Price? Wouldn't Western stars of the day such as Walter Brennan or Gabby Hayes have been more appropriate (and less busy) than an actor cranking out low-budget horror films? Historama owner Bob Love told us that Price recorded the narration as a favor to Bob's father, Harold Love, who, like Price, was a collector of Western art. [Tipster Lew Bresee also points out that, "Among Price's many non-horror portrayals was the title role in Sam Fuller's Baron of Arizona (1950)."]

Indians at Historama.

Generations of movie stars have come and gone since Historama opened, but it never fails to note that it is "narrated by Vincent Price." "I've never changed it," said Bob, "because that voice is irreplaceable. I don't think you could ever find a narrator better than Vincent Price."

Tombstone and the inventor of Edward Scissorhands, together forever.

Historama

Address:
308 E. Allen St., Tombstone, AZ
Directions:
I-10 exits 303, 304, or 306, then south on Hwy 80 for 23 miles. One block to the right, on Allen St., between Third and Fourth, north side.
Hours:
Daily, every half-hour from 10 to 4:30 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
520-457-3456
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

O.K. CorralO.K. Corral, Tombstone, AZ - < 1 mi.
Tombstone's Main EventTombstone's Main Event, Tombstone, AZ - < 1 mi.
World's Largest Rose BushWorld's Largest Rose Bush, Tombstone, AZ - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Roadside Glowing Cocoon, Tucson, AZ - 51 mi.

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