HELLDORADO, THEN AND NOW
When this wonderful celebrations was started by a committee of twelve people eighty-nine years ago, it was with the intent to show that the old town of Tombstone, then 50 years old ad inhabited by about 500 people still had some life as well as residents left within its mists. Little did anyone know that at that time, despite losing the county seat and the nation falling into the Great Depressions, this initial Colorado Celebration in 1929 would help spawn a tourism industry, which today sees Helldorado a half a millions visitors graces its streets every year.
Residents still around today from those early years can relate that the entire town attended the early Helldorado celebrations that consisted of a pageant, mock hangings and reenactments of true events. Historic events were recreated by those hearty residents of Tombstone, each taking on a different role and telling the story of Tombstone’s turbulent past. Other more historically informative presentations took place in one of Tombstone’s finest buildings of the day, Schieffelin Hall, so named for the founder of this fair camp, Ed Schieffelin, whose discovery of silver in 1877 put these parts on the map.
One of the best parts of the very first Helldorado was the parade. Brought in at the conclusion of the weekend, this annual event has endured to this day as the highlight of the entire weekend. This incredible parade that is made up of up to 90 entries takes place on Sunday of the event weekend and each and every year has drawn crowds from all around the world.
Revitalized in 1946 following its absence during the World War II years (and called by the name of “Tombstone Day” in 1946 and 1947), the celebration then began to feature full length gunfight reenactment shows, huge carnivals, street dances, variety shows and much more, all with the same enthusiasm and commitment from both the residents of Tombstone and its merchants.
The celebration was also the source for one of the oldest Old West reenactment groups , which still performs today, and is a vital civic organization within Tombstone, the Tombstone Vigilantes. Formed in 1946, and then incorporated in 1954 as an all volunteer non-profit organization, this group reenacts and recreates Tombstone’s old west and frontier days frontier days for the enjoyment of visitors to Tombstone, promotes its history and acts as the City’s Official Ambassadors, while raising money for worthwhile charitable causes and youth activities. This group owes its roots to Helldorado and s an active participant in this annual celebration.
Helldorado Celebrations, today, draw people from around the world and spectators are entertained by 20 to 25 varied Old West Entertainment acts on historic Allen Street nonstop for six consecutive hours, including gunfight reenactment skits, dancing, gun twirling, roping, whip cracking and old west story telling, as well as a variety of kids games. And not to be missed will be the many souvenirs and memorabilia also available.
With the advent of tourism that Helldorado helped create, other major celebrations were born from this event, which portray various specific aspects and periods of life in the wild west town of Tombstone following the Civil War, when it was one of the largest towns between St. Louis and San Francisco.
Despite the emergence of other celebrations and events in Tombstone, visitors, residents and reenactment / entertainment groups alike all mark their calendars and plan their year around this, the oldest and still largest celebration in Tombstone, the event which helped make Tombstone known as the “Town Too Tough To Die” – HELLDORADO!!.