Arts and Culture | Local

Tale of lawman’s wife keynote of Jewish History Museum Storytelling Festival

Ann Kirschner (David H. Snyder)
Ann Kirschner (David H. Snyder)

Ann Kirschner, author of the acclaimed “Sala’s Gift” and the upcoming “Lady at the OK Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp,” will be the keynote speaker in the Jewish History Museum’s Jewish Storytelling Festival. She will give a free lecture about her new book on Thursday, March 7 at 7 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

LadyOKCorral cover“Lady at the OK Corral” chronicles the life of the woman who became the common-law wife of famed Western lawman and gambler Wyatt Earp, unveiling a story that has been shrouded in mystery for more than 130 years.

Through her research, Kirschner has uncovered fresh news about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral: It was a love triangle, in which Earp and his arch-rival Johnny Behan battled over the affections of Josephine, a teenage runaway from an immigrant New York family.

Josephine, says the author, has been largely ignored by historians, due to her own efforts to conceal her past as a loose woman and Earp’s as a gunslinger, burnishing his image as a heroic upholder of the law.

“Lady” takes Josephine from 1860 to 1944, from the Civil War to World War II, from stagecoaches to airplanes. She experienced the heyday of the American frontier, says Kirschner, living off the proceeds of gambling, prostitution and saloons, only to see the advent of Prohibition and the imposition of an entirely new set of social mores.

The book, which will be published March 5, is “a frontier story for the ages — part Unsinkable Molly Brown, part Mama Rose, part Queen Esther,” says Thane Rosenbaum, author of “The Golems of Gotham.” Harriet Rochlin, author of “Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West,” calls it “a pleasure to read. No previous account has equaled in depth and understanding Kirschner’s portrayals of the principal characters, Josephine and Wyatt, their families, Jewish and otherwise, diverse associates, as well as the erratically Americanizing West.”

Kirschner’s first book told the story of her mother, a Holocaust survivor who lived through five years of war as a Nazi slave laborer. “How different this book appears to be,” she says, “and yet I hope you will see the thread of reinvention and history that ties my interests together.”

In 2007, Kirschner spoke in Tucson at the Invisible Theatre’s premier of “Letters to Sala,” a play based on “Sala’s Gift.”

“I’m so delighted to be coming back to Tucson, this time to open the Jewish History Museum’s Storytelling Festival and then to be part of the Tucson Festival of Books,” she told the AJP from her home in New York. “And this time, I even have a new book with deep roots in the Arizona Territory. Since I did so much of my research with local historians and at the Arizona Historical Museum and the University of Arizona libraries, I feel like ‘Lady at the OK Corral’ has a true home in Tucson.”

In fact, the Jewish Storytelling Festival is dedicated to the memory of Western historian and writer Mark Dworkin, a docent at the Jewish History Museum, who assisted Kirschner with some of her research.

In addition to her talk at the JCC, Kirschner will participate in three panels at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 9 and 10 and sign books at the Jewish History Museum booth. She will also speak at the Sierra Vista Public Library on Monday, March 11 at noon.