CRESTVIEW — Although John Henry "Doc" Holliday is renowned in American history as a Wild West gambler and gunslinger, he also was a dentist.
Fittingly, Crestview dentist Dr. Richard Thomas will host a Nov. 8 open house for a permanent exhibit featuring Doc Holliday's dental chair.
The ornate mid-19th-century dental chair, with its pedal-operated drill, is the pride of Thomas' extensive collection of Wild West antiques.
Thomas didn't reveal how much he paid for the chair, but said he got caught up in the excitement of the online auction in which he bought it.
"I've never been in an auction before," he said. "I should've cut my finger off. For some reason, I kept bidding it up and bidding it up and the next thing it said (was), 'You got it.'"
Thomas also acquired Holliday's appointment "book," a fan of ivory cards on which weekly patient appointments — some still barely legible — were written in pencil and later erased.
Gambler and gunslinger
The exhibit also features late 19th-century playing cards, dice, clay poker chips, a casino card shoe and a leather-topped card table, which spotlight Holliday's gambler personality.
Thomas — whose fascination with the Old West began when he was a child playing cowboys and Indians in Utah — has avidly studied Holliday's colorful life, which mainly included gambling and frequent drinking as his tuberculosis progressed.
Holliday's legend grew after he stood with the Earp brothers — Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan — during the infamous Oct. 26, 1881, "Gunfight at the OK Corral" in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.
An enlarged illustration of the quartet — walking down Tombstone's main street shortly before the battle — appears in a new exhibit room at Thomas's Alabama Street office, as will a bottle of Holliday's favorite beverage, Old Overholt whiskey, and a vintage crystal shot glass.
Thomas and his staff will unveil the exhibit on Nov. 8, the 126th anniversary of Holliday's death.
Dentist and dandy
Thomas praised Holliday as a smart fellow dentist who, he believes, was misunderstood.
"It was hard to tell in those days who was a scoundrel and who wasn't," Thomas said. "He was actually a pretty darned good dentist. He was a real smart guy."
The exhibit room, with velvet-flocked wallpaper, a pressed tin ceiling and period furnishings, reflects Holliday's elegance, Thomas said.
"He was a dandy," Thomas said. "He always dressed to the hilt. He wore an ascot with a diamond or a pearl in it."
Thomas watched in appreciation on Wednesday as contractor Joe Chancey and his wife, Becky, worked on the room to prepare for next week’s unveiling.
"Doc would be impressed with his new office," Thomas said. "I'm thinking, ‘If this stuff could talk...”
His voice trailed off as he stroked the collection of gambling artifacts.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Public unveiling of John Henry "Doc" Holliday's original dentist chair and period artifacts.
WHO: Hosted by Dr. Richard Thomas and Family Dentistry
WHEN: 5-7 p.m. Nov. 8
WHERE: 102 Alabama St., Suite A, Crestview
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.