The Spectacular Doc Holliday

I sometimes wonder what Doc Holliday looked like. In fact, if I’m honest, I think about it quite a lot. Everyone knows what Val Kilmer looked like in the film Tombstone, but what did the real John Henry Holliday look like? You’re probably thinking that he was tall, skinny, well-dressed and had a mustache and you would be right, but did he wear glasses? “What?” you say, “Now hold on just a second.” Well yes, there’s a chance, albeit a slim one, that Doc may have worn specs. 

One of the issues is that there are not many authenticated photos of Doc Holliday out there that historians can agree is actually Doc. There’s his graduation photo, which shows him clean-shaven in the days before he learned he was consumptive, moved to Texas or grew a mustache.

Then there’s the Prescott photograph, taken around 1879, before he moved down to Tombstone, AZ and involved himself with the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. This is the photo I wish to discuss. It’s a picture of a lean looking gentleman, dressed in a suit. He leans against a table in the photographic studio, not casually, but as if he needed the extra support.

You can tell that he’s not been well, his coat hides his figure well, but judging by his face and shoulders, he looks extremely thin. Then there’s his hair, often described as blond by the people who knew him, here it looks a bit darker.

Doc close up
Can you see any glasses?

Here’s the interesting part, his face is not particularly clear and yet he looks like he’s wearing spectacles. Yep, that’s right, glasses. Now, I have a terrible bias because I’m short-sighted and I would love that Doc Holliday was short-sighted too. I discussed this with a friend online many years ago and she informed me that she had seen the original copy of the photograph and that yes, Doc is wearing glasses and that it’s much clearer on the original.

Interesting to think about. Now, tell me honestly, did you ever imagine that? Here’s the downside to all of this though. The Prescott photo is not the clearest image ever created. Whether or not these wire-rim spectacles are visible or not comes under the same category as photos of blobs that pertain to be the Loch Ness Monster or a ghost. Sure that’s what it is, it’s just not very clear…at all for that matter. In fact, honestly it could just be lines on the photograph.

I’ve tried to research this idea of Doc being a bit short-sighted further and of course I’ve found next to nothing. I did read a claim that a pair of spectacles were found among Doc’s possessions when he died, but it’s one of those stories where a friend of a friend told a friend who was there and so on and so forth. You get the idea.

So what do you think? Can you see spectacles on the photograph? How do you feel about the idea of Doc Holliday being short-sighted? I’d love to hear your opinions on this. Keep in mind, I’m not saying it is or isn’t. I don’t know for sure, it’s always been just a strange little idea that floats around in the back of my head. It’s fun to think about though!

If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy my book: A Gentleman In Hell.

7 Replies to “The Spectacular Doc Holliday”

  1. I do see the lines you are talking about, but only on the left side of the pic. If it is indeed a pair of glasses they look to be very thin wire frames & seemingly light colored, like gold. I can see the line that would be the arm of the glasses, and the very narrow, oval lens frame around the one eye. It’s hard to tell if it is actually glasses, the photo isn’t clear enough. I do see what you mean, though.

  2. That’s actually a very interesting thing to think about. It wouldn’t surprise me though. I myself am an avid fan of Doc Holliday and Tombstone. The more I read about him the more my admiration grows. I too have written a short novella about Tombstone and Doc Holliday but I’m too chicken to publish it. Kudos to you for having the courage to publish your work.

  3. Hello…..
    exuse me, my English is to bad so i write in German my ideas about this topic….

    Mir ist in meiner Recherche schon häufiger aufgefallen das “Doc” J. H. Holliday nicht unbedingt zielsicher war. Demzufolge ging diverser Biografen nach der eine und andere Schuss den Doc abgegeben hatte daneben so das mir bald der Gedanke kam das er Kurzsichtig gewesen sein könnte. Andererseits bin ich selber Kurzsichtig (-1,75) aber bei weiten nicht so sehr das ich und demzufolge Holliday, es sei denn er war halb Blind, auf der kurzen Distanz in denen die meisten Duelle -am Spieltisch- abgelaufen sind daneben schießen würde was mich doch ein wenig zweifeln lässt. Andererseits kann ich die Linien einer Brille die sie meinen erkennen. Ich habe meinen PC gegen das Licht meiner Nachtbeleuchtung gehalten und den PC ein wenig gegen das Licht bewegt so das auch ich mich durchaus mit den Gedanken anfreunden kann das Holliday zumindest ab und an eine Brille getragen hat.

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