The Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone Arizona is one of the authentic, historic buildings still standing in town. Enter the Bird Cage Theatre, at the Southwest corner of Allen & 6th Streets.
It is a special building. It’s one of the original, historic landmarks in town. Its grand opening was just after Christmas of 1881. It survived the horrible destructive city fire of May 1882.
Its history along with the Bird Cage Theater tours available, give you a real look at Tombstone in the 1880s. Well worth it! Let’s see more about it…
Come Inside the Bird Cage Theater Today
The first owner of the Bird Cage Theater was Billy Hutchinson, who formed its concept. He, and his wife Lottie, had experience working in the acting and entertainment business. It was a success as soon as it opened. The productions catered to the energies of the miners, the cow-boys and the ranchers who were in town. Hutchinson advertised entertaining shows, refreshing drinks, games of chance, dancing, private conversation and adult comfort. All to promote the whole enterprise of the Bird Cage Theater.
Look Around The Bird Cage Lobby
Lots to see in the lobby. You can step inside the Bird Cage Theater’s lobby and get a preview of what it’s like further on. Purchase tour tickets here and ask for further information. That space is also a gift shop. There is another gift shop with more variety at the end of a tour. But you can also access it from a pathway that goes around the East side of the building and then to the back.
You can’t help but notice the painting of the exotic dancer “Fatima” up on the wall to your right as you enter. Very popular – she was memorialized in this art-work.
But in all the scuffles through the wild west years – you’ll see there are six bullet holes piercing the canvas! The bullet holes from back in the day are pointed out on tours. You’ll be enraptured, listening to that story – as well as others!
See the original bar, it’s still right here! It came a long way to arrive safely. The gambling area was there, too – right where you stand in the Bird Cage Theatre Saloon. Although billed as a “Variety Theater” the Bird Cage incorporated the typical old west type of saloon and Gambling Entertainment to draw in local “sporting men.”
This was the area of enticement to assist you in giving up some of your hard-earned funds. The women employed there helped you decide on the entertainment you’d like. Have a drink, she’d drink along with you (really hers was tea!). Want to play some poker, or the more popular Faro? You’d be encouraged to the Bird Cage Theater’s card tables.
See many interesting items in this room, including the original staircase to access the “bird cages.” Eventually you can move along into the main hall.1
The Main Auditorium
The main hall is where audiences sat to view shows. Later in the night, benches were moved aside and it became the dance hall.1
It is now a museum. Many Tombstone historical artifacts are stored here. Not only from the Bird Cage, but from the history of the City of Tombstone, also.
Be sure to look up! View the Bird Cages – set up with “Customers.” Yes, it’s those infamous “bird cages” – 14 private, elevated boxes where the evening ladies entertained customers. The “soiled doves” pulled the red curtains closed when working. You know, the fallen angels, also known as sporting girls or shady ladies.
Who or what is that? It’s the hearse that brought many an 1880s gunfighter to Boot Hill Cemetery! Word is that it may have included two of the Cow-boys – that is the McLaury brothers, or perhaps (less likely) one of them plus Billy Clanton, who were shot down in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral! It’s now on stage at the Bird Cage, in the performance back-stage area.
Some say the Black Moriah itself is haunted! Birdcage Ghost Tour guides believe it! I think it could be. We’ve taken the Bird Cage Ghost Tour (recommended!) – and some strange things have happened!!
Have you had any Ghost Tour experiences? At the Bird Cage Theater Ghost Tour? Or any of the other Ghost Tours in Tombstone Arizona? Or anywhere else at all? Any that relate to 1800s history? Or any ghostly experiences at all?? (We’ve had our own – some of our friends, too – Check It Out!) We’d love to hear about it! We have a place for you to tell us, and our readers all about it. Please let us all know that ghostly experience you have had – For details on getting that done, please Click Here>
Tombstone’s Longest Poker Game
A Birdcage tour takes you to the basement. Where the longest high-stakes poker game took place. Right at the Bird Cage Theatre. All was left in place after the Bird Cage Theatre closed, when hard times hit town. When the Birdcage reopened as a museum, it was still left in place – with some additions to demonstrate the event.
The game went on continuously, 24 hours a day. You needed $1000 to get into the game and play. An immensely vast sum in those days! (Equivalent to just about $24,750 today!)
Seven players were in on the game. All well-renowned, high stakes gamblers. They’d come and go, as their interests and stamina allowed. Bat Masterson and Diamond Jim Brady were known to have played their hand around the table. The game continued almost 8-1/2 years!
Bird Cage Bordello Rooms
Private: for the Exclusive Ladies of the Night
Some women who plied their trade of adult comfort were exceptional in their beauty, culture, hygiene and talents. They commanded a higher price, and were able to take clients into comfortable, private rooms with nice amenities.
The basement of the Birdcage had a few rooms for their use. A percentage of their earnings went to the Theatre’s management. Still, it was a more comfortable and lucrative method for them, while working in this business.
You can view these basement rooms on the Bird Cage Theater tour.
Bird Cage Theater Reinventions
So we see there were many goings-on there, some not so savory! It gained a reputation throughout the country! But according to Tombstone contemporary, William Breckenridge, “no one had been killed there, and Hutchinson ran it in an orderly manner…”2
The Bird Cage began to sponsor Wrestling Matches to generate interest, and additional income for the business. That was just one of the reinventions that took place over the years.
The Bird Cage Theatre underwent some closings as well through the years. The mines flooding, the Depression years all affected its operation. One time it was renamed for a short while as the “Elite Theatre.” It even became a Coffee Shop for a time.
It was refurbished and cleaned up some, opening up for the first Helldorado Celebration in 1929.
Finally it became the museum that you see today. The gift shop is in the entry, yes. But there’s another as you exit the tour, on your way out. You can also enter that gift shop, which has other options from the main entry, by going round to the back entry. Just go along the sidewalk by 6th Street, to the rear of the building. You’ll see the doorway to it!
We highly recommend a visit to the Bird Cage Theater, which is now truly a museum. The true name is really written as the “Bird Cage Theatre” – but you’ll see it listed as the Birdcage, the Birdcage Theatre, the Birdcage Theater, etc.!
It’s a can’t miss when you come to town.
We also recommend a ghost tour. You’ll see areas of the Bird Cage that you wouldn’t see otherwise. The tour began when owners started noticing odd things happening. People with those “Sixth Sense” capabilities have seen fleeting glimpses of ghostly beings. Strange things have been heard. Items have moved around inexplicably. You may have heard about television ghost investigators visiting.
See for yourself – you might be surprised! Certainly enthralled.
1 Bruns, R.A. (2000). Desert honkytonk: The story of Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theatre. Golden CO: Fulcrum Publishing.
2 Breckenridge, W.M. (1928, 1956, 1982, 1992). Helldorado. [Brown, R.M., Editor]. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.