Bird Cage Theatre

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Bird Cage Theatre
General information
Architectural style Victorian
Location Tombstone, Arizona, United States
Opening 1881

The Bird Cage Theatre was a combination theater, saloon, gambling parlor and brothel that operated from 1881 to 1889 in Tombstone, Arizona, during the height of the silver boom.


The Bird Cage Theatre was opened on December 26, 1881, by William "Billy" Hutchinson and his wife Lottie. Its name apparently referred to the fourteen "cages" or boxes that were situated on two balconies on either side of the main central hall. These boxes, also referred to as "cribs", had drapes that could be drawn while prostitutes entertained their clients. The main hall contained a stage and orchestra pit at one end where live shows were performed.

One apocryphal story alleges that the Bird Cage Theatre took its name from the popular early 20th-century song A Bird in a Gilded Cage. According to this story, the establishment was originally named the Elite Theatre Opera House. One day shortly after it opened, Eddie Foy, Sr. and songwriter Arthur J. Lamb were standing at the bar discussing the ladies who performed there, and Lamb allegedly said they were like "birds in gilded cages". He then worked out the song on a piano in the saloon, after which it was sung by an unknown singer (Lillian Russell in some versions of the story) who was called back by the roaring crowd eight times.[1] However, Lamb was born in 1870 and therefore would have been no older than eleven or twelve years old at the time of the story. Moreover, it appears that the establishment was named the Bird Cage Theatre from the time it opened. Its name was briefly changed to the Elite Theatre after it was acquired by Joe and Minnie Bignon in 1882 before being changed back to the Bird Cage Theatre.[1]

The Bird Cage Theatre operated continuously – twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year – for the next eight years. It gained a reputation as one of the wildest places in the country, prompting The New York Times to report in 1882 that "the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast". More than 120 bullet holes are evident throughout the building.

Aside from Lillian Russell, many other famous entertainers of the day were alleged to have performed there over the years, including Eddie Foy, Sr., Lotta Crabtree and Lillie Langtry. In 1882, Fatima allegedly performed her belly-dancing routine at the Bird Cage Theatre.

The basement poker room is said to be the site of the longest-running poker game in history. Played continuously twenty-four hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days, legend has it that as much as $10,000,000 changed hands during the marathon game, with the house retaining 10 percent. Some of the participants were Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, and George Hearst. When ground water began seeping into the mines in the late 1880s the town went bust, the Bird Cage Theatre along with it. The poker game ended and the building was sealed up in 1889.


The building was not opened again until it was purchased in 1934, and the new owners were delighted to find that almost nothing had been disturbed in all those years. It has been a tourist attraction ever since, and is open to the general public year-round, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm daily.

The theater is said to be haunted[2][3] and has been featured in the paranormal investigation shows Ghost Hunters in 2006, Ghost Adventures and Ghost Lab in 2009, and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files in 2011.



  1. ^ a b Bannister, Buck. "Myths & Legends of the Bird Cage Theater". Sonoran Paranormal Investigations. Retrieved March 14, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Bird Cage Theater In Haunted Tombstone, Arizona". Ghost Trackers. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
  3. ^ Ghost Hunters, Season 3, Episode 1, "Tombstone". Syfy. Retrieved March 14, 2013.

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Coordinates: 31°42′43″N 110°3′55″W / 31.71194°N 110.06528°W / 31.71194; -110.06528