Monday, November 23, 2009

The Bird Cage Theatre

My most favorite part of Tombstone was the Bird Cage Theatre. This Saloon, Theatre and House of Ill Fame has lots of original furnishings and objects, that really give a wonderful sense of what it must have been like in its heyday. The Bird Cage has been featured on several ghost hunting shows and is said to be certifiably haunted. When Angelina, Jeff and I took the self guided tour ( a little pricy at $10 per person) we were the only ones there. Jeff and Angelina went ahead of me, and I was able to spend time alone in the front and back stage areas. I can tell you that the place felt wonderful and friendly to me. If you go to Tombstone and you are very into history, I wouldn't miss it!

Here is a little history about the Bird Cage Theatre

The Bird Cage Theatre originally opened as The Elite Theatre on December 25, 1881, during the height of the silver boom in Tombstone, Arizona. Consisting of the theater, a saloon, a gambling parlour, and a brothel, it operated continuously – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – for the next 8 years. It gained a reputation as one of the wildest places in Tombstone, 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". The numerous bullet holes in the building lend credence to this claim.

Many famous entertainers of the day performed here over the years, including Eddie Foy, Sr., Lotta Crabtree, Lillie Langtry, and Lola Montez. It is reported that the popular song, "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" was written after a conversation occurred between Eddie Foy and songwriter Arthur Lamb concerning the ladies at the Elite who performed in 14 cages suspended from the ceiling in the main hall. Shortly thereafter, the owner changed the name to The Bird Cage.

Left side cribs

The basement poker room is said to be the site of the longest-running poker game in history. Played continuously 24 hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days, legend has it that as much as 10 million dollars 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.

Right side cribs

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 and has been featured in the paranormal investigation shows Ghost Hunters in 2006, and Ghost Adventures in 2009.

Stage and original piano

Close up of the wonderful piano

Tombstones original Black Mariah with original curved glass

Infants Display casket. Such a casket would be borrowed for the display of the dead lying in state by those who could not afford more than the plain pine coffin that they would likely be buried in.

Adult display casket

Backstage photos and playbills for some of the Bird Cage's previous performers

More lovely ladies

This display casket including dummy was hanging out behind the stage

One of the 'best girls' rooms located downstairs by the private high rollers gaming tables. These girls were more expensive and often had 'specialties'

adorning the walls outside the best girls rooms

High rollers game tables

the row of 'best girls' rooms

(later known as Little Egypt)

[real name Farida Mazar Spyropoulos]
The original painting of Fatima who was an Oriental Belly Dancer, she played the Bird Cage in 1881. This was a gift from her to the Bird Cage to hang in the bar. It has hung in this spot since 1882."

The painting is one of the main eye catchers in the front room of the Bird Cage. The stairway just to the left of the pumpkin ( we were there on November 2nd) is the stairway to the upstairs cribs that you saw above.

Stairway to the upper cribs

Bar chandelier

Original Bar light


Sonia ;) said...

Wendy....Wow...saw that episode on Ghost Hunters LOL...All the antiques are amazing. Now I have a book on coffins and corpses and there is a grave marked in the cemetary "John Heath taken from Jail and Lynched" lol..saw that and thought Wendy is there lol...Love the photos...Do they ever dust? lmao


~Wendy~ said...

No one has dusted in a long time! The only place that was clean from dust is the front bar area where they sell a few touristy things.

The next blog will be about Boot Hill cemetery including the grave you mention. A mob came up from Bisbee- which is the next town away toward the mexican border, and took John Heath out of the Tombstone jail and hung him from a Telegraph pole. There is a photograph of him hanging on display there.


This is fantastic!!! I have to look at the pics many times over to get all of the details. LOVE THE HISTORY!


harps said...

what a fascinating place! I'd love to visit one day, thanks for sharing

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