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Bird Cage Theater – An Abandoned And Reopened Original Theater, Saloon, And Gambling Parlor

Nikola Petrovski

Bird Cage Theater began its days somewhere in the historic city of Cochise County, Arizona, known as Tombstone in the year 1881, during the height of the silver boom. And where there is hard work, there ought to be a place of leisure and games.

Bird Cage Theater. Author: RE Hawkins CC BY-SA 3.0

Bird Cage Theater. Author: RE Hawkins CC BY-SA 3.0

This simple task was what the Bird Cage Theater pulled off for nearly a decade before it officially ended its services and remained abandoned. Its history tells us that it’s bar was originally made in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

The stairs to the stage. Author: Hawkeye58 CC BY-SA 3.0

The stairs to the stage. Author: Hawkeye58 CC BY-SA 3.0

Then it was shipped on the Star of India around the tip of South America to the west coast of Mexico and brought by wagon train the rest of the way to its final stopping point.

The Bird Cage in 1940. Author: Russell Lee Public Domain

The Bird Cage in 1940. Author: Russell Lee Public Domain

This theater, saloon, and gambling parlour were owned by a rather rare gentleman know to the silver hunters as William “Billy” Hutchinson. Billy, together with his wife Lottie, tried hard to satisfy the hungry and thirsty miners, gamblers, and outlaws, whose habit was when unhappy to pull their guns and “bust one at the ceiling”.

Ed Schieffelin – the man who discovered silver in the Tombstone district in 1877. 

Ed Schieffelin – the man who discovered silver in the Tombstone district in 1877. 

Today there are over 120 bullet holes strategically placed all over this place witnessing that old unwritten rule that the customer is always right.

The 1881 rosewood piano. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

The 1881 rosewood piano. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

Its official opening date is the 26th of December 1881, and Billy’s original idea with this place was to present family shows as he had seen on his trip to San Francisco.

A downstairs dressing room. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

A downstairs dressing room. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

In its infancy, the Bird Cage hosted a “Ladies Night” intended for all of the respectable women of Tombstone, and more importantly, it was all for free. There was nothing wrong with it, for it was a good idea, but the economy and the unwritten rules of the business itself spoke otherwise. It wasn’t long before Billy changed his original business plan, canceled Ladies Night and changed focus to the quite unpolished and clumsy mining crowd.

An original poker table. Author: H2Oman CC BY 2.0

An original poker table. Author: H2Oman CC BY 2.0

And it was all good, for the Tombstone’s folk could walk in and buy a drink at the elongated bar. Given the fact that its initial idea was to serve as a theater, there was a 15 by 15 feet stage, plus the orchestra pit.

Stairs to the private cribs. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

Stairs to the private cribs. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

The parlor was a somewhat dark place and so the stage itself was lit by a row of the “good old” gas jets that were quite typical for that time and age. It was constructed as a true theater and had fourteen boxes in total, placed on either side of the two balconies.

The box seats. Author: Hawkeye58 GFDL

The box seats. Author: Hawkeye58 GFDL

At the corner, there was a contraption known as the dumbwaiter and its job was to hoist up drinks to the private cribs which were occupied by “ladies of the night”.

The dumbwaiter. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 4.0

The dumbwaiter. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 4.0

Naturally, as any other place that has its fair share of history behind it, the Bird Cage has its own legends. One in particular among the many is the longest-running poker game in history. A game that supposedly was held in the basement of this parlor.

The basement poker room. Author: Hawkeye58 GFDL

The basement poker room. Author: Hawkeye58 GFDL

It is said that the game lasted twenty-four hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days. To spice the legend even further, the participants included such names as Doc Holliday the American gambler, gunfighter, and dentist, joined by Diamond Jim Brady an American businessman and philanthropist, and Bat Masterson, himself a buffalo hunter and Indian fighter.

The Bird Cage museum. Author: Hawkeye58 GFDL

The Bird Cage museum. Author: Hawkeye58 GFDL

Among the first acts held in this parlor was the one that belongs to Mademoiselle De Granville, a pseudonym behind which stood Alma Hayes, also known as the “Female Hercules” and even “the woman with the iron jaw.”

A box seat. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

A box seat. Author: Santoaz2006 CC BY-SA 1.0

Next, there was the “The Flying Nymph” who flew using her own strength and a rope from one side of the parlor to the other. In addition to this, there was another act titled “The Human Fly” in which a woman walked across the stage ceiling upside down. It was all breathtaking until one day the last breath was taken when she fell to her death.

Bird Cage Theater interior. Author: H2Oman CC BY 2.0

Bird Cage Theater interior. Author: H2Oman CC BY 2.0

The Bird Cage changed ownership several times throughout its existence. It operated non-stop for eight years, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It was in 1882 when the miners hit water at 620 feet of depth that soon flooded the silver ore deposits they were after.

One of the gas jets. Author: H2Oman CC BY 2.0

One of the gas jets. Author: H2Oman CC BY 2.0

For a few years, pumps were used to keep the mines from flooding, but gradually it became more difficult to keep the water out. Miners started to leave the town and the Bird Cage Theater was finally closed in 1889. When it reopened in 1934 it was found intact. Today it serves as a tourist attraction and a time capsule.