The Bird Cage Theater is an icon of the American wild west. It was a combination theater, saloon, gambling parlor, and brothel that ran throughout the 1880s in Tombstone, Arizona. The Bird Cage Theater was originally owned by Lottie and William Hutchinson who also housed over three thousand prostitutes during the brothel’s run. However, they had not originally intended for the theater to be a house of booze and babes.
Instead, they wanted to share family shows and provide a respectable place for entertainment. Their original plan failed as the mining community was too overwhelming and the idea of family friendly fun was not very appealing to the miners. Tombstone was an established mining town that popped up in 1877 when a prospector hit silver. The news quickly spread and miners flocked to the area. Shows included strong woman acts, comedians, comics, singers, circus acts and masquerade balls.
The Bird Cage Theater was home to the poker room of the longest running poker game in history. It ran twenty-four hours a day for nearly eight and a half years. The theater was never closed the entire time it was open. An estimated $10,000,000 switched hands while the theater was in operation. The house kept an amazing 10% of the winnings and was quite profitable.
While The Bird Cage Theater was a profitable business, it was also one of the most dangerous places in the wild west. It quickly gained the reputation as one of the wickedest theaters. There are over 120 bullet holes throughout the theater and was the popular hangout spot of many of the most well-known characters of the wild west, including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Adolphus Busch of the notorious Busch beer brewery.
The Bird Cage Theater started to fail when silver became harder to come by and prices dropped. People quickly started to leave the area on their search for the next venture. The theater switched hands many times as Tombstone thinned out until the theater closed in 1892. The theater remained closed until 1934 when it was opened in near original condition as a tourist attraction open to the public.
Visitors are able to walk through the multi-story Bird Cage Theater and imagine what it was like to be a part of the raucous and roaring wild west. The bullet holes are still prominent, along with furniture, décor and even people. Ghost tours are held in the theater and rarely disappoint. Spirits of prostitutes and cowboys who had fun in their days, decided never to leave and haunt the place, causing a stir, even into the afterlife.
Workers report hearing laughter, yelling and music, long after closing time. The theater was near the place where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday had the shoot-out with the Clanton-McLaury Gang at the OK Corral. Visitors report hearing or seeing the events unfold, hundreds of years later. Another fatal event involved patron, Billy Milgreen, who was a regular of a prostitute called Silver Dollar. One day, he was paying attention to Margarita, when Silver Dollar got upset and flew down the stairs to stab the woman in the chest with a double edged stiletto knife. The knife wasn’t found for years later and now is on display at the bar. Guests say Margarita’s angry spirit still roams the bar, seeking revenge.