Birdcage Theatre

The Birdcage Theatre Tombstone, Arizona

Originally named The Elite Theatre, it opened on December 25, 1881 during the height of the silver boom in Tombstone, and for the next eight years never closed. It operated continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It was not only a theater but also included a saloon, gambling parlour, and a brothel in the basement. The theater gained a reputation as one of the wildest places in Tombstone. The New York Times reported in 1882, that "the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." The building contains numerous bullet holes attesting to the Times description.

The name, "Bird Cage", was derived from the 14 cages suspended from the ceiling in the main hall. It was in these "Bird Cages" in which the ladies of the evening entertained their customers. A popular song from era, "She's Only A Bird In A Gilded Cage", was reportedly written after a conversation between Eddy Foy and song writer Arthur Lamb, about the ladies of the evening who plied their trade in the cages. Shortly thereafter the owner changed the name to The Birdcage. Many famous entertainers of the day performed at the Birdcage including Eddie Foy, Lotta Crabtree, Lily Langtree, and Lola Montez.

The basement poker room is reported to be the site of the longest poker game in history. Played continuously 24 hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days, it is said 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 Randolph Hearst. When ground water began seeping into the mines in the late 1880's the town went bust and along with it, the Birdcage Theatre. The poker game ended and the building was sealed up in 1889. The building was not opened again until it was purchased in the year 1934, 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 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily. The theater is said to be haunted.

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