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Even though Tombstone is known for its infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corrall, there is a place that was considered to be even more savage. It was affectionately referred to as “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”
The Bird Cage Theatre opened on the day after Christmas in 1881 by a well-to-do performer from San Francisco, who intended to put on family-friendly entertainment. He quickly discovered that this dusty western town had no intentions of living that sort of lifestyle and sold the place.
From that day on, the theatre became a hub for drinking, gambling, prostitution, and unruly entertainment. It was open 24 hours a day, every day, and was mostly patronized by the miners who made up the majority of Tombstone’s population. Inside the main room of the building, there are 14 cages or “cribs” hung high above the floor and stage where prostitutes would entertain customers during the other chaotic entertainment below. Back then a beer only cost $0.50 on the main floor and twice as much on one of the balconies.
The Bird Cage Theatre is also known to be the location of the world’s longest poker game, which lasted continuously for eight years, five months, and three days. It’s been said that over $10,000,000 dollars rolled across the table at the time, and with the house collecting a 10% fee, they weren’t doing too shabby! Famous participants in the game include Doc Holliday, Senator George Hearst, and Diamond Jim Brady.
At the front of the theatre is a famous painting of a exotic belly dancer named Fatima, that has been hanging on the walls since the days Wyatt Earp used to stop in for a drink. You can tell she’s been through a lot, as there are six bullet holes in the artwork along with a knife slash! In fact, if you look around the Bird Cage, you’ll see more than 120 other bullet holes throughout its walls and ceilings.
The theatre closed in 1892 after the silver boom was over and most of the townsfolk left for good. It was vacant with all of its artifacts untouched until 1934, when it reopened as the tourist attraction that we know it to be today.
Of course, when a building has a history with this kind of wild and reckless activity, there’s bound to be ghosts inside—and there are. The Bird Cage Theatre is thought to be one of the most haunted places in Arizona, and has been visited by several paranormal hunting teams from TV shows such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab, and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.
Visitors to Tombstone are often able to go on a ghost hunt themselves by joining one of the theatre’s night tours. Don’t worry, day tours are available too, but that’s not a guarantee that you won’t run into any otherworldly beings.