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Time Stands Still at the Famous Bird Cage Theatre in Arizona

Even though Tombstone is known for its infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, there is a place that was considered to be even more savage. It was affectionately called “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.”

In its yesteryear, this famous aviary-inspired theatre showcased the epitome of debauchery, hosting 24-hour gambling, exotic performances, and illicit activities. Nestled in the heart of Tombstone, this place has a reputation as a den of vice that drew notorious outlaws and lawmen alike.







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The Bird Cage Theatre opened on the day after Christmas in 1881 by a well-to-do San Francisco performer who intended to put on family-friendly entertainment. He quickly discovered that this dusty western town had no intentions of living that lifestyle and then sold the place to someone else.

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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.

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The Bird Cage Theatre is also known to be the location of the world’s longest poker game, which lasted for eight consecutive years, five months, and three days. It’s been said that over ten million dollars had 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.

The theatre's famous poker table
Credit: The theatre's famous poker table by Mona Kelsey Conder

At the front of the theatre is a famous painting of an exotic belly dancer named Fatima that has been hanging on the walls since Wyatt Earp used to stop in for a drink. You can tell she’s been through a lot, as the artwork has six bullet holes, along with a knife slash! Looking around the Bird Cage, you’ll see over 120 other bullet holes throughout its walls and ceilings.

Bullet holes in the Bird Cage's ceiling.
Credit: Bullet holes in the Bird Cage's ceiling. by Patti Kelsey

The theatre closed in 1892 after the silver boom ended, and most 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 wild and reckless activity, there’s bound to be ghosts inside—and there are. The Bird Cage Theatre is considered one of Arizona’s most haunted places. It 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.

Inside the Bird Cage Theatre
Credit: Inside the Bird Cage Theatre by Mona Kelsey Conder

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.

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