The combination theater, saloon, and bordello was hailed by the New York Times in 1882 as “the wildest, wickedest night spot” between New Orleans and San Francisco. The Bird Cage apparently drew its name from the 14 curtained boxes suspended from the ceiling that were used by prostitutes to ply their trade. The boxes became known as “cages,” though they predate the popular 1900 ballad “A Bird in a Gilded Cage.”
The main hall has a stage and orchestra pit where live shows were performed, and the theater was open 24 hours a day from its debut on Christmas Day in 1881 until it was closed and sealed up in 1889. Estimates of the number of bullet holes remaining in the walls range from 120 to 140, the remains of gunfights in its heyday.
A poker room in the basement reportedly hosted a game played 24 hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days, with a purported $10 million changing hands among participants that included Tombstone fixtures Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson and wealthy businessmen Diamond Jim Brady and George Hearst.
The Bird Cage, located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Allen streets in historic Tombstone, was one of the reasons that respectable women used only the north side of Allen Street in the 1880s, while prostitutes worked the south side.
The interior of the Bird Cage Theatre is well-preserved because the building was shuttered from 1889 until 1934. It now serves as a museum and is packed with historic items, including a horse-drawn hearse used in Tombstone from 1881 to 1906.
Bird Cage Theatre
Sixth and Allen streets
Tombstone, AZ 85638
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