Echoes from the Past Haunt Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theater

[] The Bird Cage Theater at 535 E. Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona, is one of the only surviving buildings from Tombstone’s Wild West days, the rest having been destroyed by two fires that swept through the town in 1881 and 1882. The Bird Cage Theater opened in 1881 and closed in 1889. In those short years, it gained a notorious reputation as a house of gambling, entertainment, and prostitution. As many as 26 people were allegedly murdered there, and there are over 120 bullet holes throughout the interior. In 1882 the New York Times called it “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” Legendary figures like Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, George Randolph Hurst, Johnny Ringo, and Wyatt Earp played poker and drank the night away there.

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Doc Holliday’s dental chair at the Birdcage Theater. Photo by Michael Kleen, 2009

The Bird Cage Theater is also rumored to be haunted with the ghosts of Tombstone’s tumultuous past. TV shows like Ghost Hunters (2006), Ghost Adventures, Ghost Lab (2009), and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (2011) have all aired episodes about the theater. I’ve had a longtime interest in the Old West, so when I visited a friend in Arizona in 2009, we had to take a trip out to Tombstone. The Birdcage Theater was one of the places we visited. It is packed full of memorabilia and artifacts from the past.

Some people claim these artifacts, which include the pool table on which Morgan Earp was killed and the hearse that carried bodies to Boot Hill Cemetery from 1881 to 1906, are haunted. According to the theater’s website, “Visitors and employees of the Bird Cage Theater have reported seeing the spirits of former prostitutes and men in cowboy hats. Some claim to have been touched and pushed by unseen forces. At night, the sounds of laughter, yelling and music have been heard, as though the parties of the Old West were still raging. Many have claimed to see the visage of a man in black wearing a visor pacing across the stage..”

I didn’t see any ghosts while I was there, but it was hard not to feel transported back in time at that place. The basement featured a poker table where a legendary poker game spanning several years was played. Unfortunately, the museum staff had populated the room with corny looking dummies, including an “undead” dummy that did nothing to enhance the authentic atmosphere.

Taking a shot of whiskey in one of Tombstone's Western saloons.

Taking a shot of whiskey in one of Tombstone’s Western saloons.

During the Ghost Hunters episode, Jason and Grant heard cards being shuffled, a hard rubber ball being bounced, and an iron gate opening. Some of the crew members allegedly saw moving shadows as well. It’s hard to substantiate such claims, but a lot of people have reported experiencing strange things at the Birdcage. In the 1920s, a school existed across the street from the abandoned theater, and children reportedly heard sounds coming from within. When their parents investigated the sounds, they found the Birdcage locked and empty as usual.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of TV shows and books about cowboys and the Wild West, and Tombstone (1993) is still one of my favorite movies. So ghosts or not, it was a real privilege to get to explore this historic landmark. If you are in Arizona, you won’t want to miss it.

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  1. […] [] I first visited Tombstone in 2009, which was a dream come true for this fan of old Westerns. Even though I was born in 1981, I was raised on TV shows like Rawhide and Bonanza. I never had the opportunity to travel out west until after graduate school. When I did, some friends from Phoenix and I made sure to explore everything the town had to offer. One of the most famous buildings in Tombstone is the Bird Cage Theatre, which I wrote about here. […]


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