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If you are interested in the history of the Wild West, surely you have heard about the theater "Bird cage". It worked in Tombstone, Arizona, in the heyday of silver mining in the vicinity of the city.

In 1882, the New York Times called it "the most violent and vicious nightclub" in the territory from New Orleans to San Francisco. The theater was open around the clock without interruption on weekends or holidays, offering customers a bar, restaurant, performances and the company of easily accessible ladies.

But the list of entertainment at the Bird Cage was not limited to whiskey and whores, as in the usual saloon. The club played cards at very high stakes. Often there were conflicts at the table. In them participated very heated heads, so in move often resisted firearms.

The theater building is still there. There are dozens of bullet holes in its walls. Numerous eyewitnesses claim that at night you can see the ghosts of murdered players and former prostitutes.

This is not the only mysterious story associated with the Bird Cage. The most interesting legends will be discussed further.

History of the Birdcage theatre

In 1877 prospector ed Shieffelin found in the South-East of Arizona reserves of silver. He founded a settlement, which soon grew to become a city. The name of the Cottages (eng. Tombstone - "grave stumbling") coined ed, after all when he traveled in those wild the brink, he talked, that there he will find not wealth but his grave.

At the beginning of 1881, in Tombstone had lived more than seven thousand people. People tired of hard work in the mines demanded entertainment. Demand always generates supply, and in late December, Allen Street opened an institution called the Bird Cage Theatre. It was founded by married couple Lottie and William Hutchinson.

Singers, magicians, dancers, and artists of other genres performed on the stage of the club. Behind the bar, popular alcoholic drinks were being poured. The kitchen offered traditional dishes. In the basement fans of gambling, entertainment was playing cards. And unencumbered by moral principles, the girls provided intimate services on the second floor.

Cultural life at the Bird Cage theatre

Billy hoped it would be a respectable establishment for a respectable audience. For example, he arranged Ladies Nights, to which he invited the most respectable women of the city, and other similar parties. But the realities of the mining town of the Wild West forced him to abandon this venture and switch to more affordable entertainment that can attract unassuming prospectors.

Alma Hayes, known by the pseudonyms Mademoiselle De Granville and the Hercules Woman, performed on the stage of the Birdcage. Her incredible power tricks delighted visitors. Numbers by various comedians, singers and musicians were also popular.

Periodically, the Bird Cage Theatre hosted masquerade balls and other large-scale events with the participation of numerous artists.

The decline of the era

In March 1882, the largest silver mine, the Grand Central Mine, began to flood with water from an underground river that miners stumbled upon. At first, it was possible to pump it out, but it became clear that soon this method will be ineffective.

The Hutchinson realized that silver mining was under threat, and hurried to sell the "Birdcage". Its new owners were John Bignon (Joe Bignon) and his wife Minnie.

The mine worked until May 1886, when the pump and hoist burned down. Then the value of silver fell, after which other mines closed. Residents began to leave the city, and in 1892 the "Birdcage" closed.

It would seem quite a prosaic story, typical of saloons and other entertainment venues in the Wild West. How did it happen that in the future about the Bird Cage Theatre formed numerous legends, to this day fueling interest in the famous club in the past?

Let's try to understand where the most persistent myths came from and how close they are to the truth.

Origin of the name

Why was the theater called a "birdcage"? This question has long haunted fans of the Wild West. They put forward several theories.

According to one of them, at first, the institution was decorated with a sign Elite Theatre ("Elite theatre"). There girls of easy virtue worked who rendered the vicious services in wooden rooms on the second floor, then reminded poor birds in cages. Supposedly the name stuck, and Billy Hutchinson made it official.

But that's not true. The owners from the first day of work called their brainchild The Bird Cage Theater. And, as mentioned above, initially it was designed for respectable customers, so within its walls, there were no prostitutes.

A variant of the Elite Theatre did not emerge until 1883 when Joe Binyon bought the theatre. But customers kept calling it the old way, and the new owner brought back the old version.

The longest poker game

This story has acquired an incredible amount of speculation and fantasies. They are so many that often people refuse to believe in the fact of what happened, although it is confirmed by historians.

From 1881 to 1889, poker was played in the basement of the Birdcage theater. For eight years it was continuous gameplay. Only respectable clients could afford to participate in it because it was necessary to deposit one thousand dollars, which was a large sum at the time.

The table was visited by many legends of gambling: George Hearst, Doc Holliday, Diamond Jim Brady, Wyatt Earp, and other famous players.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, they were figuring out who played better poker, and the owners of the Bird Cage Theatre were getting richer because they were taking ten percent of the pot. It is said that during this time the turnover amounted to ten million dollars. It turns out that one million went to the owners of the club.

Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo shootout

As the legend goes, once fairly drunk Doc Holliday sat in the "Birdcage" for a game of Pharaoh. There looked Johnny Ringo, a thug from the "Cowboys" gang.

Drunk Holliday hooked Ringo: "johnny, ready to put everything on the line? It's the sharpest game in town." Hot-tempered John did not hesitate to answer. He tore the bandanna from his neck and said, " Will you take the handkerchief by the other end? It's the deadliest game in town."

So Ringo proposed Doc fight on a duel, participants who take neck scarf for different make ends and shoot on a signal. As a rule, opponents killed each other.

This famous story is played out in the film "Tumston: Legend of the Wild West", in which Halliday and Ringo played Val Kilmer (Val Kilmer) and Michael Bean (Michael Biehn). Guides tell it to tourists. In the Museum of the theater "Birdcage" you can even buy t-shirts with themed pictures.

But, judging by the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses, the real story was not so dramatic, and the conversation between Doc and johnny was not replete with beautiful statements. There had been a quarrel between them, but it had happened in the middle of Allen Street, and there had been no shooting.

Ghosts of the "Birdcage"

Ghosts, supposedly living in the theater building, in the United States discussed everywhere. They say that the spirits of the dead almost on schedule appear in the walls of the institution, scaring employees and belated visitors.

Several television shows on American television were devoted to this mysterious topic. Remember the most popular issues of famous shows:

  • 2006-Ghost Hunters 
  • 2009 – Ghost Adventures 
  • 2009 Ghost Lab
  • 2011-Fact or Fake: Paranormal Files 
  • 2015-Ghost Adventures 

Of course, none of the programs gave an answer to the question of whether the "Birdcage" is inhabited by ghosts. But it is known that these shows are attracted to the Cottages and the famous theatre more tourists.

Realities of Tumston and the "Birdcage"

People love myths and legends. Of the Wild West, there are a great many. But historians argue that the true state of Affairs in Tumston and the Bird Cage Theatre was much more prosaic.

  • The atmosphere of the club was not like the Institute of noble maidens. Maybe at first when the owners tried to collect in the walls of the institution a respectable audience, the atmosphere was more or less decent. But in the future, the walls of the institution gathered miners, cowboys, sharpers and mobs. No, fights and shootings did not happen there every day, but such incidents did not surprise anyone.
  • Prostitution - it is hardly possible to imagine a successful entertainment institution in the Wild West without girls of easy virtue. At the Birdcage, they also worked hard on their faces and other parts of their bodies, receiving clients in the second-floor rooms. Not only did they get paid for their intimate services, but they also pocketed a reward for the drinks that customers ordered. We can say that it was about the beginnings of a modern system of escort services and hostess, widely practiced in the gambling business.
  • Gambling – throughout most of the history of the Birdcage theater, customers have played poker and other card games in its basement. The above recounted an eight-year ongoing series in which millions of dollars passed through the table.
  • Famous personalities-on the stage of "Birdcage" performed many famous artists, whose names thundered throughout the Wild West. But even more interesting personalities met in the number of clients. The establishment was visited by legendary bandits, skilled sharps and professional card players.

It can be argued that Tumston in general and the Bird Cage, in particular, were not the abode of evil and a hotbed of crime. Like most busy places in the Wild West, it was a gathering place for all sorts of people, including criminals, but the city and the theater were kept relatively orderly by the authorities.

Some researchers believe that the history of Tumston and the "Birdcage" began to actively rewrite and Supplement myths in 1929 when several local residents founded the festival Helldorado Days. The holiday is arranged almost annually until now. This is a fun event that gathers dozens of artists and attracts a large audience, but its organizers do not hesitate to invent legends about the city to interest and even shock the audience.

The tombstone and The Bird Cage theatre in our days

Currently, the budget of Tumstone is replenished mainly by tourism. The city authorities are trying to recreate the atmosphere of the Wild West on its streets, but historians are dissatisfied with the situation. They do not like the fact that most of the buildings are reproductions, and the real buildings of that era are in a deplorable state. Some of them are so dilapidated that they can not receive visitors because of the danger of collapse.

On the General background, the Bird Cage Theatre looks quite well. It has been preserved almost in its original form, which delights tourists.

Of course, it no longer performs its original functions, although it is still possible to drink at the Birdcage bar. The former theatre houses a Museum and gift shop. There are thematic tours, where visitors are stuffed with "fables" about the shootings of legendary gunfighters and sinister ghosts.
From time to time, the Bird Cage hosts festivals, exhibitions, and other events.

You can get acquainted with all the services of the "Birdcage" on the official website of the institution www.tombstonebirdcage.com. also, the theater has a Facebook page.


Do you believe in the legends of the Birdcage theatre? Or do you think they were put together to attract tourists? Most likely, the second version is closer to the truth.

If you happened to visit the "Birdcage", do not be lazy to write a review. Share your impressions and tell us whether it is worth visiting the Museum.

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