|Bird Cage Theatre|
|Location||Tombstone, Arizona, United States|
|Opened||December 26, 1881|
|Closed||1892; reopened in 1929 for the first Helldorado; reopened in 1934|
The Bird Cage Theatre was a theater in Tombstone, Arizona. It operated intermittently from December 1881 to 1894. When the silver mines closed, the theatre was also closed in 1892. It was leased as a coffee shop starting in 1934.
The Bird Cage Theatre opened on December 26, 1881. It was owned by Lottie and William "Billy" Hutchinson. Hutchison, a variety performer, originally intended to present respectable family shows like he'd seen in San Francisco that were thronged by large crowds. After the Theatre opened, they hosted a Ladies Night for the respectable women of Tombstone, who could attend for free. But the economics of Tombstone didn't support their aspirations. They soon canceled the Ladies Night and began offering baser entertainment that appealed to the rough mining crowd.
One of the first acts at the Birdcage was Mademoiselle De Granville (Alma Hayes), also known as the "Female Hercules" and "the woman with the iron jaw". She performed feats of strength, specializing in picking up heavy objects with her teeth. Other acts included the Irish comic duo Burns and Trayers (John H. Burns and Matthew Trayers), comic singer Irene Baker, Carrie Delmar, a serious opera singer, and comedian Nola Forest. Entertainment included masquerade balls featuring cross—dressing entertainers, like comedians David Waters and Will Curlew. Miners could drink and dance all night if they chose.
Longest poker game
The longest poker game in history was played in the basement of the theater. Those who wished to play had to pay a thousand dollars ($1,000) up front. Among the notable people who played in this particular game was George Hearst, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolphus Busch, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. The poker game in itself was played continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It continued from 1881 to 1889 for a total of 8 years. It is estimated that approximately $10 million was exchanged in the game during the 8 years that it lasted and that the Bird Cage retained 10 percent of that money.
In March 1882, miners in the Grand Central Mine hit water at 620 feet (190 m). The flow wasn't at first large enough to stop work, but constant pumping with a 4 inches (100 mm) pump was soon insufficient. The silver ore deposits they sought were soon underwater. Hutchinson sold the Birdcage to Hugh McCrum and John Stroufe. Bignon had managed the Theatre Comique in San Francisco and performed as a blackface minstrel and clog dancer. He refurbished the building and renamed it the Elite Theatre. He hired new acts. Bignon's wife, known as "Big Minnie", was 6 feet (1.8 m) tall and weighed 230 pounds (100 kg). She wore pink tights and sang, danced, played the piano.
The large Cornish engines brought in by the mine owners kept the water pumped out of the mines for a few more years, but on May 26, 1886, the Grand Central Mine hoist and pumping plant burned. When the price of silver slid to 90 cents an ounce a few months later, the remaining mines laid off workers. Many residents of Tombstone left. The Bird Cage Theatre closed in 1892.
The theater is reported to be haunted. It was featured in the paranormal investigation shows Ghost Hunters in 2006, Ghost Adventures in 2009 and 2015, Ghost Lab in 2009, and Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files in 2011.
"Fatima", which is advertised as a belly dancer who performed there, is actually a painting done by a local man in 1882, M. Vaccari. It is a copy of a painting called "A Dream at the Alhambra" by Henry Humphrey Moore, a painting which won first price at the 1867 Paris Exposition. The scene takes place in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Vaccari authored this copy which was raffled off at the Crystal Palace in 1882. Fast forward, it ends up in the hands of Mayor Cummings who owned the Bird Cage building and used it as a storage unit through the 20s and early 30s. Many of Cumming's collected items make up the contents of the Bird Cage which can be seen today, including this famous painting. It in no way is connected to any performer or performance type seen at the Bird Cage. Belly dancing was not introduced to the United States until the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
- Tombstone Chamber of Commerce. "Bird Cage Theatre".
- Agnew, Jeremy (May 3, 2011). Entertainment in the Old West: Theater, Music, Circuses, Medicine Shows, Prizefighting and Other Popular Amusements. McFarland. p. 113. ASIN B007NZWYGI. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
- Millie DeGranville Knox at Find a Grave
- THE LONGEST POKER GAME
- Tombstone, Arizona - The Old West's Most Historic Town The Bird Cage Theater
- Author, Desert (September 30, 2008). "Reverend Endicott Peabody: Tombstone's Quiet Hero". Retrieved May 22, 2011.
- "Bird Cage Theater In Haunted Tombstone, Arizona" Archived October 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Ghost Trackers. Retrieved March 14, 2013.
- Ghost Hunters, Season 3, Episode 1, "Tombstone". Syfy. Retrieved March 14, 2013.