"Birdcage Theater"
Original Airdate: 07/03/09
Season 2 / Episode 5
Tombstone, AZ

Birdcage Theater (sometimes title "Bird Cage Theater" or "Bird Cage Theatre") is the fifth episode of Season 2 of Ghost Adventures. The Ghost Adventures Crew confronts the spirits of the Old West in Tombstone, AZ. The Bird Cage Theater embodied the heyday of the silver boom. Legendary gunslingers, gamblers and prostitutes drank and died in the theater, and some even stayed to haunt the place.

Preliminary InvestigationEdit

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.

Once inside, customers could buy a drink at the long bar. The bar was made in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, shipped on the Star of India around the tip of South America to the west coast of Mexico, then hauled by freight wagon the rest of the way. The main hall contained a 15 by 15 feet (4.6 by 4.6 m) stage about 5 feet (1.5 m) above the main floor, and an orchestra pit. The stage was lit by a row of gas jets along the front side.[2] There were fourteen boxes on two balconies on either side of the main hall. A dumbwaiter at the end of the bar was used to hoist up the whiskey, beer and cigars to the patrons in the box seats.[citation needed]

In the basement, legend says that a poker room was the site of the longest-running poker game in history. Played continuously twenty-four hours a day for eight years, five months, and three days, legend has it that as much as $10,000,000 changed hands during the marathon game, with the house retaining 10 percent. Some of the participants were Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, George Hearst, and Adolphus Busch of the Busch Brewery.

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. Lizette, "The Flying Nymph", flew from one side of the theatre to the other on a rope. One of the more elaborate acts featured "The Human Fly" in which women dressed in theatrical tights and brief costumes walked across the stage ceiling upside down. This act lasted until one of the clamps supporting the performers failed and she fell to her death.

Entertainment included masquerade balls featuring cross—dressing entertainers, like comedians David Waters and Will Curlew, in outrageous female costumes, performing outlandish antics, bawdy skits, and singing vulgar ballads.[2] Each evening entertainment began with a variety show at 9:00 pm and lasted until 1:00 am or later.[2] When the stage show ended, the wooden benches where the audience sat were stacked on the side. The orchestra performed and the audience danced and drank until the sun rose. Miners could drink and dance all night if they chose.[2]

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 and they sold it again in January 1886 to Joe Bignon. 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 interspersed with the bawdy entertainment the miners were used to. 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, and sometimes acted as madam to the prostitutes and bouncer.

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. Before it closed, the Bird Cage Theatre operated continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for eight years, from 1881 to 1889. It gained a reputation as one of the wickedest theaters between New Orleans and San Francisco, prompting The New York Times to report in 1882 that "the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast". More than 120 bullet holes are found throughout the building.

The building was kept closed until it was purchased in 1934, when the new owners found that almost nothing had been disturbed since it had been closed in 1892. It has become a tourist attraction and is open to the general public year-round. 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.

Tombstone, Arizona is home to many Wild West legends, and the Bird Cage Theater is no exception. Open from 1881-1889, the Theater was a saloon, a bar, a theater, and a brothel, with the ladies hung from the ceiling in crib style rooms named “bird cages.” Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday drank and played cards there, and many were murdered there as well. Bullet holes still show in parts of the stage and the walls. According to the operators of the saloon twenty-six ghosts apparently still love to party at this historic brothel/saloon in Southern Arizona, and is a frequent stop for ghost hunters from all over the world. Supposedly shouting and loud music is sometimes heard at night, and some tourists have claimed smelling cigar smoke and whiskey in the air. After years of being closed, the Bird Cage was reopened for tourists in 1934. The night tour is probably best to experience a spooky time, but perhaps even more interesting then the “paranormal phenomena” are all the wonderful original historical artefacts perfectly preserved since 1889.

Ghostly InhabitantsEdit

The unintended consequences of wild living often result in pain, suffering, feelings of injustice and despair, and sometimes a sudden end. Many of these women who worked in these cribs or cages, hoped to find a man to marry, in order to leave the business, and become respectable. If this didn't happen by the time they became 30, they often killed themselves. Booze, guns, gambling when mixed together with sorry sports, high emotions, bad tempers and hostile dispositions led to gun fights and people dying. 26 people died in gun incidents in the saloon area. There are 148 bullet holes in the walls, and floors of the building. It is not surprising that The Bird Cage Theater is said to be the home of at least twenty-six documented ghosts, though as many of 31 entities could be making The Bird Cage their home. Activity really jumps a notch or two in intensity after 9:00 pm, though manifestations have happened during the daylight hours as well.

Olfactory Occurrences: People have smelled the distinctive odor of cigar smoke, and the distinct aroma of whiskey. Auditory Occurrences: The museum's sound system sometimes turns itself on, providing saloon music which surprises the living and brings enjoyment to the entities who still patronize The Bird Cage Theater. Many witnesses among the living have heard: The clear disembodied voice of a woman singing. Sounds of music playing. Sounds of hearty laughter. Strange noises coming from the balcony boxes. The sound of people talking. The sound of dice being thrown, glasses clinking and cards being shuffled. Visual Manifestations: Cheryl Leavere, Bird Cage Theater manager, reports "The ghosts here are friendly and like to play." Items are moved around and put in odd places. An apport in the form of a never before seen 100 dollar poker chip appeared one day on a gambling table, and was found by a tourist.  The owner locked it in a safe.  When experts arrived to take a look at it, the chip had disappeared, much to the annoyance of all involved.  The chip reappeared in a locked desk drawer after the experts had left. A life-sized statue of Wyatt Earp was placed in one of the balcony boxes. Every morning, afterward, museum employees would find his hat sitting in the middle of the floor below. This continued for 6 months. One morning, the statue was even completely turned around.  A historian  was finally consulted and he told them that they had put Wyatt Earp in the box where the Clantons used to reserve. Uh oh!  They quickly moved the statue of Wyatt Earp to the correct balcony box, and the hat throwing stopped. Transparent apparitions dressed in a variety of 1880s attire, have been seen throughout The Bird Cage Theater building. At night, the living have seen a whole room full of entities partying hardy in the main hall. An entity of a male stage hand, walking across the stage, going about his business is a common report. He is seen wearing black stripped pants, a visor and holding a clip board. An entity of a female, dressed in 1880s attire, has been seen going into the wine cellar and then fading into the air. An entity of a man, dressed in 1880s attire, is forever looking for his wife all over the theater, looking very sad, depressed and confused.

Seemingly, some of these old legends of the past continue to stalk the old saloon as both staff and guests, alike, have reported seeing ghostly apparitions in 1800's clothing. Most often sighted, is the figure of a male stage hand that appears wearing black striped pants, a visor, and holding a clipboard, as he walks across the stage. Other occurrences include the sounds of raucous laughter and music pouring from the doors of the old theatre at night. Others report hearing the faint sounds of a woman singing and the museum's sound system has inexplicably turned on of its own accord, blaring old time music. Others have reported strange sounds coming from the balconies of the main floor and the sharp scents of cigar smoke and whiskey. After closing time, staff have reported hearing the sounds of clinking glass and cards shuffling.

The haunting reports date back to 1921 when a school was built across the street and students began to report the sounds of laughter and music coming from the abandoned building, as well as the smell of cigar smoke.

Cribs at the Bird Cage Theatre, Kathy Weiser, April, 2007.

Over the years, the Hunley family, staff, and visitors alike have experienced a number of strange events. One of the most fascinating tales is of how a dice table, which weighed several hundred pounds mysteriously moved the night before. When staff arrived the next morning, they table had been moved in front of a door with a sign that read: "Don’t Disturb Our 26 Resident Ghosts.”  The table is so heavy that it reportedly took eight men to move it back to its former position. 

Another story tells of a statue of Wyatt Earp that was made and placed in one of the cribs overlooking the theatre. When it was first placed there, staff would arrive in the morning to find "Wyatt's” hat continually knocked off and thrown into the floor below. This occurred over and over for about six months. On one occasion, staff arrived to find the statue was turned around, with its back facing the view from below. Some time later, a local historian told the Hunleys that they had placed the Wyatt Earp statue in the crib that was usually reserved by the Clantons.  When the statue was moved to the crib that Wyatt actually frequented when he was alike, the hat tossing finally stopped. 

On another occasion, a valuable antique poker chip, which had been missing for years, suddenly reappeared on the poker table. Upon finding it there, it was locked away in a safe until it could be authenticated by historians. However, when the historians arrived, they were disappointed to find that the chip had suddenly gone missing again. Only after they left, did it reappear in a locked desk drawer

Lockdown EvidenceEdit

  • Physical Contact: Aaron claimed that something tried to tug on his flashlight.
  • Residual Noises: Noises, Knocks, Footsteps, Breathing, Cards shuffling
  • Equipment Malfunction: When Zak was showing his camera at one of the pictures on the wall, his camera went out of focus.
  • Visual Sighting: Zak reacted to seeing a face that he described was glowing and had a bluish tone.
  • EVPs: "Craig", "come here", "no...keep talking", "no", "unexplained voices", "someone's here", "unexplained breath"
  • Physical Contact/Apparition:
    • Aaron felt someone grab his foot when he was under the hearse.
    • It is revealed in GAC's special "Best Evidence", that a mist bolted out from behind the hearse when Aaron got touched in the leg.
  • Apparition: The GAC captures whats looks like to be a partial manifestation of an upper torso of a man in the Craps Room.


Season 2 Episodes
Preston CastleCastillo de San MarcosLa Purisima MissionMagnolia PlantationBird Cage TheaterEastern State PenitentiaryMoon River BreweryAncient Ram Inn