Considered to be one of the most haunted structures in all of Tombstone, Arizona – and the only still-standing, original structure from 1881 – the Bird Cage Theater is a must-see if you visit the iconic Wild West boomtown. It’s been the subject of many paranormal articles, books, YouTube channels, and television shows, most notably on the widely popular Ghost Adventures. Countless paranormal claims have been made from inside this 142-year-old structure, including objects moving, apparitions, voices, laughter, the piano playing, as well as hearing the change clanking and the cards shuffling from basement poker games that never ended. Even though it’s one of the most famous haunted structures within Tombstone, and arguably, the entire paranormal community, we almost had the entire place to ourselves (major score – and benefit of visiting on a weekday!).
Opening on December 26, 1881, it was originally intended to be used for “honorable family shows”, including a Ladies Night for the “respectable women” of Tombstone. However, this vision did not align with the type of residents or economics of Tombstone. As this was a Wild West town full of cowboys, outlaws, ladies of the night, and a rough mining crowd, they quickly had to abandon the wholesome family image and offer more sordid entertainment. This is evident today within the walls of the Bird Cage Theater, where you can find 140 bullet holes left by drunkards who got a bit too rowdy while watching a show. Another example of this wicked atmosphere is that the 12 balcony boxes meant to hold respectable patrons watching respectable shows was quickly overtaken by prostitutes who “serviced” men during these shows.
Shows exhibiting such talents as the “Female Hercules” Mademoiselle De Granville, Irish comic duo Burns and Trayers, opera singer Carrie Delmar, comedian Nola Forest, comic singer Irene Baker, and crossdressing entertainers David Waters and Will Curlew, as well as masquerade balls, Cornish wrestling competitions, and magic shows happened upstairs. The true debauchery occurred downstairs, in the poker room and private rooms where prostitutes worked.
In fact, the longest poker game in history was played in the basement of the Bird Cage Theater. It lasted for 8 years, from 1881 to 1889, playing continuously for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The up-front buy-in amount was $1000, which equates to roughly $30,100 today. When one player got out, another took his place. Some notable players include Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp; George Hearst, a prominent miner who eventually became a California U.S. Senator in 1887; Diamond Jim Brady, an American Frontier businessman and railroad tycoon; Adolphus Busch, cofounder of Anheuser-Busch, the company responsible for producing popular beer brands like Bud Light, Budweiser, and Michelob Ultra; and Bat Masterson, a man of many Wild West talents, including buffalo hunter, lawman, professional gambler, gunfighter, and journalist. It’s estimated that approximately $10 million ($301,005,882 today) was exchanged during those 8 long years, with the Bird Cage Theater pocketing 10% ($30 million today).
The Bird Cage Theater is reported to be very haunted. Not only has Ghost Adventures filmed here twice, but so has Ghost Hunters, Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, and Ghost Lab. It’s reported that 26 people met their fate inside the theater, either from shootouts, stabbings, suicide, or accidents. One of the most infamous murders was that of “Painted Lady” (prostitute) Margarita, who was killed by her Painted Lady rival, known as Gold Dollar. Apparently, Gold Dollar did not take kindly to Margarita “entertaining” her live-in lover, Billy Milgreen, so she stabbed her, carving out her heart with a double-edged stiletto. Even though she was arrested, they could not recover the murder weapon; therefore, she walked free. Margarita is said to be one of the more prominent ghosts. Another is the poltergeist known as the “Woman in White”, who appears to be a “proper lady” complete with a bonnet, whom some believe is named Michelle.
Another ghost is of Carmelia Gimnese, a Bird Cage entertainer who committed suicide inside the theater in 1881 by poisoning herself with arsenic. Yet another is the ghost of a woman who was part of an act known as “The Human Fly”. These women would strap on shoes with special clamps fitted to the ceiling and “walk” upon it. One of the clamps malfunctioned, sending her crashing down to the stage, where she was pronounced dead upon impact. Other paranormal energy includes nameless apparitions of men shot and killed while getting into drunken fights, ghosts seen in the balcony boxes, objects being thrown around, sounds of piano music, and the echoes of rambunctious poker games.
The Bird Cage Theater is open daily from 9am to 6pm, with “self-guided” tours priced at $15 per adult and $14 for seniors 60+ and children aged 8 to 18. The family package is $45. Also offered are several guided ghost tours, including the Family Ghost Tour at 6:15pm (children must be 7+); the Teen and Adult Only Ghost Tour at 8pm (13+); and the Adult Only Tour at 9:30pm (18+). All tours average 20 guests per tour, so best to snag your ticket asap.
Important note – they only offer the 9:30pm tour during specific holidays, on Friday and Saturday nights, or “otherwise determined by management”. All tours cost $35 per person (nonrefundable), which you can purchase day-of at the Bird Cage Theater or prepay by calling (no online option). Guests are welcome to bring cameras, voice recorders, or any other amateur ghost huntin’ equipment. A requirement for all tours is no alcohol permitted prior, so do not show up drunk!
Overall, no trip to Tombstone would ever be complete without a visit to this iconic and infamous theater. Not only does it appeal to ghost hunters or paranormal enthusiasts, but also history and movie nerds, given that it’s the only original 1881 structure still standing and was showcased in the well-known movie Tombstone. It includes countless original artifacts from the Wild West days, offering a remarkable glimpse into a past that is quickly approaching 150 years ago. I personally did not encounter any ghosts or paranormal activity while visiting, nor did we catch anything in any photos, but it did give off a “weird vibe”. I’m not sure if this was attributed to ghostly energy or simply because it looked, smelled, and felt like a 142-year-old building. Either way, it was a fascinating experience, and one I am super happy to have had. Come and visit the (allegedly) most haunted structure in all of Tombstone!