Bird Cage Theater's Haunted History
The Bird Cage Theater on Allen Street in Tombstone, AZ, is an icon of America's wild, wild West. "The New York Times" once called the former gambling hall, saloon and brothel, "the roughest, bawdiest, and most wicked night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." The walls are riddled with over 140 bullet holes and at least 26 people lost their lives here in gun or knife fights. Today this venue of ill repute holds the distinction of being Tombstone's most haunted building.
Tombstone found its beginnings back in 1877, when a prospector named Ed Schieffelin hit silver. As news of his fortune spread, it seemed the town popped up overnight as eager miners flocked to the region hoping to strike it rich. In addition to the general store, saloons, hotels and brothels were added to Tombstone's main street as quickly as men could build them. At its height, the lawless Tombstone was home to over 3,500 licensed prostitutes.
In December 1881, the Bird Cage Theatre opened its doors -- and stayed open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The opera house and saloon was home to some of the most expensive prostitutes and high-stakes gambling in the region; it was where the luckiest miners went to squander their newfound riches. Downstairs housed the private poker room where the minimum buy-in was $1,000. Although the players changed, the game ran continuously for eight years, five months and three days. Some famous names dealt in were businessmen Adolph Busch and George Randolph Hearst and notorious outlaws Diamond Jim Brady and Doc Holliday.
A Brutal Murder
Tombstone, AZ, has fascinated people for years. It's the town too tough to die. Gunslinger legends gambled, drank, died and haunt its dusty streets; it's where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday fought the Clanton-McLaury Gang near the O.K. Corral, a story captured in movies like "Wyatt Earp" and "Tombstone." While this shootout might be one of history's most famous, it is in no way Tombstone's most gruesome event.
The barroom of the Bird Cage was the site of the Tombstone's most grisly murder. A high-stakes gambler named Billy Milgreen was entertaining the affections of two Tombstone prostitutes, Margarita and Gold Dollar. Gold Dollar was his regular and when she discovered Billy flirting with Margarita, she attacked. With a double-edged stiletto knife, Gold Dollar stabbed Margarita repeatedly in the chest. As the Marshall approached the Bird Cage, Gold Dollar fled the scene. When she was apprehended, the murder weapon was missing and no charges were filed. A century later, the stiletto was found behind the theater and is now on display inside.
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. Ghost tours are available daily at the Bird Cage Theater and the town of Tombstone. Bring your camera, comfortable walking shoes and sense of adventure to the most infamous saloon in the town that never dies.