BIRDCAGE THEATER Tombstone, AZ. "She's only a bird In a gilded cage, A beautiful sight to see, You may think she's happy And free from care, She's not Tho' she seems to be, 'Tis sad when you think Of her wasted life, For youth cannot mate with age, And her beauty was sold For an old man's gold, She's a bird in a gilded cage."     HISTORY          A little history about the town in which the theater is located is in order here: When a prospector named Ed Scheffelin discovered silver in a place called Goose Flats in 1877, the boom was on and the mass migration to the Arizona Territories began. This land was already populated by the Apache Nation, and the growing presence of the white man would create violent hostilities. Scheffelin was once told by a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Huachuca that, “The only thing you’re going to find out there foolin’ around amongst those Apaches is your own tombstone.” Undeterred, Scheffelin displayed his disdain for the warning and a morbid sense of humor by dubbing the location of his claim "The Tombstone Mine". The settlement that would develop around the surrounding area would eventually assume that name and a legendary Western town was born.          Because Federal Marshalls had no jurisdiction in Arizona, the town became a haven not only for prospectors hoping to strike it rich, but for outlaws and desperados. As the town grew to a population of around 15,000, the desire for entertainment and adult-themed enterprises grew exponentially. Soon bars, brothels and dance halls numbering in the hundreds popped up throughout the town. The "red light" district alone took up the equivalent of 16 city blocks. One of these establishments was the called the Elite Theater Opera House, whose first proprietor was a man named William Hutchinson. The Elite opened on Christmas Day, 1881 with the original purpose of attracting the more upscale members of the Tombstone community. The bar was stocked with Bavarian beers and the best French champagne. This vision however, failed miserably and this enterprise - like the others - became more an attraction and haven for the seedier element populating the surrounding area.          The Elite contained what were called "cribs" (below) - fourteen in all, seven on each side of the building - where prostitutes (affectionately named by some locals the "soiled doves") could display their procreative skills to the local male population. These "cribs" amounted to nothing more than a glorified stadium luxury box covered by velvet drapes with a table and bed inside. They were suspended from the ceiling of the theater and were rarely empty. It was not unusual for a miner to spend what amounted to a month's salary in a single evening at the Elite.          One night a man named Arthur J. Lamb was taking in the sights and sounds of the Elite when he became inspired to pen a song which would go on to become one of the most popular of its day. It was entitled "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" and its inspiration lay in the women who plied their trade at the Elite. Lamb remarked on that very evening to his company for the evening, the famous entertainer Eddy Foy, that the girls, ". . . look like birds in a cage…they haven’t got a chance.” He quickly began to scribble out the ideas for a song on a bar napkin.          The song was performed in The Elite one night by a young singer whose name has been lost to the ages and who was called back for eight curtain calls, inspiring owner William Hutchinson to change the name of the establishment to the Birdcage Theater. Eventually the great theater star Lillian Russell (r.) performed the song and it soon became a national hit and one of the most popular songs of the 19th century.        The Birdcage usually had the best Tombstone had to offer in terms of liquor, poker games and female company. It was open 24 hours a day and became what the New York Times would call, “the wildest, roughest, wickedest honky-tonk between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." The Birdcage also was frequented by some of the most legendary names in the history of the Old West. Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday were just a small sample of the celebrities that called the Birdcage Theater "home".         The saloon would also foster the combustible combination of gambling and drinking. In the eight years that the Birdcage was in business there were 16 (reported) gunfights, twenty-six killings and 140 bullet holes (below) left in the floors and walls of the establishment. There was a saying amongst its patrons that it claimed "a cowboy for breakfast" almost every single day.              The "Black Mariah" (below) is a hearse that was used to transport the dead to their final resting place. It is displayed prominently inside the Birdcage and many who have taken photographs of the vehicle over the years have discovered a "presence" in many of their pictures standing by the hearse or sometimes inside of it.            The Birdcage was also home to the longest game of poker ever recorded. The game lasted 8 years, 5 months and 3 days and had a minimum buy-in of $1,000 per hand. Ten-million dollars exchanged hands over that time and the houses' 10% take amounted to over one-million dollars. Luminaries like Holliday, Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolph Busch and George Randolph Hearst all participated in one time or another in the game.          In the late 1880s, ground water began to flood the excavated mines, essentially flooding the wealth that still remained underground. Despite desperate efforts by miners to pump out the waters, the mines slowly but surely began to close. Prices for silver declined rapidly and as quickly as they had arrived, the mass exodus of people began. Without the finances needed to support the businesses, one by one they began to close down. The Birdcage Theater was no exception. William Hutchinson closed its doors on - in a sad bit of irony - Christmas Eve of 1889. Hoping to once again open the place should things improve down the road, he left all fixtures and furnishings where they were and intact. The Birdcage would sit abandoned and empty for almost 50 years until it was reopened, restored and renovated to almost original form in 1934 by the Hunley family and became a tourist attraction.          It is still owned by William Hunley, the fourth-generation member of his family to preside over the establishment. It remains a major attraction in the town of Tombstone, Arizona.     THE INCREDIBLE HAUNTINGS OF THE BIRDCAGE THEATER          There is a door inside the Birdcage Theater that reads, "Don't Disturb Our 26 Resident Ghosts." It is firmly believed by the staff at the theater that all souls who were killed on the property still return to the Birdcage for nights of fun and frivolity.          The first reports of paranormal activity probably came in or around 1921 when students attending the local high school (built for the few remaining members of the community) across the street from the theater reported hearing the sounds of music, the smell of cigar smoke and laughter emanating from the abandoned Birdcage. The students were so unnerved by these occurrences that many refused to even walk near the place on the way to and from school.          Not long ago, Bill Hunley told a story about a dice table weighing several hundred pounds that was discovered one morning out of place and resting against the door with the aforementioned "Do Not Disturb" sign on it. More startlingly, the table would have had to have been lifted over another craps table to reach its current destination. As a footnote to this bizarre occurrence, it then took eight men to lift the table and return it to its original location.          Legend has it that a stage hand was killed by a falling sandbag on the theater's stage. His spirit, seen by many and always fitting the same description, still walks that very place, clipboard in hand, immersed in thought and obviously still performing his duties.          The smell of stale lilac perfume and cigar smoke still permeates the Birdcage, coming in short bursts and leaving just as quickly. Cigar smoke has actually been seen by staff and guests alike over the years. In fact the sounds of what appears to be a full room of revelers is not at all uncommon to passers-by and employees. Glasses clinking, music playing and distinct voices are quite often the rule rather than the exception at the Birdcage. Before partitions were erected blocking the interior view, many people reported to have peered into the windows and seen the theater full of patrons from the 1800s enjoying a night on the town.              It is not unusual for management at the theater to come into work in the morning and find their office door unlocked, lights turned on and the sound of music playing. There are also severe temperature fluctuations of 20 degrees or greater in varying, random spots in the theater. There has been what was described as a "perfect cigar ash" found near a poker table on a freshly-swept floor.          One employee spoke of the antique polyphone, a music machine that must be hand-cranked in order for it to play, coming on by itself one night while she was there. This is otherwise impossible. As is the voice of a woman heard singing from time to time.          There is a legend of a dancer named Gold Dollar (r.) who worked the nearby Crystal Palace saloon. She acquired that moniker as it mirrored her fee for a night of simulated passion with any of the willing locals. Apparently she had a boyfriend named Billy Milgreen who, like others, frequented the Birdcage. A young, attractive Mexican woman named Marguerite got a job at the Birdcage and set her sights on the affections of Gold Dollar's boyfriend. Despite warnings that Gold Dollar would "cut her heart out" if she ever caught her around her man, Marguerite continued her efforts to steal Billy away from her rival.          One night while working at the Palace, someone told Gold Dollar that Marguerite was "putting the moves" on her man again right down the street. Blind with rage, Dollar marched into the Birdcage and, seeing her competition sitting on her boyfriend's lap and flirting with him, stormed over and pulled her off. A brief struggle ensued that ended with Gold Dollar stabbing Marguerite through her heart, making good on her threat. It is said the tortured spirit of Marguerite still haunts the building and it may indeed be the smell of her perfume that lingers from time to time. The stiletto used in the attack was found much later behind the building and is now on prominent display inside the theater.          One night, some years ago, a wealthy Texas oilman - intrigued by the strange happenings at the theater - arranged for a medium to come in and attempt to contact the spirits that remained there. Partaking in the séance was owner Bill Hunley. At one point he felt the sensation of being choked to the point where he could not speak or breathe. Panicking, he grabbed his wife's hand, who was sitting to his side and who let out a scream of terror as she saw what was happening to her husband who by now was turning blue from the attack.          Phantoms mistaken as intruders have been seen on security cameras. The police were then summoned as some staff members made their way to the location inside where they had viewed the supposed trespassers. Upon arriving, they have found no one present.          One employee closing up the gift shop one night witnessed what appeared to be three men dressed in authentic western garb walking by the counter. All three stopped to stare at the man and then appeared to vanish into thin air.          Another employee tells of an incident where a man approached her inside looking for his wife. As they searched the building calling our for her, the employee turned back to address the man and saw to her astonishment that he was no longer there.        In a very strange event, a tourist spotted a chip on a poker table that didn't appear to match the others that had been placed there simply for effect. He brought it to a staff member's attention who picked it up and saw that it was an original Birdcage Theater $25 poker chip. At that time there were only two known to be in existence and both were safe and sound and locked away for prosperity. The chips are reportedly worth thousands of dollars.          Some years ago, a statue was created to honor famed lawman Wyatt Earp and placed in one of the cribs overlooking the theater. For months on end employees would come to work to find Earp's hat knocked off his head. On one occasion, the statue was found facing the wrong way. Much later an historian informed Bill Hunley that this particular crib was frequented by members of the Clanton Gang, the sworn enemies of Earp and his associates. When the statue was moved to what would have actually been Earp's favored crib (below), the activity stopped.