Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tombstone: Bird Cage Theatre

Sometimes it’s hard to discern what’s real and authentic in Tombstone, and what has just been recreated for the multitude of tourists who come to see the Old West. The Bird Cage Theatre is no exception. The building itself dates from 1881 (see photo above) and most accounts report that when it was reopened in 1934 after being shut for decades, all the furniture and other accoutrements inside are original and had been left exactly as they were fifty years before. However, I met one person who disputed all this and suggested that all the information reported about the Bird Cage was false. My own opinion? I believe that what I saw inside the building and what the employees told me was true.

In Which Way to the OK Corral? Heyes and Kid find themselves sharing a stagecoach to Tombstone with Georgette Sinclair. The boys are on a mission to clear Big Mac of a murder charge and George has an audition at a dance hall, which turns out to be the Bird Cage Theatre because the name can be clearly seen on the glass front of the building. This ASJ episode is fun but the Bird Cage depicted in it bears no resemblance to the real Bird Cage Theatre of Tombstone (see photo above). All that was accurate in the episode was the fact that singers, as well as actors and other types of entertainers, graced the stage of the Bird Cage.

At present, the Bird Cage is a museum and visitors can take a self-guided tour of the premises. The first floor has a stage at the front with a piano just below. Much of the floor space is occupied by tables piled with period artifacts and furniture lines the walls, including several display cases filled with objects such as chamber pots, medical and mining instruments, and leg irons (see photo above). There is also a second floor with more objects on view, including a hearse that carried Tombstone’s deceased to Boot Hill.

Towards the front of the first floor room, along the wall to the left, is the faro table where Doc Holliday played cards (see photo at right). His fight with Johnny Ringo occurred between the table and the piano in front of the stage. Faro was very popular during this time period and it was an easier game to play than poker.

On the two sides of the main room, lining the walls, were seven boxes, called cribs, in which prostitutes entertained customers (see photo at right). Drinks and cigars could be hauled up from the basement bar in such a way that no one had to leave the compartment. There were other rooms in the basement where men could avail themselves of the favors of soiled doves as well.

The basement also was where the poker games were played. One game ran continuously for over eight years and had a $1,000 buy in. Heyes would have loved it! Perhaps The Biggest Game in the West should have been set in Tombstone instead of Lordsburg. The way this room appears now is how it looked back in the heyday of the Bird Cage (see photo at right). Note the “dice spinner” on the table—it looks just like the one seen in Exit from Wickenburg and numerous other ASJ episodes.

Video interview about the Bird Cage Theatre:

More information about the Bird Cage Theatre: