The Ghosts of the Birdcage Theatre

The Birdcage Theatre opened in 1881 and was not only a theater, but also served as a saloon, gambling hall and brothel. The New York Times called it, “The wildest, roughest, wickedest honky tonk between Bash Street and the Barbary Coast”. It had all the best beer and champagne and a miner could spend a month’s pay there. It was opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and even on holidays. There were 26 deaths during the 80 years of business and has over 120 bullet holes in the walls and ceiling.

On December 25, 1881, William “Billy” Hutchinson and his wife Lottie opened the Bird Cage Theatre. It got its name from the 14 boxes that were referred to as “cages”. These cages are located on the second story balconies on both sides of the main hall. Each box had drapes that could be drawn while the prostitutes amused their cliental. Also found in the main hall is a stage where live performances were held and below was an orchestra pit.

Many famous and notorious legends frequented the Bird Cage. Performers such as Lillian Russell, Lotta Crabtree, and Eddie Foy Sr. have performed on the stage along with Fatima, the belly dancer. Others like the Clantons, Earps, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and even Pete Spence, laid down many silver coins for a shot of whiskey. The basement was set up as a poker room and where the story is told that the longest-running poker game in history was played there. This game was played 24 hours, and apparently lasted eight years, five months, three days, with over 10 million dollars exchanging hands. Some of the participants were Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, and George Hearst, with the house getting 10 percent of the profits. The game ended when the ground water seeped into the mines, flooding many of the buildings. In 1889 the town went bust, along with the Bird Cage Theatre and the building had to be closed.

Perhaps one of the most notorious prostitutes at the Bird Cage was named “Gold Dollar” because of her long gold hair. It was said that a woman named Margarita came to town and took a shine to Gold Dollar’s boyfriend Billy. She loved sitting on his lap and flirting with him. One time Gold Dollar got wind of Margarita sitting on Billy’s lap and she headed to the Bird Cage Theatre. She threatened Margarita and told her that she was going to cut out her heart. They got into a brawl and Gold Dollar stabbed Margarita in the chest, and cut her heart out. The angry ghost of Margarita has been seen walking around the Bird Cage Theatre.

In 1934, the Bird Cage Theatre’s new owners opened the place back up for show. They found everything in the building the exact way it was left, even the poker table. Today the Bird Cage stands as a tourist attraction and a visual look into its colorful past. With its violent history, there is no short supply of ghostly activity reported there. Several ghost hunting teams such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures and Ghost Lab have investigated the place with incredible results.

Some of the ghostly claims that have been reported are crowd noises, music, card shuffling and the smell of cigar smoke. A stage manager was said to be killed there when a sandbag dropped on him. His ghost can be seen walking across the stage. A gift store owner saw the spirits of three cowboys in the gift store just standing in the back, and then disappeared. In the poker room in the basement, a lady in a white dress has been seen in the security cameras when no one was in that room at that time. They even have a photo of a white ghostly figure on the stairs leading down to the basement. The apparition appears to be a woman in a bonnet holding her dress as she walks down the stairs. A female employee was helping an older gentleman find his wife only to have him disappear on her. A tourist found a rare gold coin ($25 birdcage chip with only 3 in existence) on the table in the poker room. No one can explain where it came from because it wasn’t there before. In some pictures, a ghostly figure of a cowboy can be seen in the stagecoach in the back area of the theater. During a séance, an owner was choked by a spirit’s unseen hands. Also, the smell of cheap lilac perfume can be smelt in various areas of the building.

Ghost Hunters: The personal experiences of the TAPS team were cards shuffling, smelling smoke, shadows walking across the window, a shadow walking across the stage (perhaps the stage manager), a ball dropping and rolling, and cowboy boots walking. Jason and Grant saw a woman about 5’ tall, in a white dress, wearing a bonnet, going downstairs to the poker room. They could not find anyone down there. (Perhaps the same woman caught on the security camera and in the photo). They also smelt a lilac smell (perhaps the presence of Margarita). Steve and Brian heard a loud noise and found their heavy electrical cord unwrapped and lying on the ground. They could not figure out how that happened.

On audio they captured the sound of a piano (music) playing. If Brian and Steve heard it they would have said something but did not. On video they caught the cord lift up and unwrap itself by some unseen force. That was pretty cool.

Ghost Adventures: Zak immediately sees a light and Aaron hears voice. They said it felt like 50 people were watching them and then proceeded to hear a man's voice. As Zak continues to shoot a gun, Aaron felt something tugged on his flashlight perhaps mistaking it for a gun. They heard a sound in the hearse area and headed to towards that room. Nick is now asking for some action and he got it, a noise where the prostitutes’ pictures are hung. Zak points his camera at each picture asking if they made the noise; while Nick hears a growl. Zak's camera went out of focus after asking one of the pictures if they are trying to get their attention and then the sees a bluish face to the side of him. Now near the hearse, Zak produces a silver dollar to see is Caleb will come forward and right afterwards, they heard a knock. Zak then gets in the coffin leaning on the wall but nothing happened. Zak and Nick head back to the poker room with whiskey and cigars while Aaron watches on the screens. On the way down, Zak sees a shadow and gets goose bumps. They both heard a man talking but the cameras didn't pick it up. They did capture a faint female scream. They offer the whiskey and cigar to the spirits while their camera near the stagecoach caught unexplained footsteps. On the digital recorder they caught male voices saying "come here” and "no, keep talking", and then another voice saying "no". They checked to see if Aaron said the “no” because it was so clear, but it wasn't him. They continued hearing multiple disembodied voices and noises. Now it’s Aaron turn in the poker room alone. Standing near the stagecoach in the hearse room, he had the feeling like someone was following him up the stairs to the room. He puts the recorder on the death mobile, as he describes it and slides underneath the hearse. He freaks out and quickly gets out from under. He said that he felt something grab his shirt and decides it was time to leave. Aaron to the guys, “Dude not cool, not going to do this no more.” On their static cameras in hearse room, they caught a voice. In the poker room, they caught a strange light and caught what sounded like cards shuffling and a grunt or breath. Dwight, the paranormal investigator, thinks the light might be a spirit trying to manifest itself, because it looked like an upper torso. He listened to the female voice and heard it saying "someone is here" and a male voice "sighing" loudly as if they interrupted them having sex. He also confirmed hearing the cards shuffling, and then a noise like the cards were hit on the table afterwards.

Apparently, there is lots of spirits still haunting the Bird Cage Theatre; those that died there and those that did not get to finish their game.


  1. Awesome story... I love the old west ghost stories. I like your new background too. The maps are nice.

  2. Thanks...Blogger had some new choices for background, so I decided to check them out. I was tired of a black background and went with colors to match my blog. I love the old west stories and the ghosts that seem to come with them.

  3. That place is on my "to-do" list. I loved the episode on GH. It was very impressive. Can't wait to hunt there. That was a great write up of the history. What a colorful past!

  4. Very colorful past indeed. I would love to be part of an investigation there too. There is lots of activity reported there. We all saw the ghost hunting shows results and they had interesting evidence.

  5. This kinda reminds me of the ghost I had in my house in Cali. The ghost had a westerner/pirate type look. It never hurt anyone but it liked to open and close the front door lol.

  6. The Birdcage was much more fun pre "Ghost Hunter" days when they use to let us investigate after hours FOR FREE! Some say that there are things rigged in the building now...sad!

  7. Gabriel, your ghost probably had to either hit the high seas or saddle up and head out to a saloon. When he was done, he came home to your house to lay his hat...I'm just guessing, lol.

    Debe, I heard that they used to let people hunt for free, but now that the big ghost hunting shows have been there, they want to charge people to investigate. I didn't hear about any rigging going on, but its too bad if that is what they are doing.

  8. Cool post - what great history and great stories!


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