The Ghosts of the Birdcage Theatre
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.
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.
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.