The Birdcage Theatre first opened its doors on Christmas Eve 1881. When it was at its heyday, the New York Times reported that, "The Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." For eight years, from 1881 to 1889, the bird cage theater operated continuously, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Since the mines operated 24 hours a day, there were hundreds of miners looking for entertainment both day and night. Often, violence accompanies liquor and a hard life and legend has it that 26 people were killed in the Birdcage during its eight-year run. Among those killed here was Margarita, one of the "entertainers" who was stabbed by Gold Dollar over the affections of a cowboy. There are over one hundred and forty bullet holes still in the ceiling and walls of the building.
The Birdcage Theatre was intended to be a one-stop spot for entertainment. It included gambling, a barber shop, band, bar, and theatre (along with more base entertainment from the girls). One of the first acts at the Birdcage was Mademoiselle De Granville (Alma Hayes), also known as the Female Hercules and the woman with the iron jaw. She performed feats of strength, specializing in picking up heavy objects with her teeth. Other acts included the Irish comic duo Burns and Trayers (John H. Burns and Matthew Trayers), comic singer Irene Baker, Carrie Delmar, a serious opera singer, and comedian Nola Forest.
The Birdcage hosted the longest poker game in history, which ran continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from 1881 to 1889 for a total of 8 years. Those who wished to play had to pay a thousand dollars up front. When one player went broke another was summoned and joined the game. It is estimated that approximately $10 million was exchanged during the game and the Birdcage retained 10 percent of that money. The game was played on a table in the basement and a recreation of that table is present for visitors to see today.
The Birdcage Theatre is a museum and guests who visit there during the day often report hearing paranormal sounds like a piano playing and woman singing or paranormal smells like cigar smoke. The Birdcage offers a haunted tour in the evenings and folks often report feeling a touch or hearing an unexpected sound during that tour. One of the most interesting, and commonly reported, paranormal activities involves the mortician's table at the back of the stage. It is an old table that is hanging by chains against the back wall of the building and many guests have reported hearing those chains rattle while they are walking around on the stage.
The various professional ghost hunting groups that come to town usually investigate the Birdcage and they always report similar paranormal experiences no matter what type of detection equipment they use. Guests who visit the Birdcage to search for paranormal activity should be especially alert around the glass hearse at the back of the stage (the mortician's table is behind the hearse). Over the years, guests have sent me several photos that show what looks like a face peeking out of the glass windows in the hearse. The photo on the right shows a mirror in one of the "cribs" in the basement of the Birdcage. There appears to be a woman with long hair looking at herself in that mirror.
Of all the stories my guests have told me my favorite is from a woman who had a tale about her adult daughter while they were both in the Birdcage earlier that day. The guest was on the main floor looking at some of the display cases when she noticed her daughter walking up the short flight of steps to the stage. She said that she felt something odd in the pit of her stomach and then noticed a shimmer in the air beside her daughter. As fast as it appeared it was gone, and her daughter denied feeling anything at that same time. Sometimes I'm just not sure what to make of these sorts of stories but I hear so many of them it seems that there must be something to them.