The Bird Cage Theatre opened on December 26, 1881. It was owned by Lottie and William "Billy" Hutchinson. Hutchison, a variety performer, originally intended to present respectable family shows like he'd seen in San Francisco that were thronged by large crowds. After the Theatre opened, they hosted a Ladies Night for the respectable women of Tombstone, who could attend for free. But the economics of Tombstone didn't support their aspirations. They soon canceled the Ladies Night and began offering baser entertainment that appealed to the rough mining crowd.
The walls of the Bird Cage were riddled with gunshot holes from gunfighters and the local Miners of the American frontier.
There were 12 balcony boxes where prostitutes worked.Still inside is the infamous Bird Cage Poker Table where the longest poker game was played.
One of the first acts at the Bird Cage 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. Entertainment included masquerade balls featuring cross-dressing entertainers, like comedians David Waters and Will Curlew. Miners could drink and dance all night if they chose.
One of the prime entertainments at the Bird Cage theatre was Cornish wrestling competitions, with the results being regularly published in the UK.
Magic shows were also popular at the Bird Cage with one magician saying he could catch bullets with his teeth and barely escaping with his life when someone who was not part of the show challenged him.
The longest poker game in history was played in the basement of the theater. Those who wished to play had to buy-in for a thousand dollars ($1,000) up front. Among the notable people who played in this particular game were George Hearst, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolphus Busch, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. The poker game was played continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It continued from 1881 to 1889 for a total of eight years. It is estimated that approximately $10 million was exchanged in the game during the eight years that it lasted and that the Bird Cage retained ten percent of that money.
In March 1882, miners in the Grand Central Mine hit water at 620 ft. The flow wasn't at first large enough to stop work, but constant pumping with a pump was soon insufficient. The silver ore deposits they sought were soon underwater.
Hutchinson sold the Bird Cage to Hugh McCrum and John Stroufe. Bignon had managed the Theatre Comique in San Francisco and performed as a blackface minstrel and clog dancer. He refurbished the building and renamed it the Elite Theatre. He hired new acts. Bignon's wife, known as "Big Minnie", was 6ft tall and weighed 230lb. She wore pink tights and sang, danced, and played the piano.
The large Cornish engines brought in by the mine owners kept the water pumped out of the mines for a few more years, but on May 26, 1886, the Grand Central Mine hoist and pumping plant burned.
When the price of silver slid to 90 cents an ounce a few months later, the remaining mines laid off workers. Many residents of Tombstone left. The Bird Cage Theatre closed in 1892.