The Bird Cage Theater

The Curtain Rises on Tombstone, Arizona's National Treasure

978-1-57441-948-1 Cloth
6 x 9 x 0 in
352 pp. 75 b-w illus. Notes.
Pub Date: 10/15/2024
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  • Cloth $34.95

Tombstone, Arizona, is forever associated with Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, and the legendary OK Corral gunfight that made it a cultural symbol of the Old West. The town’s most iconic and storied original building is the Bird Cage Theater—a stunning example of late nineteenth-century variety theaters that were a staple in entertainment around the globe. The modest interior that was once filled with orchestra music, cigar smoke, laughter and whistles, and cheers and jeers is now an empty canvas for the echoes of the past.

Every year tens of thousands of tourists are welcomed through its doors to experience an atmosphere that begs wonder and imagination. Private and public tours of its interior have inspired questions, evolving lore, and conflicting stories. In recent decades its history has been fabricated from modern myth, romantic fiction, and pure fantasy. Now, for the first time, historical researcher and author Michael Paul Mihaljevich has pieced together the real story of the Bird Cage.

It began in the months leading up to the OK Corral gunfight in 1881, when property owner William J. Hutchinson engaged in a violent three-way property war between lot-owning citizens, a corrupt townsite company, and greedy mine owner Ed Field just to erect the building. After its construction was completed, Hutchinson kicked off a ten-year performance run that saw more than 250 world-traveling entertainers bring their array of acts to the people of Tombstone in scenes of classic western romance. When mines faltered and the local economy edged toward death, it was the Bird Cage that became the key player in the twentieth-century revival that established Tombstone as a tourist mecca and rescued it from near desertion. 

Published by University of North Texas Press