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Haunted Bird Cage Theatre Writing Prompts

My Visits to the Bird Cage Theatre

Writing & Photo Prompts: Tombstone's Haunted Bird Cage Theatre

"The wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." — New York Times, 1882

One night last year I saw an episode of Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel that had TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) investigate Tombstone's famous Bird Cage Theatre. Here's a YouTube clip of the show's "reveal" in which the TAPS founders Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson play back the paranormal experiences recorded by their equipment to the Theatre's owners.

Since I saw the show in 2006, I've had the opportunity to visit the Bird Cage Theatre on three different occasions (I have family in the area), and I toured its rooms upstairs and downstairs with an open mind, curiosity, and intrigue.

The theatre's docent allowed me to take as many photos as I liked on the self-guided tour through the bar area, casino, dancing floor, stage, behind the stage, wine cellar, and downstairs gambling rooms. It was eerie and surreal to walk through the rooms that at one time were hopping with drunken cowboys and miners, ladies of the night, gamblers, lawmen like Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and his friend Doc Holliday, and outlaws Curly Bill and those who died at the gunfight at the OK Corral.

It was also strange standing on the small stage that in the Theatre's heyday between 1881 and 1889 had famous acts, including vaudeville, performing on it. It was an extremely small stage compared by today's entertainment standards, but it reminded me of the unique historical context I was experiencing it in.

While on the stage, I looked up at the 14 Bird Cage compartments suspended from the ceiling, all the while knowing what was legally going on inside the cages when they were in operation (prostitution was legal then). Strangely, even though the theatre is open daily to the public as a "museum" with original memorabilia preserved for visitors to experience, there was such a dead silence, an emptiness, a loneliness that seemed to permeate the rooms. The life and energy that animated the theatre during its celebratory boomtown days is now long gone.

I had personal conversations with two different docents, each sharing their own accounts of the paranormal activity they've experienced during their shifts and after hours in the building. On my first visit, a photo of the TAPS team sat on the original back bar. The last time I was there it was replaced by another more recent paranormal groups' photo of an apparition of a woman in period clothing coming down the backstage stairs to the gambling room. The photo was so vivid and clear that it looked like it was fake, but I wasn't there when it was taken and I'm no paranormal expert. I am, however, a graphic artist and know what great things Photoshop can do ( I'd like to believe the photo was authentic because it would help answer a ton of questions swirling around in my mind!).

The Bird Cage Theatre has some truly fascinating history about it and was a real treat to visit. There were things about it that made me uneasy and my stomach nauseous on a couple of occasions, and whether than had to do with my own projections or a sensitivity to the natural breaking down of organic material and its associated odors or something else, I don't know.

Since my last visit there in September 2007, I've finished writing a collection of Bird Cage Theatre photo writing prompts for my Southwest Arizona Prompt Series on the Creativity Portal. But honestly, after taking in the historic presence of the building and its memorabilia, it's hard to encapsulate all that I'd like to explore and express about the theatre and the people connected with it in such a short space. Maybe later I'll write more about it and include more of my personal thoughts and feelings about it in connection with my visits. •

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ęChris Dunmire, www.chrisdunmire.com.