Tucked inside Knott’s Berry Farm’s version of The Bird Cage Theatre (the real deal is in Tombstone) is a small wall featuring wallpaper of white birds sitting inside gilded cages and swirling green leaves. I’ve always admired it, and because it gave me serious Christmas vibes I thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a dress featuring this design to wear to Merry Farm?” I’ve had this thought for a four years now, and this year I finally made it a reality!
A big issue with the delay is that it’s almost impossible to a good photo of the wallpaper needed to make the fabric. But thanks to a friend who let us in to take a photo with good lighting and without the hustle and bustle of Guests entering or exiting.
I was really nervous about making this dress because I haven’t sewn a proper garment in over five years! After a couple of muslin mock-ups here I am, with a dress I am incredibly happy with and proud of. So much so I already have ideas to make the same dress in other fabric.
The other person who loves Knott’s Berry Farm as much, if not more than me, is Eric Lynxwiler, the author of Knott’s Preserved. When I told him of my idea for a dress, just as enthusiastic, and I asked if he was interested in making a shirt, as I knew he also had some custom Knott’s Berry Farm duds, like this map shirt he wore to Boysenberry Festival earlier this year. He was totally on board, and had a matching shirt made, and we debuted our Bird Cage wear together. Eric is currently working on the third edition of Knott’s Preserved, which is the book for Knott’s Berry Farm history. The second edition is available on the publisher’s website. And you can follow Eric on Instagram.
As mentioned, the real Bird Cage is located in Tombstone, Arizona, and opened December 26, 1881. Knott’s Berry Farm’s version started as a simple facade, built in 1954. While it did have plans to eventually become a full replica of the real thing, it never elevated above a glorified tent with a simple black box style theatre, even though Walter Knott intended for it to be a complete replica on the inside as well, writing “Someday we will get around to building the inside just like the old Tombstone Theatre in Arizona.” The first performance on the Bird Cage stage was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by the theater students of Whittier College, in the summer of 1954. But when fall arrived, the students left. That is when Catherine “Kay” Coleman came up with an idea. Coleman was an aspiring actress doing promo work for an LA melodrama featuring George Stuart and William “Woodie” Wilson. She approached the two vaudeville veterans with the idea of moving into the Bird Cage, and a few days later they brought in their theater troupe, and became the concessionaires at the Bird Cage. During Stuart and Wilson’s time the likes of Steve Martin and Dean Jones trod the boards of the Bird Cage, entertaining Guests who were encouraged to cheer the hero and boo the villain. In 1991 Knott’s bought out the troupe, and before the new millennium, in 1997, after 42 years of laughs and thrills, the melodramas ended. It became a music venue for Krazy Kirk and the Hillbillies, and during the holiday season, Christmas themed productions take to the stage. In 2017 the melodrama returned, but just for Boysenberry Festival. Last year it became the venue for Guests to learn how to draw the Peanuts gang during Peanuts Celebration, and Spooky Storytelling during Spooky Farm. I’m thankful the little replica of the Tombstone icon has been getting more and more love as the years have gone on. Perhaps Walter’s dream of a full interior replica could come true sometime soon, especially with Knott’s Berry Farm’s 100th anniversary next year!
Bird Brooch: Belonged to my grandmother
Dress: Made by me, using the bodice from Simplicity 5954 and the skirt from Advance 9406.
Purse: Found by my dad.