Haunted Theaters

01
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Pittsburgh Playhouse

Pittsburgh Playhouse
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Playhouse. Pittsburgh Playhouse

Take a front-row seat for this gallery of theaters and their ghosts.

Talk to almost anyone who has worked in almost any theater for any length of time, and they will very likely have a story about unexplained goings-on. Ghosts seem to like theaters. Perhaps many theaters are thought to be haunted because of their cavernous structure and acoustical design that amplify every sound: in a quiet, empty theater, the gnawing of a mouse becomes the sound of an actor's spirit traversing the stage, or the knocks and creeks caused by the natural expansion and contraction of its many parts is thought to be a deceased crewman still hammering together a set. Then again, perhaps because a theater is a place of drama and every emotion, that those feelings are in a sense captured by the building and re-enacted even when the stage lights are off, resulting in a residual haunting. Certainly, there are many theaters where poltergeist activity and even apparitions have been encountered again and again. Here is a look are some of those theaters.

Brief history: Before becoming a theater, the building now housing the Pittsburgh Playhouse was at various times a synagogue, a wedding reception hall, a bar and even a brothel. Today it is the performing arts center of Point Park University and the Conservatory of Performing Arts.

Ghosts: The playhouse might be one of the spookiest places in all of Pittsburgh, if you can judge by the number of ghosts inhabiting it. One is the ghost of John Johns, an actor who died there in the 1950s of a heart attack. His disembodied footsteps can be heard near his old dressing room, and his apparation, wearing an old-fashioned tuxedo, has been spotted checking on sets and props.

The playhouse has its own Lady in White, too. Acoording to the legend, she was an actress in the 1930s who shot her husband and his mistress upon discovery of their affair, then she killed herself. She has been seen on stage and in the balcony, still toting her gun.

A ghost called "Weeping Eleanor" can be heard crying in the dressing room area. The story goes, her daughter perished there in a fire when the row houses that once stood there burned.

Sources: The Pittsburgh Playhouse; About Pittsburgh - The Pittsburgh Playhouse

02
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Landmark Theater

Landmark Theater
Syracuse, NY Landmark Theater. Photo: David Lassman / The Post-Standard, 2002

Brief history: Completed in 1928, the beautiful Landmark Theater in Syracuse, NY is a prime example of the grand, elaborate, intricately detailed movie palaces of that era. It's audiences over the years have been treated to silent movies, then talkies, and presently concerts and stage shows. The theater has had its ups and downs over its history, but is currently undergoing rennovations.

Ghosts: The most prominent ghost thought to haunt the Landmark is that of a young woman named either Claire or Clarice. Her pale apparition has been seen on a few occasions in the upper mezzanine by theater employees who said the spirit vanished before their eyes as they approached her. Although there seems to be no documentation to the story, legend has it that Claire fell to her death from the mezzanine when she witnessed her husband die from electrocution as he worked on stage. Yet another version says she was an actress who, distraught from losing a coveted audition, flung herself from the balcony to her death.

The ghost of an electrician named Oscar Rau is said to haunt the area around the theater's large backstage lightboard. Other haunted areas include: the very back of the auditorium, where a glimmering blue light has been reported by several witnesses; the Red Room; the Walnut Room; and the buildings very spooky, meandering basement known as the catacombs.

Paranormal investigation groups, such as Central New York Ghost Hunters, routinely lead ghost hunts of the theater, which help raise funds for its operations and upkeep.

Sources:
Ghosts of Central New York by Lynda Lee Macken
Haunted Places by Dennis William Hauck

03
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Bird Cage Theater

Bird Cage Theater
Tombstone, Arizona Bird Cage Theater. Photo: Travel West Vacation

Brief history: Opened in 1881 by William "Billy" Hutchinson, the Bird Cage served as a combination theater, saloon, brothel and gambling house until about 1889. Operating in those years 24 hours a day on every day of the year, it earned its sordid reputation; the venerable New York Times described it as "the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." As many as 26 murders were committed on the premesis. Today it is a tourist attraction and museum.

Ghosts: One might expect the old adobe building to have its share of cold spots, which might or might not be evidence of ghosts, but much other paranormal activity has been reported:

  • Talking, whispering and singing by disembodied voices.
  • The apparition of a singing woman who fades from view.
  • A reflection of the saloon's past: crowded with loud patrons, cigar smoke and whiskey.
  • Ghosts in period clothing who look so lifelike that tourists think they're part of the show.

Sources:
The Haunted Bird Cage Theatre
Encyclopedia of Haunted Places by Jeff Belanger

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Ford's Theatre

Ford's Theater
Washington, D.C. Ford's Theater. Ford's Theater

Brief history: Ford's Theater at 511 Tenth St, NW in Washington is arguably the most famous theater in the U.S. Live performances are still staged there, but Ford's is infamous, of course, as the site of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865 by John Wilkes Booth during the play Our American Cousin.

Ghosts: According to a few witnesses, the haunting imprint of Lincoln's assassination occasionally repeats itself: footsteps are heard rushing toward the box where Lincoln sat with his wife, followed by a gunshot and screams. One report even attests to the apparition of Mary Todd Lincoln at the railing of the box and pointing at the stage where Booth made his escape and crying out, "He has killed the president!" Other voices crying "Murder!" have also been heard.

An icy presence reported on a specific part of the stage by various actors blame the ghost of Booth for the phenomenon. His spirit has also been seen hurrying across the stage, re-enacting his getaway from the scene of the crime.

Although Lincoln's ghost has more famously been seen several times in The White House, there have been sightings of his spirit in this historic theater as well.

Sources:
The Cabinet: Ford's Theatre National Historical Site

05
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Fort Macleod, Alberta

Empress Theatre
Empress Theatre. GoCanada

Brief history: Located on Main St. in Fort Macleod, Alberta, the Empress Theatre opened in 1912. Although it was the fourth theater in town when it was constructed, it is the only one that remains in town. In 1982, it was purchased by the Fort Macleod Provincial Historic Area Society, after which it benefited from a million-dollar rennovation. It is still in operation with stage shows, concerts and first-run movies.

Ghosts: This theater's resident ghost is thought to be either former manager Dan Boyle or, more popularly, a former janitor referred to as Ed. "He worked a second job at the local auction market and was known to enjoy a drink and a smoke now and then," according to the Empress website. "This helps lead to the belief that the ghost is in fact this man, as often sightings or experiences are accompanied by the scent of alcohol, tobacco and manure."

Phenomena include:

  • Lights that go off and on by themselves.
  • Popcorn buckets that reappear after being tossed in the garbage.
  • Footsteps up and down the stairs.
  • A man's face appearing in the mirrors of the washrooms.

06
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Theatre Royal Haymarket

Theatre Royal Haymarket
London, England Theatre Royal Haymarket. Theatre Royal Haymarket

Brief history: The vacinity of today's Theatre Royal Haymarket has been the site of a theater since 1720. The current theater opened in 1821 and has undergone many alternations and rennovations since then. It is an active theater featuring classic and modern drama, comedy and Broadway musicals, often starring well-known actors of stage and screen.

Ghosts: One of those actors, Patrick Stewart, most famous as Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, reported that he had seen a ghost at the theater. Dramatically, Stewart says he saw the ghost while performing Waiting for Godot with Sir Ian McKellen in August, 2009. In the middle of Act One, he saw a man standing in the wings wearing a beige coat and twill trousers. Stage hands familiar with the theater's history suspected Stewart had seen the ghost of John Baldwin Buckstone, who was actor-manager of the theatre in the mid-1800s. Buckstone did not die in the theater, but has a long relationship with it, first as a comic actor, then as manager.

Nigel Everett, a director of the theatre, told The Daily Telepgraph: "The last time an actor saw him would have been I think Fiona Fullerton, playing in an Oscar Wilde, 10 or 12 years ago. The ghost tends to appear when a comedy is playing."

07
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Cincinnati Music Hall

Cincinnati Music Hall
Cincinnati, Ohio Cincinnati Music Hall. Cincinnati Arts Association

Brief history. This beautiful Gothic Revival building, constructed in 1878, has served as the Cincinnati Music Hall since 1975 and now has a reputation as one of the most haunted sites in the city. According to Haunted destinations: Cincinnati Music Hall, it may actually be the history of the land itself rather than the building that is the source of the haunting. Previous to the music hall, a lunatic asylum and orphange stood on the site, and the bodies of many homeless, suicides and unknowns and unfortunates were buried on the grouds, many without coffins.

Ghosts: The ghost sightings began even before the music hall was built. In recent years, reported paranormal events include:

  • An disembodied angry voice in the elevator
  • The sound of footsteps following people that sound like they are on a hardwood floor, even though the floor is now carpeted
  • Pianos played by ghostly hands
  • Doors opening and closing
  • The apparition of a boy is 19th century clothing who sometimes tugs on people's shirts
  • Ghosts in formal 1800s dress dancing in the music hall.

Thanks to Ian Farquharson

08
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Bristol Opera House

Bristol Opera House
Bristol, Indiana Bristol Opera House. Dread Central

Brief history: Although it was built as an opera house in 1896, the theater has served many functions over the years, including a movie house and a skating rink. By the 1940s, however, the building began to show its age and was used only for storage and was even scheduled for demolition. It was saved from that fate in the early 1960s by the Elkhart Civic Theatre company to rennovate and use for their performances.

Ghosts: The Bristol Opera House seems to have three spirits:

  • A little girl, known as Beth, that looks out at the audience from behind a curtain at stage left during performances
  • A middle-aged ghost called Helen, who has not been seen but only felt, and is regarded as a protective spirit from the third ghost
  • Percival is the most active ghost and is thought to be the spirit of a handyman; he "borrows" tools and props, fools with the electrical system, and has even been seen by actors when he hangs around the women's dressing room; he also pulls on actors as they are trying to make their stage entrances.

Source: Cold Spots - The Bristol Opera House