Ghostlights: Haunted Theaters and Their Often Famous Specters

The story goes that once a man was at the circus.  While walking between attractions, he spotted another man knee deep in elephant excrement shoveling it into pails.  The man walks over and says, “Buddy, there has to be a better job out there somewhere.  Have you ever thought about leaving.”  The man leans on his shovel, looks the stranger in the eyes, and replies, “What, and leave show business?”

If you’ve spent any time in the world of live theater, you know that it’s a place of superstition and ritual.  The theater is an almost mystical place with a tangible energy, and it seems that energy draws the spirits of former performers, stage hands, and theater owners back to the hallowed stage.  It’s the very reason that a single light, the ghost light,  is left shining on the stage at night so that the spirits of days gone by have a light by which to perform.

Let’s take a look at some of the most famous haunted theaters and those spirits who never seem to leave.

The New Amsterdam Theatre

There once was an actress named Olive North.  By age 21, she was performing in the famed Ziegfeld Follies, and soon found her self married to Jack Pickford, brother to America’s favorite screen actress at the time, Mary Pickford.

Marriage to Jack wasn’t easy.  No only was he an infamous womanizer, but his many dalliances left him with a serious case of syphilis.  Eventually, it all became too much for Olive, and after a long night of drinking on the town with Jack, she walked into their bathroom and swallowed an entire bottle of the pills he had been given to treat his syphilis.

She walked out the bathroom and asked aloud, “My God, what have I done?”

She died that night, but it wasn’t long before spirit began to make appearances at the New Amsterdam Theatre, which had been home to the Follies and her glory days on the stage.  To this day, patrons, casts, crews, and nightwatchmen have reported seeing a ghostly woman wearing a green beaded dress with matching headpiece and sash.  She carries the blue bottle of pills in her hand to this day.

Olive has become such a mainstay at the theater that those who work at the theater will often say hello and good-bye to deceased starlet at the beginning and end of every day.

The Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre was once the gold standard on the Vaudeville circuit in the U.S.  If you played the Palace, you’d really made it in show business.  Perhaps it is due to this that the Palace remains one of the most haunted theatres in the country with 100 or more spirits reportedly haunting everything from the balcony to the stage, and some of them you’d definitely remember.

Judy Garland, who gave one of the most memorable performances of her career at the Palace is often seen at the door to the orchestra pit.  A ghostly female cellist dressed all in white is seen playing in the very same orchestra pit.

Louis Bossalina, an acrobat from the early 20th Century fell to his death while walking a tightrope across the theater, and from time to time, he appears to recreate his performance.

A mournful girl appears to guests in the balcony, and the ghost of a young boy has been seen playing with toy trucks.

It would be well worth an investigators while to spend some time over night at the Palace, if they could ever convince the management to let them in.

Le Palais Garnier

From its very inception, le Palais Garnier in Paris has sparked imaginations.  In fact, it was this very theater that served as the backdrop for Gaston Leroux’s famed novel The Phantom of the Opera.

As scholars have studied the opera more deeply, in fact, it’s hard to tell where the fiction of the story and the reality of the theater began.  There were rumors at the time that a deformed man named Erik helped build the theater and that he stayed in an underground apartment on site throughout its construction, for instance.  A giant water tank/lake really does exist beneath the opera house.  The grand chandelier did, indeed, once crash to the stage. And just as Leroux reported, a series of gramophone recordings were locked away in a vault inside the cellars back in 1907.

Over the years, patrons have reported numerous sightings of a phantom creature.  There have been mysterious whispers heard backstage, a shadowy figure seen running through the flies and elsewhere, and some have reported coming so close to the mysterious entity that they could clearly make out his black cape and half-masked cape.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Standing on a foundation that has housed theaters since 1663, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane served as the theater of choice for Oscar and Hammerstein as they brought their musicals to London in the early 20th Century.  Throughout its history, however, the theater has been home to a particularly famous ghost.

Known only as “the man in gray”, the mysterious entity shows up regularly wearing riding boots, a tricorn hat, and powdered wig.

Who is this mysterious man?

No one knows for certain, but most believe that the ghost is connected to a set of skeletal remains that were found sealed inside a wall of the theater in the 19th Century.  This certainly begs the question of whether there are other remains inside those walls, and if so, are there other spirits waiting to be released into the theatre?

St. James Theatre

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Located in Wellington, New Zealand, the St. James Theatre boasts some of the most interesting hauntings on this list.

Yuri was a Russian acrobat who fell to his death during a performance at the theater.  He’s now infamous for turning lights on and off in the performance space and other electrical issues through the theater.

The wailing woman killed herself after being booed off the stage.  Her ghost remains in the theater causing any number of maladies for leading actresses.

Most disturbing for me here, though, is the World War II era boys choir who performed at the theater.  When the performance ended, they boarded a ship to head for their next performance and were never seen nor heard from again.  From time to time, stagehands and actors have reported hearing ghostly child-like singing while preparing for shows.

Did we name your favorite haunted theater?  Do you have others?  Let us know in the comments!

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