Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Playhouse Phantoms of Pensacola


Pensacola Cultural Center
100 South Jefferson Street

Florida has a glut of haunted theatres; not that that’s a bad thing. A recent project has me researching theatres throughout the South, and it seems that Florida has more than anyone else. Perhaps it’s geography or something in the air or all the seawater that surrounds the state, it does give one pause.

On the official website for the cultural center, one statement stands out, “The spaces where judges handed out justice and criminals served their time are now filled with the positive energy of dancers, actors, artists, and students.” The building was initially constructed in 1911 as the Escambia County Building, housing the county Court of Records and the jail. Places where criminals were tried, sentenced, incarcerated and executed now thrum with the rhythm of the arts in this old building.

It seems that some of the criminals are still doing time in this Neo-classical structure. A man has been seen lurking within the building. A staff member working in the building after hours heard the operating of a nearby elevator. Shortly afterwards the dark shadow of a man walked past the staff member’s open door. She called out but did not get a response. When she looked into the hallway, it was empty.

A couple staff members working late in the auditorium when they saw a man sitting in one of the seats. They both saw him simultaneously and turned to look at each other. When they turned back, the man was sitting in a different seat, on the opposite side of the house. They described him as wearing a worn suit and having a gaunt face. Some have identified this male spirit as that of Hosea Poole, a small time criminal who murdered his brother. Poole was the last man executed in the jail when he was hung 31 July 1920. However, there is little evidence, other than coincidence, to solidly identify the spirit as Poole’s.

The playful spirit of a young girl, possibly from the 1920s or 30s has also been witnessed. Unlike the male spirit’s almost menacing presence, the young girl has been heard giggling and she has been seen playfully skipping through the hallways. She is known to peer curiously over shoulders and she is occasionally seen peering from shadowed corners.

Saenger Theatre
118 South Palafox Place

Known as the “Grande Dame of Palafox Street,” the Saenger Theatre was constructed from the ruins—the bricks and other fittings—of the Pensacola Opera House which was destroyed in the 1917 Nueva Gerona hurricane (so named for the destruction to the Cuban town of Nueva Gerona). The theatre opened in 1925 as a venue for live performances and film. Broadway shows and vaudevillians on The Road played here as well as films such as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments which opened the theatre.

Saenger Theatre, 2010, by Ebyabe. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
The Saenger thrived as a cinema for a few decades until competition from multiplex big screens and the small screens now found in homes began to shrink the audiences to the Grande Dame. The theatre closed in 1975 but was reopened as a cultural center in 1981. The theatre was extensively renovated in 1996.

With the crowds that have passed through the theatre’s doors since its opening and whatever spiritual residue may be left on the old bricks and other fittings from the old opera house, it’s no wonder that the Saenger Theatre has some paranormal activity on hand. Voices have been heard in the balcony of the building and the spirits may affect the electrical circuits at times. Alan Brown records an incident that happened to the electricians working on a touring show. Just after hanging and adjusting the lighting for a show, the lights began to flash erratically on their own volition. The blame for this activity is laid upon the spirit of a worker who died when the boiler in the basement exploded, though—like Hosea Poole at the Pensacola Cultural Center—there is nothing to identify the culprit.

Sources
Brown, Alan. Haunted Pensacola. Charleston, SC: History Press,
     2010.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore, Vol. 3:
     The Gulf Coast and Pensacola. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2007.
Pensacola Cultural Center. About PCC. Accessed 26 February 2013.
Saenger Theatre(Pensacola, Florida). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 26 February 2013.

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