Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Haunted Theatres of Maryland

Alumni Hall
Campus of McDaniel College
Westminster          

As can be expected, McDaniel College, a small four-year, private liberal arts college has a number of spirits. Founded in 1867—in the turbulent years following the Civil War—the school was founded as Western Maryland College. It was renamed after a benefactor in 2002 to avoid confusion over the school’s affiliations and geography. The name change, however, had no effect over the campus’ lingering spirits.

The massive Renaissance Revival-styled Alumni Hall has dominated the campus since its construction just before the turn of the 20th century. Originally it was constructed to hold commencement exercises, serve as a meeting hall and house religious services for this Methodist Church affiliated school (the school is no longer affiliated with the church). Since the creation of the school’s theatre department, the building has come to house classes, workshops and serves as the main performance space.
 
Alumni Hall, on the right, in 2006, by Alan Levine. Courtesy of
Wikipedia.
A McDaniel student began documenting the school’s spirits in a blog in 2010. While incomplete, the blog does provide a student’s view into the school’s myriad legends. The student recounts three spirits that have been identified in Alumni Hall: Harvey, Dorothy (or Dorthy) and Mr. Steve. It appears that two legends explain Harvey’s presence in the building. One explains that Harvey was a student torn between his love of theatre and his parents’ expectation that he become a Methodist minister. Unable to bear his life without theatre, Harvey killed himself by throwing himself from the auditorium’s balcony just before graduation. The second story involves Harvey becoming inebriated at a college party and falling out of one of the building’s windows. Apparently, it is considered a sign of luck when this former student’s shade is sometimes seen backstage before productions. It is Harvey who is also blamed when things in the building malfunction.

The other two ghosts encountered within this building are Dorothy and Mr. Steve. Dorothy, who is honored by having her portrait in the theatre’s Green Room, is believed to be the source of a woman’s footsteps heard in the hallway just outside that room. When a production is bad she is also said to cry blood, most certainly a ridiculous notion. Mr. Steve, said to be the spirit of a former costume shop foreman, still zealously watches over his former shop. He is said to occasionally steal scissors and measuring tapes while also expressing anger when students make a mess in “his” shop.

Sources
Alexa. “The 3rd Theatre Ghost.” Ghostblogger. 3 May 2010.
Alexa. “Dorthy.” Ghostblogger. 14 April 2010.
Alexa. “Harvey.” Ghostblogger. 12 April 2010.
McDaniel College. “History.” Accessed 18 March 2013.
Rivoire. J. Richard and James F. Ridenour. National Register of Historic Places nomination
     form for Western Maryland College Historic District. 9 May 1975.

Avalon Theatre
40 East Dover Street
Easton

The ghost that haunts the Avalon Theatre demonstrates a fascination with technology. The theatre’s elevator may be operated by an unseen force while the stage’s fire curtain was once dropped without anyone touching it. The theatre opened in 1921 and wowed the public so that one critic described the theatre as the “Showplace of the Eastern Shore.” Acquired by the Schine Theatre Chain in 1934, the theatre was entirely renovated in the Art Deco style. It remained open as a cinema until 1985 when it closed. After extensive restoration, the theatre reopened in 1989 as a performing arts center for the Eastern Shore region.

Sources
Avalon Theatre. Avalon Theatre in History. Accessed 18 March 2013.
Burgoyne, Mindie. “The Avalon Theatre – Haunted History in Easton.” Who Cares
     What I Think. No date.

Baltimore Theatre Project
45 West Preston Street
Baltimore

A mysterious man likes to tickle the ivories in a practice room of the Baltimore Theatre Project. He’s known to enter a room, take a seat and play the most wonderful music. Startled listeners have often remarked on how well he plays. Then he’ll disappear.

The building now occupied by the Baltimore Theatre Project does have quite a history. It was originally constructed in 1887 for a male fraternal order, the Improved Order of Heptasophs, and served as Heptasoph Hall until the organization moved to a new structure in 1924. The building’s new owners transformed it into a dance hall, Farson’s Dance Academy and it later became a recreation building and school for the Greek Orthodox church across the street. Its first theatrical use came in 1963 when it served as a performance space for CENTERSTAGE. The founder of Baltimore Theatre Project acquired the building in 1971 and it has served as their home ever since.

Sources
Baltimore Theatre Project. “History of the IOH Building.” Accessed 5 April 2013.
Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Atglen, PA: Stackpole, 2010.

Old Opera House—Odd Fellows’ Hall
140 East Main Street
Westminster

Ghost stories rarely appear in official government records, though the story from the old Westminster Opera House does. The ghost part of the story does not appear in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties but the story of the murder that produced the ghost does appear. So far, it doesn’t appear that anyone has looked for documentation to back up the story and even the person compiling the history of the structure for the inventory seems a bit wary of it, noting that the story only came from the owner of the building.

The ghost story takes us back to the ill-tempered days of Reconstruction (perhaps actually during the Civil War, according to some sources). Maryland, though a slave-owning state, never seceded from the Union and many of its citizens sympathized with their more Southern brothers. During this tumultuous period an Alabama comedian named Marshall Buell took the stage of the opera house to perform. Initially, his politically-charged humor entertained the audience, though they became quite restless as his feckless impersonations of Ulysses Grant and other Union officials crossed the line into insults.

As stones and other projectiles began to be hurled from the enraged audience, Buell hurried and finished his act. At the theatre manager’s suggestion he decided to leave town as quickly as possible, though he would wait in the stable until the opera house cleared to avoid unfriendly encounters in the street. This was Mr. Buell’s last decision. His body, bloodied and bruised, was found in the stable the following morning. Depending on the version of the story, his head is either missing or his throat is cut, ear to ear. In the legends where he was decapitated, his head sometimes appears—almost in the manner of the French Revolution—on a post outside of the theatre, a warning to other actors that beloved leaders should not be mocked.

In the days following the comedian’s untimely demise, he was seen on the streets near the opera house. In one description he was waving and gesticulating as if he was still performing his act. There don’t appear to be any modern witnesses to the unfortunate spirit.

The massive three-story brick structure was constructed in the mid-1850s for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, an altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization. Space on the second floor provided a performance venue and actors and theatre companies on the road utilized this space for many years. During the 20th century, the building served a number of other uses including use as a factory and a printing company.

Sources
Carroll County Office of Tourism. Ghost Walk in Carroll County. No date.
Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Atglen, PA: Stackpole, 2010.
Weeks, Christopher. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties form for Opera House—
     Odd Fellows’ Hall. December 1976.

Tawes Fine Arts Building
Campus of the University of Maryland
College Park

Though no longer home to the Department of Theatre, the Tawes Fine Arts Building retains its theatre and recital hall. The current home to the university’s English department, the building may still also retain its resident spook. Not long after the building’s opening in 1965, students began noticing the sound of footsteps in the empty theatre and would occasionally have mischievous jokes played on them, seemingly from beyond.

With quite a population of resident ghosts on campus, the university archivists have started documenting the stories. According to one of the archivists quoted in Michael J. and Michael H. Varhola’s Ghosthunting Maryland, Mortimer, Tawes’ ghost, may actually be a dog rather than a human spirit. According to campus lore, Mortimer was brought into the theatre during its construction and would frolic on the stage. The theatre’s seats had yet to be completely installed and the house was filled with metal frames the seats would be attached to. The frolicsome canine jumped from the stage into the house and impaled himself on one of the frames. Supposedly, he was buried in the building’s basement.

Sources
Okonowicz, Ed. The Big Book of Maryland Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg, PA, Stackpole,
     2010.
Tawes Theatre. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 April 2013.
Varhola, Michael J. and Michael H. Ghosthunting Maryland. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy
     Press, 2009.


Weinberg Center for the Arts
formerly the Tivoli Theatre
20 West Patrick Street
Frederick

Among the many haunted buildings in this nearly 300 year old town, the old Tivoli Theatre is relatively new. When it opened in 1926, it was one of the largest buildings in town and the most refined theatre in the area. Uniformed ushers, refined surroundings including crystal chandeliers and marble and a Wurlitzer organ to add music to the silent films added to the theatre’s opulence. That opulence drew crowds for many years, though as downtown Frederick declined, so did the crowds drawn to the Tivoli.

Dan and Alyce Weinberg, who had bought the theatre in the late 1950s owned the theatre during its lowest period. After declining sales, and with a theatre on the verge of closure, the Weinbergs witnessed as nearby Carroll Creek flooded downtown Frederick filling the theatre with water and mud. As the flood waters receded, demolition was proposed for the theatre, but the Weinbergs saw that the noble structure deserved more than just that. The theatre was presented to the City of Frederick and it was restored as a performing arts center bearing the Weinberg’s name.

Does the theatre’s restored opulence still attract a few spirits? Perhaps.

One spirit is the rather testy spirit of a former projectionist who supposedly died of a heart attack. His lingering spirit, named Jimmy, is not happy with new employees and he is known to mess up the restrooms when employees are hired. Though, he has been appeased when the final employee to leave wishes him a goodnight. Goodnight, Jimmy!

Sources
Ricksecker, Mike. Ghosts of Maryland. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2010.
Rigaux, Pamela. “Walking with the dead.” Frederick News Post. 23 October 2005.
Weinberg Center for the Arts. “History of the Weinberg.” Accessed 5 April 2013.


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