Lingering Memories–Lyric Theatre

Lyric Theatre
201 North Broadway
Tupelo

He appeared first in a Lee County community called Black Zion near the Pontotoc County line. He was a dark, shadowy figure stretching from the leaden clouds to the dusty ground. The winds surrounding him stirred up dust in the still and humid air of a warm spring Palm Sunday. He tore through Black Zion and then slammed into the town of Tupelo with great fury around 8:30 that evening.

April 5, 1936 had been a pleasant Palm Sunday in Tupelo until the twister touched down flattening 48 blocks of the city. Believed to have been a 5 on the Fujita scale—the scale for judging the strength of tornados—this Palm Sunday visitor was part of a line of storms that struck the South with another powerful tornado destroying parts of Gainesville, Georgia the following day. Local officials counted 216 deaths, but in this era of Jim Crow that was only counting whites among the dead. The deaths of African-Americans—and this tornado struck a part of Tupelo that was largely black—went unrecorded.

As the dead and injured were pulled from the twisted wreckage of the city the broken bodies were moved to a temporary hospital and morgue set up in the Lyric Theatre. The sounds of agony from the injured and the dying, as well as the clink of metal medical instruments and trays replaced the laughter that usually echoed through the building. Stories speak of the popcorn machines in the lobby being pressed into service to sterilize the instruments. These bad memories still may linger.

Undated postcard of the Comus Theatre. The facade now features Art Deco elements and marquee. Postcard from the Cooper Postcard Collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The Lyric opened as the Comus Theatre in 1912. The Comus hosted vaudeville and other live performances until the prevalence of films lead to vaudeville’s untimely demise. The theatre became a part of the M. A. Lightman Company (Malco), a chain of cinemas, acquiring a new name, the Lyric, and it’s Art Deco façade and marquee. It’s appropriate that this theatre, having been built for live theatre would ultimately be saved by it as well. In the mid 1980s when the theatre had outlived its usefulness as a cinema, it was saved from the wrecker’s ball by the Tupelo Community Theatre and has been slowly but surely restored by them.

With TCT’s acquisition of the Lyric Theatre, they also acquired some lingering memories; memories that will mischievously play tricks on actors and theatre staff. One executive director had his keys taken and hidden from him. After searching for about 45 minutes he gave up and decided to call someone to come get him. The phone sat on a Plexiglas stand with a small slot for papers clips. As he lifted the receiver he glanced down to see his keys stuffed into the small slot. Puzzled, he locked up the building and quickly left. He could come up with no explanation except to blame Antoine, the theatre’s lingering spirit.

Exactly who the spirit is or why his name is Antoine is unknown. Perhaps he’s one of the injured, dying or dead brought into the building following the tragic tornado or perhaps a more recent theatre associate who has returned to his beloved theatre?  All that is known is that he enjoys playing tricks including playing with the lights, slamming doors when he may be unhappy and possibly making a surprise appearance in a theatergoer’s photograph.

There are other lingering memories that are more obviously connected with the theatre’s tragic past. The clank of metal medical instruments still resounds through the building while the popcorn machines, once pressed into such ghastly service, are said to turn on by themselves. In a place where such happy memories are now made, these negative memories linger to remind us that even the beauty of a warm spring evening can be shattered in an instant by a terrible storm.

Sources

  • 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 28 March 2013.
  • History of the Lyric Theatre. Tupelo Community Theatre. Accessed 28 March 2011.
  • Rutherford, Joe. “Tupelo tornado: Scars, united in spirit.” NEMS Daily Journal. 3 April 2011.
  • Sillery, Barbara. The Haunting of Mississippi. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2011.
  • Steed, Bud. The Haunted Natchez Trace. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012.
  • Tupelo Community Theatre. org. Accessed 28 March 2013.

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Newsworthy Haunts 3/19—Fike High School

Ralph L. Fike High School
500 Harrison Drive
Wilson, North Carolina

High school is scary enough. You already have teenage angst compounded by raging hormones and with modern teenage drama; it makes for a volatile situation. It’s even worse, I imagine, with ghosts thrown in.

Schools appear frequently on lists of haunted places and they range from preschools to university buildings. Among K-12 schools in the South, there are some very notable haunted schools including C. E. Byrd High School in Shreveport Louisiana, Jordan High School in Columbus, Georgia, Airport High School in West Columbia, South Carolina and Bristol High School in Bristol, Tennessee. Elementary schools also rank on the list including Matthew Whaley Elementary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

North Carolina has a few notable haunted high schools including Erwin High School in Asheville, which was built on the site of a potter’s field cemetery. While most of the graves were moved, it’s possible that some were missed which would account for some of the activity. The stories—like so many ghost stories—are often rife with exaggerations and inaccuracies. The administration will often shy away from ghost tales in an effort to not scare or distract the students, though the tales persist as well.

Asheville, North Carolina’s haunted Erwin High School, 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I always wondered if my alma mater, LaGrange High School in LaGrange, Georgia was haunted. The school’s main building dated to the 1940s with many modern additions. Parts of the building were creepy, though I never heard anything substantial as to activity. Not that I wasn’t interested, in fact, I worked on an independent study my senior year about ghosts (I should give a shout out to Mrs. Karen Hodnette, the Gifted Facilitator, and say thank you for putting up with me and my bizarre project. You could say I’m finally finishing my independent study now).

This is why I’m jealous of the student named in this recent article from the Wilson Daily Times; she’s gathering paranormal evidence about her high school for her senior project.

Certainly it appears that there are some very strange things going on at Fike High School. This project got its impetus when a student watched her classroom door close by itself during class. Moments later, the door opened again about six inches and a nearby projector head flipped downward by itself. The student began asking questions which has culminated in her concentrating on the school haunting as her senior project.

Witnesses to these phenomena include teachers, janitors and the assistant principal. A coach walking along one hallway began to notice the classroom doors closing by themselves as he passed. The assistant principle saw a white figure in the hallway when she was a student while a current math teacher started hearing odd sounds one night as he was working late. He went to the main office to check the security cameras and noticed the motion detectors were alerting him to movement in the second floor hallway. When he went to look, he saw a white figure at the end of the corridor.

The student has called in a paranormal team, The Paranormal Detectives, to investigate. The results of the investigation will be publicized in the local paper.

The school, built in 1958, was built on the site of a farm, though the student has been unable to find evidence of any particularly traumatic events occurring there. “I need to keep digging to find out if anything traumatic happened.” she said.

Sources

  • Butcher, Lucy. “Fike High School under investigation for paranormal activity.” The Carolina Mercury. 14 March 2013.
  • “Paranormal team visits N.C. school after strange events reported.” Wilson Daily Times. 11 March 2013.
  • Ralph L. Fike High School. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 19 March 2013.

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The Phantom of the Opera and Friends—Maryland Theatre

Maryland Theatre
21 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland

Nota Bene: This is a repost. The original article was posted 31 May 2011.

Sometimes I’ll encounter an article that opens a whole Pandora’s Box of articles and hauntings. This is one of those cases. Initially, I was looking for information on the Westminster Opera House in Westminster, Maryland and decided to Google “haunted theatres Maryland.” An article from the Hagerstown Herald Mail regarding the Maryland Theatre popped up and I dutifully added it to my files and then began searching out whatever else I could find on it. A search for “Maryland Theatre ghost” turned up a few more articles, but most importantly, an article from Hagerstown Magazine detailing a number of haunts in the area. What joy! And a quick jaunt to the website of the Maryland Historic Trust et voila, I now have a copy of the theatre’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Thank goodness for the convenience of the internet!

Hagerstown is situated in western Maryland’s Washington County, just south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the Great Appalachian Valley. Its position brought much of the action of the Civil War to the city’s doorstep with armies of both sides tramping through its streets on a number of occasions. The Battle of Antietam—the bloodiest single day in American military history—was fought just south of the city. Hagerstown prospered throughout the 20th century and is now the largest city in Western Maryland.

The Maryland Theatre opened in 1915 as a top tier vaudeville and movie house. The structure was built in the interior of the 20s block of Potomac Street. The entrance and lobby of the theatre, located on the ground floor of an adjoining apartment building, extended towards Potomac Street. The theatre was designed by Harry Yessler, a local architect, in conjunction with Thomas Lamb, one of the preeminent theatre architects of the day. The interior of the theatre is an elegant Neoclassical design complete with decorative plaster work.

The modern entrance to the Maryland Theatre, 2014. Photo by Acroterion, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Even as live theatre became increasingly scarce, the theatre continued in business until it closed in 1973. The following year, the building lobby and entrance were destroyed when the adjoining apartment building burned. Firefighters valiantly fought to save the theatre itself and were successful, though one life was lost in the apartment building. The remains of the building and the theatre’s lobby were not salvageable and they were razed. When the theatre was reopened, a small lobby was constructed with a passage to Potomac Street. Sadly, from the outside, the lobby’s 1970s modern architecture is at odds with the opulence within the theatre. The modern theatre now plays host to numerous cultural events and is one of the premier cultural venues in the region.

Stories of the theatre’s haunting appeared quite early. The daughter of one of the theatre’s first managers worked in the theatre between the 1930s and the 1960s. Reportedly, she claimed to have encountered her father, who loved the theatre dearly, still going about his daily business. More recently, staff members have had the feeling of not being alone, but have also heard voices. According to two different articles, an investigation by the Mason-Dixon Paranormal Society was able to capture a number of EVPs in the building. It appears this historical theatre has its fair share of spiritual occupants as any good theatre should. As one of the theatre’s former executive directors remarked, “Starting with the Phantom of the Opera, every theatre should have a ghost.”

A commenter under the name “mymixedtapeforher”posted on the original entry that friends had experienced quite a bit in the theatre including the feeling of hands pushing on their backs, being told to “get the f*** out” by a disembodied voice” and finding a sandbag (used as weights on the theatre’s fly system) sliced open. These details, if true, make this quite an interesting haunting.

Sources

  • Coffey, Claudia. “Hagerstown Theater Believed Haunted.” com. 31 August 2009.
  • Finglass, Jack L. & Ronald L. Andrews. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for the Maryland Theatre. Listed 13 November 1976.
  • Hagerstown, Maryland. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 31 May 2011.
  • Julius, Erin. “Is the Maryland Theatre haunted?” Herald-Mail. 30 August 2009.
  • Widener, Christina. “Mystery Lives Here: Local Ghost Stories.” Hagerstown Magazine. September/October 2000.

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