Apollo Apparitions–West Virginia

Apollo Theatre
128 East Martin Street
Martinsburg, West Virginia

On August 21, 1927, a brief item from the Associated Press appeared in papers nationwide describing the death of architect Reginald Geare. In a room in his Washington, D.C. home, Geare’s body had been found with a gas tube next to it. Five years previous, the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington collapsed under the weight of snow during the screening of a film. With a death toll of 98, authorities questioned the integrity of Geare’s design of the building. Though he avoided prosecution for the disaster, the shame continued the crush the architect. The shame would also lead to the death in 1937 of the theatre impresario, Harry Crandall, who owned the Knickerbocker. It is believed that his spirit may roam the Tivoli Theatre in Washington, another of the theatres in his chain.

The Atlanta Constitution, 21 August 1927, Page 28.

Martinsburg’s Apollo Theatre was an early design success for Reginald Geare, in company with local architect Chapman E. Kent. It was the first theatre in the state built primarily for showing films, though the stage was large enough to accommodate live performances. After opening in 1913, the theatre underwent an expansion to provide for better live performance facilities. Throughout its history, the Apollo, named for the Greek god of music, has provided entertainment for citizens throughout the West Virginia panhandle.

Apollo Theatre, 2009, by Acroterion. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Stories of the Apollo’s haunting reputation have circulated for decades with some of the oldest stories dating to the mid-1970s. There are no records of deaths within the theatre, though the building may have been used as a hospital during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Apparently, there are several spirits here, two of which are known by their nicknames, Charlie and George. In 2008, a theatre board member told The Journal about his run-in with George in the early 80s. “During the curtain call I saw an old man in the back of the theatre, in a plaid shirt with a cigar. No one but me saw him and suddenly he was gone.” During the filming of Gods and Generals, a female reenactor using the restrooms at the Apollo let out a scream after encounter the same figure in the ladies’ room.

Charlie, one of the theatre’s other spirits, may also smoke cigars. A resident of a nearby apartment building may have seen Charlie once standing outside the theatre. The figure wore a fedora pulled down over his eyes and stood hunched over with the collar of his coat pulled up around him. The apartment resident was astonished when the figure suddenly vanished before her eyes.

Sources

  • Pauley, Michael J. and Rodney S. Collins. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for the Apollo Theater. 12 September 1979.
  • Racer, Theresa. “The Apollo Theatre.” Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State. 16 January 2011.
  • Strader, Tricia Lynn. “Halloween haunting is close at hand.” The Journal (Martinsburg, WV). 31 October 2008.
  • Swayne, Matthew. Ghosts of Country Music: Tales of Haunted Honky Tonks & Legendary Specters. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2017.
  • “Theater architect ends life with gas.” Atlanta Constitution. 21 August 1927.

Musical fireplaces—A White House Experience

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

While on a book tour last year, the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, revealed that they had a possibly paranormal experience in the White House. One summer during their father’s administration the twins crawled into bed in their respective bedrooms. Jenna’s phone rang, and she woke up to turn it off. As she began to fall asleep again, she heard what she described as “opera, and a woman’s opera voice coming from the fireplace.”

North facade during the Lincoln administration.

After hearing the chilling singing, she fled across the hall to her sister’s bedroom. Two nights later, the twins were both asleep in Barbara’s room when they were awakened by the sounds of “1920s jazz music” emanating from the fireplace. They convinced themselves that their black cat, India, must have jumped upon a piano, though the music was good enough that the cat “would have had to have taken it up.”

This most important of houses has been described by many to be one of the most haunted houses in the nation. Certainly, its halls are haunted by the spirit of politics and have been so since John Adams first occupied it in 1800 and its corridors were crowded with hangers-on, lobbyists, and politicians of every stripe, but time has left those same corridors alive with spirits. Many residents and staff of the White House tell stories of things going bump in the night and, indeed, there are so many stories that Dennis William Hauck’s venerable Haunted Places: The National Directory provides a room by room breakdown of the possible paranormal activity.

North and South facades of the White House. Photos by Cezary p and MattWade, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Author Jeff Belanger examined the haunting of the White House in his 2008 children’s book, Who’s Haunting the White House? which, though written for children, provides a well-researched look at the panoply of phantoms that have made appearances here. Perhaps the most well-known spirit is that of Abraham Lincoln who has regularly been spotted in and around the bedroom named for him (that room served as his office). Among the witnesses to his spirit were First Lady Grace Coolidge; Maureen Reagan, the daughter of Ronald Reagan; Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; George W. Bush, during his father’s presidency; and various staff members.

Among the other spirits that have been identified in the White House include the spirit of Willie Lincoln, the young son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln; Presidents William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, and John Tyler; First Ladies Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison; and a young British soldier carrying a torch. Reports of possible paranormal activity from these spirits have come from the Lincolns; Harry Truman; Eleanor Roosevelt; the Clintons; and Michelle Obama. Certainly, the Bush twins are in good company among the witnesses to the paranormal in the “People’s House.”

Sources

  • Belanger, Jeff. Who’s Haunting the White House? NYC: Sterling Children’s Books, 2008.
  • Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 2002.
  • Johnson, Ted. “Is the White House haunted? Jenna and Barbara Bush share their ghost story.” 31 October 2017.
  • Peters, Lucia. “Is the White House haunted? Jenna Bush Hager & Barbara Bush just shared the creepiest story ever.” 31 October 2017.