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 while an audience was inside watching a movie. 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. That 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 theaters in his chain.
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.
Stories of the Apollo’s haunted 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 as 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 encountering 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.
- 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.