Spirited Soldiers and Sailors–West Virginia

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building
200 South Kanawha Street
Beckley, West Virginia

So far, West Virginia has been this blog’s Achilles heel. While Mississippi has not been well documented in terms of its ghosts, it seems that West Virginia is in the same quandary. So far, I’ve found 2 books about the ghosts of Mississippi and 4 on the ghosts of West Virginia. Therefore, whenever I find anything on either state I get excited.

Halloween is a wonderful time to pull newspaper articles on ghosts and I was excited to find a great article on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in Beckley, West Virginia. The article, “Stories of Beckley’s ghosts to be told Friday” from The Register-Herald, is regarding a fundraiser presentation for Theatre West Virginia which has just recently moved into the building. The presentation, called “Beckley’s Ghosts, Legends & Lore,” included storytellers describing experiences with the paranormal, including their own, in Beckley. The article then turns to the stories about the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building.

The article quotes Scott Worley, Raleigh County Historic Landmarks commissioner and historian, as stating that many people have had strange experiences in the building. He includes a story about a phantom saxophone solo that was heard during a show in the theatre. Of course, no one with a saxophone was in the building at the time.

A quick search online produced an investigation report from Eastern States Paranormal, a ghost hunting organization out of Virginia. The investigation, evidently conducted this year but otherwise no date is provided, produced some very interesting results. While the first few hours of the investigation was fairly quiet, the final few hours were particularly active starting during the group’s break with a noise like “a herd of elephants r[unning] across the stage.” For the next few hours the group was bombarded with many noises including “footsteps and doors closing…along with knocks, bangs and every other thing you could expect at a ghost hunt.”

According to the background information provided in the investigation report, the theatre opened in 1931 as a memorial to the veterans of World War I. During the opening ceremony, a set of makeshift bleachers collapsed injuring some including a tuba player who survived despite a broken neck. “Bob,” the tuba player, at some point later took up residence in an apartment in the basement of the building and it is there that his apparition has been seen. James Foster Robinson’s 2008 book, A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia, provides a brief mention of this building and simply identifies the ghost as a “gentleman ghost cloaked in gray” though he also mentions that music and children’s laughter are also heard in the building.

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building is owned by the Raleigh County Commission which has just recently handed over use of the building to Theatre West Virginia, a noted theatre company in the area. At the moment, the company is renovating the building for future use.

UPDATE 14 July 2011 

In an earlier article, I covered this location in Beckley and recently, a little bit more information has been released about it. Briefly, the building is a theatre opened in 1931 as a memorial to veterans of World War I. During the opening ceremonies for the building, hastily erected bleachers collapsed with a few injuries but no deaths. Legend holds that one of those injured was a band member named Bob. For the remainder of his life, Bob suffered neck problems and was offered a small apartment in the basement of the building. After his death, his spirit has reportedly been encountered.

As I pointed out in the original article, the structure was investigated by Eastern States Paranormal who encountered a great deal of evidence. Patricia Marin, a writer on the paranormal for Examiner.com recently wrote an article about some of the evidence from that investigation that has recently been publicized by the group. The investigation began slowly, but when the group took a break they heard a sound similar to “a herd of elephants running across the stage.” After that, activity filled the space. Sounds included someone, possibly Bob, walking across the stage, response knocking and a sound akin to tap dancing. Some of this evidence has been posted to the website of Eastern States Paranormal, here.

Theresa Racer’s marvelous blog, Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State, includes an entry on this location and provides a few more details on the history and the haunting of this structure. According to her, the building has served a variety of uses including a temporary courthouse, county library, YMCA and community center. After my last entry on the building, a good friend of mine who is from Beckley revealed that he had taught art classes in the building.

Racer includes the rumor that the building may be built near a Civil War era graveyard which was used by a local hospital during the war. She notes that two locations nearby, the old Beckley Junior High School (occupied by Mountain State University) and a radio station, may all be haunted by Civil War era spirits associated with the cemetery.

According to Marin’s Examiner article, the building will be taken over by Theatre West Virginia next month.

Sources

  • Eastern States Paranormal. Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial Theater. Accessed 8 November 2010.
  • Kuykendall, Taylor. “Stories of Beckley’s ghosts to be told Friday.” The Register-Herald. 28 October 2010.
  • Lannom, Andrea. “County hands TWV control of Soldiers and Sailors Building. The Register-Herald. 25 June 2010.
  • Marin, Patricia. “Eastern States Paranormal investigates haunted theatre in West Virginia.” Examiner.com. 6 July 2011.
  • Racer, Theresa. “Soldier’s Memorial Theater, Beckley.” Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State. 2 March 2011.
  • Robinson, James Foster. A Ghostly Guide to West Virginia. WV: Winking Eye Books, 2008.
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