21 South Potomac Street
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.
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.
- 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.