Ghosts & Ghost Lights

by Katy McGlaughlin
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An old-fashioned ghost light: protecting you from injury and visitors from the beyondHave you ever wondered why we use ghost lights? They provide a measure of safety for the staff leaving the theatre late at night or arriving first thing in the morning (and mayhap helps prevent new ghost from being born) and they are necessary to meet fire codes in many parts of the country. They may originate from the extra lights used to keep stage lights from “ghosting” when the dimmers are inefficient. But many theatre practitioners believe that the ghost lights greater function is to provide light for a theatre’s ghostly patrons. If the ghostly occupants of a theatre don’t have light to play by they get cranky and may cause trouble (even cursing the theatre; some say this is also why theatre have a dark day each week).

Many Broadway theatres have famous ghosts – 

The New Amsterdam Theatre is haunted by former follies girl, Olive Thomas. She is said to appear in a green beaded follies dress carrying a blue bottle (She died of an overdose). Disney (the current owner of the theatre) has cultivated a culture of respect for Olive, they keep photographs of her by the stage door and in the lobby. It is common practice to greet Olive as one enters or leaves the theatre. She only gets unruly if there are big changes on her stage or other follies girls come to visit.
David Belasco’s ghost still resides in the apartment above the theatre he built for himself. The apartment is sealed but people often report hearing roaring parties happening overhead. He is one of the most corporeal ghosts on Broadway, alleged to shake hands and pinch bottoms, he is in death as he was in life. He often appears with “the blue lady” an unidentified female companion.
Clyde Fitch doesn’t haunt the Lyric theatre but did take his final bow there when his last show opened, three months after he died.
There are many stories of other ghosts that have never left the great white way and most theatre across the country will claim a ghost or two.

Webster University in St, Louis has a few ghosts. An angry former master electrician said to have died of a heart attack while programming in the light booth, a worker who fell from the grid during the construction of the building and a disgruntled grounds keeper were the most common night time visitors. 

The University of Iowa’s Mabie Theatre is occasionally said to be visited by its namesake, E. C. Mabie, the founder of the theatre program. He is said to cause havoc if his picture is removed from the front lobby, although during the flood of 2008 it was removed for safe keeping which Mabie allowed. Sometimes he can be seen during New Play Festival clicking his tongue in the audience and muttering, "They are still painting nudes." This is supposedly a reference to his comment to Tennessee Williams concerning Spring Storm (a play that wasn’t well received in its time but presents the same character archetypes we see time and again in Williams’ later work).

Have you ever encountered a ghost at a theatre you work in?