31 Days of Halloween with
The Kelly Society
Hi Spooky Gang!
John here today - your friendly ghost hunting machinery expert for The Kelly Society! Since we are really busy this week, I told Vivien I'd post a spooky and compelling article I found on Playbill.com about haunted Broadway theatres in New York City!
The article features nine haunted theatres, but because that would be too long a post I am sharing the first two theatres listed. Enjoy!
(Link to full article at bottom)
The Real-Life Ghost Stories Behind Broadway's 9 Haunted Theatres
Do you know which Broadway theatre’s hold the spirits of specters?
BY ROBERT VIAGAS
THE NEW AMSTERDAM THEATRE
There are several levels of haunting, ranging from the odd unaccountable noise to actual knocking ("poltergeist" means "knocking ghost"), to the mysterious opening of doors and cabinets, or the flickering of lights. Sometimes there is a strange cold spot in a room, a colored mist, a floating orb in a photograph, an inanimate object that moves without anyone touching it (like the furniture in the video above) or the echo of a disembodied voice. Sometimes you may see a wispy manifestation, a contorted face in a mirror or window. More rarely you see a full human figure, sometimes ectoplasmically white or sometimes in full natural color. Even more rarely, the figures speak. Or touch.
The actors and crew at the New Amsterdam Theatre have experienced nearly all the above at various times, and the alleged culprit is well known to them all: Olive Thomas, a onetime Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl. She is by far the most active ghost on Broadway, manifesting so frequently that Dana Amendola, Vice President of Operations for Disney Theatrical Group, has placed photographs of her at every entrance to the theatre so workers can greet her when they arrive for work each day (which is believed to keep her mischief to a minimum).
Olive's story is a sad one. A chorus girl in the 1915 Ziegfeld Follies on the New Amsterdam mainstage and Ziegfeld's subsequent Midnight Frolics at the more intimate New Amsterdam Roof on the top floor of the same building, Olive was whisked out to Hollywood, where she made a handful of silent films and married Jack Pickford, the ne'er-do-well brother of period superstar Mary Pickford. On a trip to Paris in 1920, Jack revealed that he had contracted syphilis and she likely had it as well. What happened next is up for conjecture. Official reports say Olive accidentally swallowed an overdose of Jack's medicine, mercury bichloride, which is poisonous in large quantities. But one has to wonder how she could have "accidentally" emptied the entire blue bottle of pills. Olive died two days later, and her body was brought back to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx for burial.
But then an odd thing started happening. Workers at the New Amsterdam began telling friends they had run into Olive backstage. Impossible, they were told. Olive is dead.
She appeared periodically throughout the 1920s, but then became quiet during the decades when 42nd Street went into decline and the theatre was underused. However, reports began picking up again when the Disney corporation bought the theatre in the mid 1990s and began an ambitious restoration. Construction workers began reporting that their off-limits work area was being invaded by a woman carrying a blue bottle. The reports continued after the theatre re-opened with King David and The Lion King in 1997, and have continued since.
Amendola became—not exactly a believer, but certainly less of a skeptic—when he was touring the old New Amsterdam Roof Theatre in the mid-2000s, when it was being converted to office space. As he passed below the stage he suddenly and distinctly heard the sound of tap-dancing on the boards above him. Climbing quickly to stage level, he found he was alone.
Technically her landlord, Amendola has become a keeper of the Olive Thomas flame. Among other things, he clocks reports of her appearances.
Early reports of Olive’s appearances described a young woman wearing a sash and carrying a bottle of pills who would sometimes speak. Strangely, people in various eras who didn’t know one another would imitate her voice in exactly the same way.
In the early Disney era, Amendola said, a night watchman at the theatre resigned on the spot after reportedly witnessing a woman cross the stage and disappear through a solid wall.
Olive often appears in the trap beneath what was once the stage of the New Amsterdam Roof Theatre, the space where Amendola heard the mysterious tap dancing. The space is now used for storage, but employees report seeing a woman there, or sometimes a disembodied part of feet climbing a staircase.
During previews of Aladdin, Amendola said a female replacement conductor, who had worked on Mary Poppins and knew about Olive, was getting ready in a dressing room. Reading from an email from the conductor, Amendola said she spoke out loud to Olive, "Well Olive, I'm back again, and I'm a little nervous. I just wanted to introduce myself again and, ask if you could please give me some good luck." The she mused aloud, "I wonder what the Follies girls would have thought of a female conductor?"
And just then, according to the conductor's email, four of the round dressing room bulbs flickered on and off for a few seconds and then stopped. The bulbs were all new, having just been replaced for the new show. "It was like a wink. She was signaling that she was fine with the idea."
Shortly after the opening of Aladdin in 2014, an audience member came up to one of the ushers during a performance and asked if she could have a booster seat for her child. "We don’t like to interrupt a show, so we waited until the intermission and came to her with a booster. But we found she already had one. When we asked where she had gotten it, she said a ‘lady at the back of the theatre’ had gestured to where they were. Now, we don’t have a woman at the back of the house who does that in the middle of a show. We checked and none of the staff had done it. So you can take that how you like, but it was kind of freaky."
Amendola said that if there really are such things as ghosts, and if the New Amsterdam is indeed haunted by one, he's happy about it. "We embrace it. She's never violent, always playful. She kind of embodies what we're all about here at Disney. We're in the business of happiness, and to have someone from so long ago acknowledging that she's pleased makes us feel like we're doing the right things."
However, Amendola said Olive is unpredictable and doesn't "perform" on cue. "She doesn't appear on Halloween, for instance. When people try to find her, they can't. She tends to appear just at the moment we forget about her—when we're busy putting in a new show or putting a new office in. When there are changes happening."
Nearly a century after her death, Olive Thomas is one of the best-known of all the Ziegfeld Girls, the subject of films, books, and at least a half dozen websites. And that has created a problem for the staff at the Ziegfeld. Amendola said they get asked about Olive all the time, which is not a problem. But many of Olive’s craziest fans have tried concealing themselves in corners of the theatre, hoping to stay after it is closed so they might catch a glimpse of the glamorous ghost. Amendola said his staff now does a special sweep of the theatre each night to catch stowaways and escort them out.
THE BELASCO THEATRE
Another of Broadway's named ghosts makes his home at the Belasco Theatre, which makes perfect sense, as it is believed to be the spirit of onetime owner, Broadway impresario David Belasco, once known as the "Bishop of Broadway" for his oddball habit of wearing a priestly cassock.
Belasco was part of the great 19th-century tradition of theatre owners/producers/playwrights. He built the current theatre that bears his name in 1907, but only after decades as a successful author of dozens of passionate melodramas, two of which achieved immortality as source material for Giacomo Puccini's operas Madama Butterfly and La Fanciulla del West. Belasco loved theatre so much, he spent nearly every waking hour at the theatre, writing, managing or directing his plays. He also spent every sleeping hour there, since he made his home in an apartment above the theatre on West 44th Street. He spent so much of his life in that building, it's small wonder that he seems to be spending his death there, too.
He's one of the most alive-looking theatre ghosts. No wispy ectoplasm for him. He appears much as he did in life: tall, with tousled hair and wearing the cassock and clerical collar that was his lifelong affectation. He was known, during his life, as "The Bishop of Broadway." Those who have glimpsed him but don't know this story nevertheless have nicknamed his ghost as "The Monk"—though, as Playbill historian Louis Botto has pointed out, there was nothing monklike about his lifestyle. Shortly after his death in 1931, he began to show himself. Actors stepping out on the stage unawares would suddenly notice a lone, dark figure sitting in the balcony, watching them intently. This ghost had a voice, too. He would walk right up to actors and shake their hands, telling them that they had done a fine job at a performance. More than one actor filed complaints with the house manager that an old man dressed up like a priest has pinched their bottoms. The uninitiated were often horrified. Veteran actors looked forward to these meetings, seeing them as a good omen.
And Belasco isn't alone. A spirit known as the Blue Lady, who appears as an icy-cold blue mist, has been seen on the theatre stairways and dressing rooms. There are reports of the sound of raucous parties being held in the Belasco apartment, complete with the sound of feet dancing the 1920s-era music. When workers got upstairs to see who has broken in, they found the apartment empty, its dust undisturbed.
Melissa Errico, who played Mina in Dracula the Musical, reported that Belasco does indeed haunt the theatre. "My dresser Cathy saw him walk in to a mirror the other day. She thinks he lives in the mirror in the wall outside my dressing room. One night I forgot my coat and I had turned out the lights in my room. I turned back to get my coat in the dark and someone (David?) turned the small pretty table light on for me to see my way. It was spooky! As I opened the door to leave, as I was walking out, 'someone' closed the door behind me. I didn't touch it but watched it move."
Getting into the spirit of their supernatural musical, the cast of Dracula celebrated Belasco's 150th birthday that year with a cake, and sang happy birthday to him.
During the run of Passing Strange in 2008, Daniel Breaker told Playbill in an interview that one evening he was putting on his makeup in his dressing room mirror when he saw an old man with white hair sitting behind him, silently watching him. When Breaker turned around to demand what he was doing there, the man, who resembled nobody working on the show, was gone. Breaker reported the incident to the house manager, and was told, "You just saw David Belasco."
Dominic Brewer, who appeared in Twelfth Night and Richard III, wrote "We've not spotted Mr. Belasco or any of the theatre's reported spooks to date, but with the white make-up several of the cast wear for Twelfth Night, along with the eerie gliding of the female characters, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd spotted a ghost backstage. However, we have had a strange happening onstage: one evening the candles on one of our six hanging candelabras completely burnt down, probably twice as quickly as all the others, without any perceptible draft or obvious external influence. An unsolved mystery."
Belasco house manager Stephanie Wallis said that Belasco has been comparatively quiet in the years since the 2010 renovation. To tease him out, the creators of Hedwig and the Angry Inch actually wrote Belasco into the script. Each night Neil Patrick Harris and his successors asked if anyone in Box B had seen the ghost, but there were no takers. Nevertheless, Wallis said, "I can tell you that the front door of my office suspiciously locks itself from time to time—and I know it isn't me doing it."
Mom, we love new Halloween toys,
but we love the packing paper even more!
Audrey & her sister Vivien
Now that you're all ready to ghost hunt a theatre
Have a Happy and Creepy Halloween!