Photo Courtesy of Dreamstime. Article by Robert Firpo-Cappiello of Budget Travel.
We go to the theater for all kinds of thrills -- suspense, romance, and unexpected plot twists. But the theaters themselves, with their long histories of players, staff, and audience members coming and going, are often the stuff of legend. Maybe it's just because the buildings are old and creaky, maybe it's because we expect our emotions to get cranked up to 11 when we walk into a performance space, but these 10 theaters all come with at least one resident spirit.
Belasco Theatre in New York City
David Belasco was one of the most colorful of the early 20th-century Broadway producers, known both for being a lady's man and, in a move that was oddly flamboyant even for a theater producer, dressing in a monk's flowing robes. His ghost is said to haunt this theater-district gem. Originally named the Stuyvesant when it opened in 1907, the theater featured a duplex apartment for the producer. The Belasco has played host to some of the greatest Broadway productions, including Clifford Odets's play Awake and Sing in 1935, the nude review Oh, Calcutta! In 1971, and a revival of August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone in 2009 that was attended by President and Mrs. Obama. But theater pedigree has not kept the space from some unsettling sightings. David Belasco's robe-clad figure has been reported in the office space that now occupies his old apartment and in the theater's balcony. Some women have even reported feeling a mysterious ghostly pinch, which theater folk attribute to (who else?) the randy producer.
Palace Theatre in New York City
Many ghosts lay claim to the title "famous," but the Palace is home to the spirit of a superstar, Judy Garland, who blew audiences away in her 1960s comeback performances here with heart-stopping renditions of hits like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "The Man That Got Away" before descending back into the addictions that would take her life. The theater started as a vaudeville house in 1913 and "playing the Palace" was regarded as the pinnacle for touring singers, dancers, and comics. The stage has been graced by Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Ethel Merman, and other stars, and has played host to groundbreaking musicals, including Man of La Mancha, La Cage aux Folles, and Beauty and the Beast. But musicians playing in the orchestra pit may not feel as lucky as audience members: Legend has it that a special door was built in the pit for Garland's entrances and exits, and that the ghostly figure of the troubled star is sometimes seen in the doorway.
Palais Garnier (Paris Opera House) in Paris
Yup, the Phantom of the Opera is rooted in legend. In the early 20th century a mysterious apartment (and, by some accounts, a male corpse) were found in the opera theater, the Palais Garnier, inspiring the 1910 novel that in turn inspired a silent film and the smash Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The theater, which has been renovated several times since the 19th century, acquired a reputation for lavish productions and sets. But, curiously, although the well-known Phantom has brought the Paris Opera worldwide fame, there are no serious Phantom sightings on record. (A chandelier did fall in 1896, killing a construction worker and supplying the famous scene in the novel.) The theater's resident ghost is an older woman who committed suicide in the 19th century and is said to roam the streets outside the opera house searching for the man who jilted her.
Palace Theatre in Los Angeles
The oldest movie theater in L.A., the Palace has a "third balcony" that was once closed off from the rest of the theater for racial segregation and became legendary as the site of ghost sightings, with onstage performers seeing mysterious figures in the balcony when locked doors should have prevented anyone from appearing up there. The Palace, known until 1926 as the Orpheum, was once one of the premier theaters on the famed "Orpheum circuit" of vaudeville houses and saw its share of live performances before transforming itself into a silent-movie venue. Over the years, audience members and theater staff reported the figure of a woman dressed in white lace crossing the stage during performances, then disappearing into the wings, never to be seen again.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London
Standing on a spot that's been occupied by three previous theaters since 1663, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (known as "Drury Lane" to Londoners), should be one of the likeliest spots for a spook. Sure enough, one of London's most famous ghosts, the "man in gray," is regularly reported here, wearing riding boots, a powdered wig, and tricorn hat. The story goes that the apparition is the spirit of the fellow whose skeletal remains were found in a walled-up passageway here in the late 19th century. Kind of makes you wonder what else might be lurking in the walls, no? On a much more positive note, the Drury Lane is where Rodgers and Hammerstein's golden-age musicals had their London premieres, including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The King and I.
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