A Haunted Movie House
If you believe that ghosts are the departed souls of once living people who have survived death and now live in another dimension connected with our own, then you are not alone. Our community member writes this, in the two years that I worked at the Palace Movie Theater, I found ghosts, unexplained happenings and I died at least once. I am a believer, my story is below and this is something you all should know.
“A Haunted Movie House” is courtesy of Wade Grayson.:
Wade writes, for my first two years, after high school graduation in 1978, I worked at a very old, downtown, movie theater (in a large southern city) while I went to junior college to improve my grades. The theater was called the Palace. Before I begin working there, I’d heard stories, from my friends, that the Palace was haunted. The stories that I heard were about specters watching movies with the audience. The tales were wild enough to initially keep me away; because, where I come from, we believe in ghosts. However, Ken, one of the owners, made it all seem so exciting. So, I had to see for myself what was going on.
Mostly, I worked the concession stand or served as an usher. Sometimes, I sold tickets from the booth out front. One afternoon, I was in the booth selling tickets when two motherly type women and a small girl came up to the counter. One of the women ordered two tickets and paid. Then they both turned away to enter the lobby. Quickly, I told them that the little girl needed a ticket also. They turned their head and looked back at me puzzled. Looking around they asked, “What little girl?” I turned my head to look at the little girl and I started to point to where she was standing but the word “her” froze in my mouth because the little girl was gone. Recovering, I said, “sorry, never mind.” I’m sure that they thought that it was a bad joke gone wrong.
I told my coworkers about the disappearing little girl. They ask me to describe her. So, I told them that she was about eight years old. She was a slim black girl with pigtails. She was wearing an off-white sundress that hung to her knees. Their eyes widen. I learned that her name is Peg. She is one of the ghosts that haunt the theater. They told me that if I stayed on the job long enough then I would encounter her many times and I did. Peg liked to play in the, closed off, balcony space. From there she would drop popcorn on people sitting in the audience below. She would also take things, the staff would later find in the balcony (at the same seat every time). It’s said that she accidentally fell from the balcony in the 1940s to the main floor below when she learned, too far, over the rail attempting to keep something from dropping. That is the polite story of her death. I learned the true story from Ken.
Until the mid-1960s, the balcony was the only place black people could sit while watching movies in the theater. The white teenage ushers in those days like to bully the black movie patrons because they couldn’t retaliate or fight back. The teenage ushers ruled the balcony like a personal kingdom. Peg was with a small group of girlfriends that made the mistake of talking back to an usher. Filled with rage, the usher grabbed the smallest girl in the group, Peg, and threw her over the edge of the balcony. When she landed, she struck her head on the floor. She died in the theater from her injuries. The police refused to arrest the usher but he was fired. Her death was recorded officially as an accident. Since then, Peg has haunted the theater. She plays harmless tricks on the staff and audience. They said she is very curious because “Sometimes she follows you home.” I and my mother can assure you that, she does follow you home! So can the usher who threw her over the balcony. She haunted him until he went insane and then committed suicide.
When I was there, another odd thing happens on Sunday night. A very old lady, (who was ninety-something years old), named Ms. Helen, would purchase two tickets. That was strange because she always came to the theater alone. However, while sitting in the audience, she behaved as though she had an invisible friend with her. I was told, by one of the guys, that she had been coming to the theater on Sunday night for as long as anyone could remember. He said that Ms. Helen told him that she was in the audience when the Palace had its grand opening in 1903. It was a vaudeville theater and she came with her parents to see a magic performance by Harry Houdini. She said the Palace became a silent movie theater in 1915. She watched the movie “Birth of a Nation” here. In 1930 it became a sound movie theater. She watched Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of OZ there. All her life she visited the theater, first as a child, then as a teen, a young woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and now as a retired widowed great-grandmother. Each week she took the same seats. They held a lot of memories.
When I was an usher, I sometimes observed her leaning her head, over to one side, as though it were resting on the shoulder of an unseen person. She held her hand as though it was entwined with another person’s hand. It was not unusual to see her whispering into the ear of her invisible companion. The guy who told me Ms. Helen’s history also explained that Ms. Helen believed that she had a standing date with her deceased husband every Sunday night. They would sit and cuddle the same way they had done together for over sixty years before he died in that theater, in the seat next to her (of a heart attack). Several times when the light reflected off the movie screen fell in a certain way in the darkness, I could see the outline of an old man sitting beside her with his arm around her shoulders while her head rested lovingly on his shoulder. I am not alone. Other people had also seen them together.
There came a time when we had not seen Ms. Helen for a while. Then one Sunday night, I was walking the aisles to get a count of the number of people in the theater. The light from the screen temporarily brightens the darkness. It was then that I notice the two shadowy figures sitting in Ms. Helen’s regular seats. It was the outline of Ms. Helen and her husband. Her head was resting gently on his shoulder and she was whispering something into his ear. From then on, they were continually seen together, on Sunday nights, enjoying the film and each other’s company. They paid no attention to anyone around them.
The theater was open twenty-four hours seven days per week. When it was very cold or very hot we got our largest audiences. For three dollars, the price of one ticket, a person could spend five-hours warm and dry or cool and dry. The management didn’t mind if the audience slept, ate food from outside or drank liquor. So, we got pushers, drug addicts, prostitutes, and their customers in the theater. All kinds of illicit activity occurred in the restrooms and in the dark corners of the theater.
On occasions, someone (the staff or movie patrons) would discover the victim of a drug overdose in a restroom or in the audience. In the men’s room, the end toilet stall was haunted by the ghost of a man who had overdosed on heroin a few years before I started working there. Days after he was found dead, men would come up to the movie usher, to report a man partially laying in that stall, passed out on the floor, with a needle still in his arm. When the usher would investigate, they always found that the stall was locked from the inside and unoccupied.
I hated going into the men’s room alone. When it was my turn to clean the men’s room, I would hear noises like that stall was occupied. I would look in the gap between the door and the frame and see the form of a man on the toilet. After some time, I would knock on the door and announce that I needed to clean the stall and ask how much longer he would be. No one would answer. I would peep through the gap again and the stall would be empty but the door was locked from the inside. That was one of the reasons that we all thought that it was haunted. That! And all the drug addicts, who were found dead in the theater, and there were many, were found in that stall. If a person was found in another stall, they would live. Only people found in that stall died. I think the ghost did something to them. Still, what happened remains unexplained.
In the auditorium, with just the right light coming off of the screen, you could see the outline of specters sitting and watching the movie or touching the living movie patrons. Jerry, one of the owners, claimed to have psychic abilities. He explained that, to the ghost, the Place was a feeding ground (a free restaurant). He said that most of the ghost in the theater didn’t die there. They linger there because of the living. They drain energy from the living when they are watching films or when we are working. He said earthbound ghost needed the energy of the living to keep from fading from existence. Most people, he said, are unaware that energy is being stolen from them. Suddenly, when we feel light-headed, disoriented or nauseated and we are a healthy person, it is likely happening because our energy is being drained by a ghost. He said ghosts can be very quiet, they can silently move from person to person, consuming energy like a vampire. He thought that many of the people who were classified as having died from drugs actually had their life force drain because they were incapacitated and easy prey for the ghosts.
An unexplained paranormal incident that happens to me several times is seeing myself doing the task I was about to do or arriving to start the task I had just finished. Here is an example. I was inside the projection room working and I was standing in the projection room doorway (at the same time) watching me work in the projection room. I was existing in two places at once. I could see myself watching myself from both locations. This lasted a few seconds. Then I was bumped from behind by the projectionist and I found myself standing in the doorway only. Whatever it was in the projection room had disappeared. The remaining time that I worked there, I would frequently see myself doing the task that I was about to do or coming to start the task I had just finished. I would always disappear once I realized I could see myself from both bodies at the same time. To my knowledge, no one else at the theater experienced this weird time slip. Can a living person be a ghost?
That was the not the only time something paranormal happens to me while I was there. It was summer and I was swimming in our backyard pool one night after work. I was home alone. My mother was at a neighbor’s house and my dad was on a business trip. I forget where my sister was. At that time, I thought I was highly skilled at doing tricks using the diving board. On one of the tricks, I slip and manage to hit the back of my head on the end of the diving board. That knocked me out. The next thing I remember is throwing up water and gasping for air. My neighbor, who was a nurse, gave me artificial respiration (CPR). She, her husband and my mother had located me on the bottom of the pool and pull me out. When she begin artificial respiration, I had no pulse and I was not breathing. They were not sure how long I had been in the water. The nurse later confided to me that she had told her husband that I was dead and not coming back.
Here is how they found me. My mother was at their house. They were all sitting in the backyard around the picnic table talking. A little black girl came running up to the table and interrupted their conversation. They thought it was very strange to see a black child there. We lived in a segregated town and there were no black families in our neighborhood. The little girl excitedly told my mother that I had hit my head on the diving board and was in our pool drowning. My mother knew something was wrong and came home running with our neighbors (a school nurse and her husband) back to our house. Just as the little girl had said, they found me at the bottom of the pool.
I learned about all this the next day in the hospital. I had the worst chlorine headache in my lifetime. I told them that nobody was with me in the backyard. I didn’t know where that girl had come from. I asked my mother to describe the little girl. She described Peg. I told them what I knew about Peg as a ghost. My mother said that she knew that there was something special about that child. Days later, when I returned to work, I place some flowers and toys for Peg on her favorite chair in the balcony and thanked her in my thoughts for saving my life. I never saw Peg again but I hope she enjoyed the flowers and the toys. If she hadn’t followed me home that night. We would both be ghosts now.
A few weeks later, I quit working at the Palace because I graduated from junior college and was moving to California to study at UCLA. The Palace was torn down five years later and replaced with an office building. I like to think that Peg and all the other specters have moved on to heaven but I suspect that Peg is now enjoying visiting the homes of all the people who work in that building one at a time.
The show music is:
White River by Aakash Gandhi courtesy of YouTube Free Music
There's Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
Mesmerize by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)