Tag Archives: good ghost

Haunted Theaters and Ghost Lights

My friend shared this story with me and another female friend one night in the kitchen after work. I asked this friend about her haunted house and she later shared that her classmates always left a ‘ghost light’ in the school theater. It was bad luck not to leave a ghost light. This friend also said that she believed her theater may have housed some recent ghosts.

This speaker went to an arts school in Tampa, Florida. She took classes in the drama department and was in school theater productions. Here is her story.

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“Theaters are traditionally haunted all the time… they’re just traditionally haunted,” the speaker said. “After you’re done striking a set or cleaning up or after you’re done rehearsing. You’re always supposed to leave a ghost light, or the ghost, or else that was bad luck.” I asked whether the light was meant to guide the ghosts, but she said that it existed to appease them/ She said ghosts do not like the dark, and that this was ironic.

One day after practice “a student forgot to put the ghost light on, you know, it’s not anything, not a very big deal. It’s literally like a stick and a light ball. And you roll it out onto theaters, like, but we just forgot about it. And then the next day, like a spotlight fell, and that was really bad.”

The speaker said that there were some specific ghosts she thought haunted the theater. “There were a couple of tragedies that did happen at our theater. And there was actually some of them were actually pretty recent. So I’d like to think there were good spirits rather than bad spirits,” she said. The drama director’s brother had passed away that year, and the speaker said that she would like to think that he came to see the productions at the theater. The speaker also added that a young actress had died of a disease in the past, and that there was a plaque in front of the theater honoring her memory. The speaker said that she would like to think that the actress’ ghost visited the theater as well.

When I asked what this meant to the speaker, she said that the young actress had “put so much of her craft into theater.” I suspect that knowing that deceased guests might visit the theater is comforting to the speaker, and that these two particular ghosts help future productions.

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The speaker has shared other ghost stories and believes that these stories are real, so it makes sense that she would believe these ghosts could be real as well. She began telling this story discussing ghost lights and bad luck, but the story ended on a note of good luck. I was taught to act as if a god was always watching, and I know many people feel comforted to know that someone else is guiding them during stressful parts of their life. It might be comforting to know that ghosts are watching over stage productions as well, since the ‘good’ ghosts the speaker mentioned had theater or theater-adjacent backgrounds.

I did not know that movie theaters and stages are supposed to be haunted or that actors would leave a ghost light. My school had a small theater that we used for small class meetings when the drama department was not at practice. I can’t remember a specific light that was left on the stage, but the room was never completely dark. This was likely for security reasons.

The haunted theater trope may be due to the fact that theaters serve as a sort of liminal space when not in use. Theaters are such specific buildings, and sticking around after the show is not an expected reaction. Only janitors and stage crew might remain after a show is over.

Additionally, members who know about the ghost light are ‘real’ members of the theater community. They understand the traditions of other actors and stage crew, and they are part of an in-group.

This story also draws upon similar ideas as the article ‘Ghostly Possession of Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore’ by Ulo Valk. Actors and other community members who believe in ghosts come to terms with tragedy by carrying out traditions in the hope that loved ones continue to exist in the ‘haunted theater.’ The ghost does not necessarily need to be buried near the theater, rather the theater belongs to them because their devotion to acting tied these ghosts to this particular spot.

For another ghost legend by the same speaker, see ” Haunted House in Indiana- The Funny Man and the Woman with the Red Eyes: Sleep Paralysis and Two Traveling Ghosts” in the USC digital Folklore Archive.

Haunted House in Indiana- The Funny Man and the Woman with the Red Eyes: Sleep Paralysis and Two Traveling Ghosts, Cured by a Witchdoctor

I first heard this story when I asked the speaker if she had ever seen a ghost, but when she began telling her story I remembered that I had heard parts of this tale before. The speaker told her story in a very matter-of-fact tone and spoke first about her experiences with friendly and unfriendly ghosts. For another example of a ghost legend by this same speaker, search “Haunted Theaters and Ghost Lights” in the USC folklore archive.

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When the speaker and her twin brother were three years old, they shared a room in Gary, Indiana in a house completely made of brick. “My mom came in [to the children’s bedroom], she had just put us to bed. And then she heard me and my brother laughing. And so she like came back into the room and she’s like, What’s going on here? She’s like, what’s happening? And we’re like, ‘The man, the man. He’s making a funny face.’ And there was nobody there.”

“Was I scared? No, because he was one of the friendly ones of the house,” the speaker said. “He was kind of just there for jokes and like to make children laugh, because apparently, um, his grandchildren died in the house. And he like, died out of grief. And he loved kids. So he would just play with my brother and I [sic] occasionally.”

The speaker said that there were also unfriendly ghosts, and that she had recently gotten rid of one of these malicious specters. ” “They moved with us to Florida. And at first, I didn’t notice because they didn’t approach me. At first, they would just stay in the corner. And I didn’t realize it would always be a really scary woman with two red eyes. And I didn’t know what she was. I thought she was just like, a spirit… But no, she turned out to be worse than I thought.”

The speaker said that she began to experience sleep paralysis and that “I would be screaming, and she’d be attacking me. And I couldn’t move. And I’d wake up with bruises on my arms and my legs because she was sitting on top of me.” She slept with her mother at age 17 because of these nightly attacks. When she returned to her bedroom, she said, ” “I was screaming to save my mom and my brother. But they couldn’t hear me. And then just the woman was just taking my family away from me. And I didn’t like I couldn’t do anything. I was just sitting there. And then again, my mom woke me up screaming, crying in real life. “

The speaker’s Puerto Rican grandfather, Julio, was a witch doctor. “We had to pin a square piece of black cloth underneath my pillow. I don’t know what it was to catch her something like that.” Soon after that she moved to Southern California to attend school, and she hasn’t seen either ghost since.

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This story was told at night in the kitchen, and three college-age females were present. The speaker said that she was relieved to be rid of the ghosts, and that after her parents’ divorce, she rarely visited the Gary House. She also said that the house was torn apart after the divorce, and that her father would start projects that he wouldn’t complete (for example, fixing the bathroom tub). I think these ghosts may have something to do with the divorce, but I believe that this experience was very frightening for the speaker.

This speaker later scoffed at my mentioning that a friend received therapy when recovering from his parent’s divorce. Her response suggested that children do not need therapy for this life change.

For another example of ghosts stories indicating changes in property ownership or status quo, see the scholarly article “Ghostly Possession of Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore” by Ulo Valk (2006).

The concept of traveling ghosts is certainly frightening, and this story was welcome after a long day’s work.