Saturday, December 15, 2012
The Phantom of the Orpheum Theater
The Orpheum is very well known for its ghosts, so even as I watched The Phantom of the Opera, I knew it was ironic that we were seeing it in a theater known for its phantoms. The Orpheum theater has had a turbulent past. It was built in 1890 on the corner of Main and Beale Streets and was called the most beautiful theater outside of New York. At the time, it housed mainly Vaudeville performances. Vaudeville at the Orpheum was successful for many years. In 1923, however, the Orpheum burst into flames during a strip-tease by a woman named Blossom Seeley. The Theater burned to the ground.
In 1928, the theater was rebuilt. The days of Vaudeville had past, but a new art came, defining a new era. The Orpheum became a movie theater. Time faded the Orpheum's beauty and by 1977 the city of Memphis began to make plans to demolish the once legendary theater. However, the city managed to raise $5 million to save the theater and it became one of the premier venues for off-Broadway theater and concerts in the Southeast.
The Orpheum doesn't hide from her ghosts like many historical locations do. It places its ghosts stories proudly on its playbills and on its webpage. All you have to do is google the Orpheum to be flooded with a plethora of stories about the phantom tenants of this old theater. The most famous ghost of the Orphem is Mary. I always looked for her when I went there, but I was never successful in finding her. Mary is a little girl in a white dress and pigtails sitting in seat C-5, Box 5. No one knows for sure how Mary came to haunt the Orpheum. She has been seen by numerous employees and visitors to the Orpheum, but history doesn't give us a clear answer on who she is. Many believe she was a little girl who was hit by a trolley car outside the theater, but there is no documentation to substantiate this claim. Mary isn't alone. Psychics visiting the Orpheum claim there are as many as eight other ghosts wandering this theater, but like Mary, the origins are unknown.