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Grand Opera House - Oshkosh, Wisconsin

 

Synopsis     

The Grand Opera House opened its doors in August 1883. The interior of the theater contained lavish and modern Victorian design. Some said the unique acoustic quality of the hall rivaled that of the huge Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the 1950’s the theater was remodeled and opened as a motion picture theater. In the 1980’s a restoration on the property was begun. In addition, the adjoining property at 106 High Avenue was purchased and connected to the theater. This is now where the main entrance to the theater is located. A sympathetic restoration of the location was done in an effort to keep the aesthetic as close to the original as possible. The newly renovated theater opened on September 27, 1986. 

 

Paranormal Activity Reported

Activity occurring in the theater includes:

        Members of a local theater group called The Drama Lab encountered slamming doors and the sound of footsteps while performing at the theater in the 1980’s.

        One actor from this group rushed into a dressing room one night and found himself face to face with a man wearing old fashioned clothing. The man was holding a playbill in his hand from a show performed in 1895.

        Another time, a man was working in the balcony area alone at night when he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. When no one appeared, he looked around the corner and saw that the staircase was empty. This is a common report. Footsteps are often heard coming up these stairs, yet there is no one there.

        Some claim that a current spirit at the theater is that of a man named Percy Keene. Mr. Keene was a stage manager of the theater from 1895 until his death in 1967.

        In 1977, a film crew stated that they saw a man standing in the balcony looking down at them with a friendly smile on his face. The apparition’s appearance matched that of Percy Keene from his haircut to his small round glasses.

        Bob Jacobs a Hollywood producer and professor of radio, television and film at UW Oshkosh, made a fictional movie about a haunted movie theater and used the Grand Opera House as the location. During the shoot, a student was suspended above the stage for over an hour to film a scene. When this student was lowered back down the rope supporting him snapped as soon as his feet touched the stage. Mr. Jacobs watched the rope snap with nothing pulling at it. He believes the student was supported by other means, and when lowered, the rope was allowed to give way.

 An assistant producer claimed to see an apparition in an underground passage and stated that an unseen hand grabbed her ankle.

        Two set workers saw a man standing in the orchestra pit who then disappeared by going through a small door. When the man didn’t return, they went to investigate and found the adjacent room empty.

        It was after a private showing of the finished movie that Mr. Jacobs saw a man standing in the balcony smiling down at him. A short time later, a cinematographer from California was driving by the theater at night and saw the same face that Mr. Jacobs described looking out of a window at him. He assumed the man was a night watchman. He later found out that the theater did not employ a night watchman.

        Currently, staff and visitors report they have experienced lights turning on and off, weird temperature drops and sounds that cannot be explained.

        In 1996, a glowing image that moved across the stage was recorded by a group investigating the theater.

        A lighting director saw a phantom dog on the stage. He asked the actors on stage to remove the dog, but there was no dog on set. Many other actors have also experienced an encounter with a phantom dog.

        The Executive Director would often go to the theater and sit in the darkness to wind down and clear his mind. As he was leaving on one occasion he had an overwhelming urge to look back at the stage. Onstage, he noticed a vaporous orange mist hovering about.

        Many actors state that while rehearsing, they will see ghosts sitting in the seats as though they are watching the play.  Staff have stated when they go to check on these claims, they will find the seats have been pushed down where the ghosts were to have been sitting

     For the most part the staff is not uncomfortable with the activity, but curious to see if the WPRS can find any concrete evidence to back up the claims.

 

     Investigation

    The WPRS investigated on Friday, September 9th, 2016 from approximately 9:00pm to 3:00am. Investigators Blaschka, Beaudry, Duginski, Shaw, Sczygelski, von Gnechten, Williams and Coscio were present. The group was joined by guest investigator Eaton. Equipment used during the investigation included a stationary video camera connected to a monitor, Trifield EMF meter, REM pod, thermal probe, digital voice recorders, infrared camera and full spectrum camera.    

     The group started the investigation by taking a guided tour of the entire property led by a theater employee. She provided information regarding claims in various         locations throughout the building. The group was granted access to the main floor, lower level and balcony. Command central was set up in the main lobby, where the theater employee also remained during the duration of the investigation. 

     Temperature and EMF readings were taken though out the theater prior to conducting our EVP sessions. The main floor had temperature readings between 75 to 82 degrees and EMF readings between 0.00 to 0.05 milligauss.

     In the lower level area by the dressing rooms and storage, temperature readings were between 72 to 77 degrees and EMF readings were between 0.00 to 3.0 milligauss. There were areas in the hallways that had higher readings, but electrical wiring was determined to be the cause.

     Balcony temperature readings were between 75 to 82 degrees and EMF readings were 0.00 milligauss throughout.   The video camera was placed in the lobby corridor pointing toward the entrance to the theater.  Upon review after the investigation, nothing paranormal was recorded.

     Investigators Sczygelski, Shaw and Williams conducted an EVP session in the lower level. A session was conducted in both dressing rooms, storage area under the stage and the volunteer break area. Investigator Blaschka saw what appeared to be the apparition of a person sitting in one of the balcony theater seats during this time.

     Investigators Shaw, Sczygelski and Eaton conducted an EVP session at the base of the spiral staircase.

     Another session was conducted in the theater proper with all investigators spread throughout the theater. During this time, there was a light anomaly appearing intermittently on the stage. It was observed by the investigators, but unfortunately not caught on film. Also, the REM pod was left on the overhead connecting walkway above the lobby during this time. The REM pod was set off several times during the EVP session. 

     An EVP session was conducted in the lobby area outside the main entrance to the theater with all investigators. A voice recorder was left on the overhead connecting walkway along with the REM pod.

     After reviewing all EVP recordings from the theater, no evidence was captured during these sessions.

 

     Conclusion

    Taking into consideration the varied reports of employees and personal experiences of the investigators present, it seems possible that the theater may have paranormal activity present. It is important to note that none of the paranormal activity reported or captured seems malicious or demonic in nature. More time would be needed at the site to come to a more definitive conclusion. We plan to return again in 2017.

 

*Any use or reproduction of this documentation is prohibited without the sole permission of Ann Sczygelski and the WPRS.