Peoria Players Theater – 08/21/09 PDF Print E-mail

Joint Investigation – RIP & MAGH

Report by Sylvia Shults


            Gail, Allie and I got to the theater at 7:30. There had been a lecture scheduled for that evening, sponsored by MAGH (Mid-America Ghost Hunters). After the lecture, the plan had been to choose five people from the audience to participate in an overnight investigation of the theater. We came crossing our fingers to be chosen.

            Due to inclement weather messing up the speaker’s travel plans, the lecture was cancelled. We were disappointed, until Anne Prichard (the head of MAGH) invited us to stay for an informal investigation. We jumped at the chance.

            There were fifteen or so people there, enough so that we really needed to split up into groups for the evening. The three of us decided to stick close to Anne, who is a seasoned investigator. Everyone went down to the costume room in the basement, and from there we split up into our separate groups.

            Now, here’s a little background on the ghost that haunts this theater. His name is Norman. In life, he was a director at the theater, and seems to have loved the place so much that when he died in 1960 (at the young age of 34), he never left. Norman is a gentle ghost, a trickster, and I enjoy every moment I spend with him. (You can read more about Norman in the story “Ghosts Are People Too”, in the collection Ghosts of the Illinois River.)

            The four of us – Anne, Gail, Allie and I – decided to do our first EVP (electronic voice phenomena) session in the orchestra pit underneath the stage. Now, I’ve visited the theater several times, and I’m still learning nifty things about it. Let me tell you, the orchestra pit is one of the most seriously cool places I’ve ever been. At the front of the stage, there is a set of steps that leads up to the stage from the theater floor. To get to the pit, you crawl underneath the steps and you literally drop down into a pit. You make your way through the crowded space, elbowing past music stands and crawling over old theater seats, until you find an open spot to stand in. I stayed sitting on the ledge under the stairs, my feet resting on the arm of a discarded theater chair.

            Anne turned on her digital voice recorder, and we all turned our flashlights off. The theater lights were off too, so we sat in absolute pitch blackness, except for the tiny red light of the recorder. Quietly, we asked Norman questions: did he enjoy watching the plays that were performed in the theater? Did he like it when children acted in the plays? And the biggest question of all: would he give us some sign of his presence?

            I sat, perfectly comfortable in the total blackness, knowing that Norman was there. I desperately wish I was as sensitive as Gail is, because she assured me later that yes, Norman was down in the orchestra pit with us. Allie actually felt something brush against her elbow. (Like a good investigator, Allie held still, and the next time the flashlights were on, she checked to make sure she hadn’t bumped into a music stand or anything. She hadn’t.) Anne told us that the last time she’d been there, Norman had shut the door leading from the orchestra pit to the costume room, which is not easy to do, and had knocked a dress off of a hanger. Nothing like that happened when we were there, and as it turns out, there was a reason for that. Gail told us later that Norman was actually keeping tabs on all four of the groups at once. Since he was spreading himself so thin, he couldn’t muster up enough energy to move anything or make any noise that we could hear.

            We took a break, and several people left, as it was getting late – after 9 pm. Many of us stayed to do a second round of EVP investigation. We were down to three groups now. One group went down to the costume room, and one group sat in the middle of the stage. Anne announced that she was going to go up to the workshop at the back corner of the building, behind the stage.

            “Ohhh, no,” I groaned. “I really, really don’t want to go up there. We’re going lights-out for this, aren’t we?”

            “Of course,” Anne said as we walked to the back of the theater.

            “Yeah, I knew it,” I sighed. But since the three of us had agreed that we were going to stay with Anne for the second half too, I knew I had to suck it up, put on my big-girl panties, and go and face my fears.

            You might ask why, if I was so enchanted with the utter blackness of the orchestra pit, why was I so nail-bitingly nervous about going up to the workshop? I’ll tell you why.

            See, Norman’s not alone in the theater. There is another spirit that exists there, a darker entity, one that likes to play mean-spirited tricks on unsuspecting humans just because it thinks it’s funny. Whoever or whatever this is, it’s not pleasant, and sometimes it can turn downright vicious. And up in that workshop is where it seems to hang out the most. So yeah, if there was one place in that theater I did not want to be, it was up in that workshop.

I explained this to the others as we climbed the raw wooden stairs up to the workshop, ducking to avoid braining ourselves on the low metal bar at the top of the stairs. The four of us – Anne, Gail, Allie and I – settled into rickety chairs in the tiny, cramped, cluttered space. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and clicked off my flashlight.

            My eyes sprang open in the darkness. I felt twitchy-uncomfortable, like I wanted to jump right out of my skin. “I don’t like this,” Gail muttered. “I don’t like this at all.” Later, she told me that her feelings of aversion were so strong, she came very close to just getting up and bolting down the stairs.

            The darkness was relieved only by low lights at the very back of the building, high up on the back wall. Gail peered over to the closest faint light. “Somebody take a picture of that. Do it now,” she said in a low, urgent voice. Anne lifted her digital camera and snapped off a few shots.

            “Did I get it? What was it?” she asked as she lowered the camera. A look through the screen shots showed nothing.

            “I don’t know what it was,” Gail confessed. “But whatever it was, it didn’t like the light of the flash.”

We sat in uncomfortable silence for a while longer. Anne gamely turned on the recorder, and we asked a few hesitant questions. I sat, tense in every muscle, terrified at the thought of what might be hovering around us in the black unknown. But gradually, the skin-crawling unpleasantness started to fade. All at once, I realized that I was no longer rigid with terror. It seemed as though my mind was adjusting to the darkness, just as my eyes were. I found that I could breathe more deeply and easily, and the cold hand of fear clenched around my stomach loosened. I still wasn’t completely at peace, the way I had been down in the orchestra pit, but I was going to make it.

“I’m starting to feel better,” I mentioned. Across from me, Gail murmured “Mm-hmm,” then fell silent. I could still catch some unknown, unidentifiable movement out of the corner of my eye, off to my right, at the front of the stage. But whenever I turned to look, there was nothing there. I was still a little nervous, but whatever-it-was was way up at the front of the stage. I knew it wasn’t coming any closer than that, so I relaxed a bit.

            Later, on the way home, Gail filled me in on what had really happened up there.

            “When you said you were feeling better, that was when Norman came in and drove the other entity away.” This is where Gail’s sensitivity really shows itself.

“It was like Norman came and ordered the bad spirit to leave us alone, and he set up – like a circle of protection around us. The other spirit was still there, but it couldn’t get to us – it was off to the far right.” Exactly where I had sensed irritable, impotent movement.

“Didn’t you feel it?” she continued. “When Norman showed up, that’s when you started to calm down. Norman was there with us, and that circle of protection – well, it was centered on you. Norman likes you, Sylvia. That’s why he forced the other entity to leave.”

And here I thought nothing much had happened! I’m really looking forward to going on more investigations, particularly if Gail is going to be joining in. Having someone that sensitive along is bound to be helpful. And all of us enjoyed working with Anne and the other members of MAGH. They treated us with professional courtesy, and made our first investigation a night to remember.