We’re all familiar with what draws a “discarnate” entity-- as they liked to say in the old days of séances and table-rapping – to a given locale. Discarnates inhabit elderly houses, preferably those where a murder took place, the bloodier and more dramatic the better.
Ghosts also favor old New England inns. In fact, as a researcher of the paranormal, I’d go so far as to say there is possibly NO quaint inn anywhere in this lovely state of ours that is NOT insanely haunted. (Innkeepers have learned to use this as a plus: “Seaside inn with a fireplace and the ghost of a lovable old 18th century pirate in every room”.)
But haunted movie theaters? Apart from the curious incident of the Lady in Black at the Oak Bluffs (and we’ll get to that momentarily), I’ve never heard of a spectral figure who returns to this world to watch a movie, not even the 17th Xmen.
And yet . . . there’s something spooky about the look of this particular theater at One Circuit Avenue. Forget about spooky; make that lugubrious. The warehouse-size theater has moldered at that spot forever, probably since the time the first silent movies scared people with ocean waves crashing right at them from the screen. The Island hasn’t got the gew-gaws – the chandeliers, statues, and gilded columns -- of elaborate old movie palaces such as the Egyptian in Hollywood or the Loew’s Jersey in NJ, but it’s of a similar vintage and it looks, if not aesthetically pleasing, at least authentically old, very old.
Also, it sits dark for ten months out of the year which, in psychic research circles, means it has the potential to develop what we call, with a shudder, a negative vortex. No human warmth, love, and laughter is available to chase away the bad ghoulies. Without human laughter and light-heartedness, guardian spirits disperse, and darker forces have the opportunity to take over.
Is this beginning to sound like a Stephen King novel? Good.
It was back in 2005 when I first heard about the phantom of our local theater. As a writer of ghost stories, I’m accustomed to people seeking me out to discuss their own brushes with the supernatural. I also owned a bookstore halfway up Circuit Avenue, so I was easy enough to find.
A couple in their late twenties introduced themselves – Kim and Teddy, and told me of their movie-going experience of the night before, at The Island.
Kim, short, with a blond pageboy of hair said, “We were seated up in the front, so when the movie ended, we waited for the aisles to clear.”
Teddy, of medium height, with a bit of heft in his upper body, like a football player, said, “When we got up and turned around, we saw only this one lady, way in the back.”
Kim said, “She stood so still, she looked like a mannequin. She wore a long black dress. Her face was pale. Her hair was dark and set in a kind of fancy style. It was really freaky because you could tell she was from another time.”
The couple approached the lobby. Kim turned to steal another peek at the odd lady who now stood only several feet away.
“She looked back at me. There was something so rejecting about her stare. I got a chill.”
Seconds later, Teddy slipped into the men’s room. Kim ducked back into the dark recesses of the theater. The woman in black had disappeared.
Well, here on the Vineyard, in our small community, we know everyone who does everything. The next time I crossed paths with the nice older fellow, Mr. Rogers, projectionist at the Island Theater, I asked him if he’d been aware of ghostly apparitions at the old movie house.
Mr. Rogers was a good-natured man, a Vineyarder of many generations, a grandfather, and not a believer in things that go bump in the night. He chuckled and said, “I’ve never seen anything but, tell you what – if I die before you –“, and here he chuckled again because actuarial charts predicted he probably would predecease me – “My ghost will get back to you.”
Now we enter territory where we can only connect a few admittedly dubious dots, but those dots are also compelling. Mr. Rogers died the next summer of a heart attack. But wait. There's more.
So far, Mr. Rogers’s ghost has not interacted with my still-breathing human self, and I have to say that if I have any paranormal ability whatsoever, it’s in being interacted with by the spirit world. I’ve heard from my dad, my great-grandma Olga, and a number of dear friends who’ve “passed” as Ouija board types like to phrase it, but there have been no updates, no streetlamp twinkling on and off, no knockings on walls or bells whistling from Mr. Rogers.
But here’s the thing: Mr. Rogers died in the projectionist’s booth at the Island Theater.
Let’s just hypothesize that, as he turned away from his gently rattling projector, he beheld a woman standing in the doorway. A woman in black. A figure with a chilling stare that contained not a drop of human mercy.
Of course no one knows what really happened that sad night. People have heart attacks all the time without seeing ghosts.
But, friends and fellow ghost-hunters, let’s be on the lookout. The theater opens this week with something for everyone, from Seeking A Friend For The End of The World (now there’s a coming attraction for our ghost!) to Madagascar 3 for the kiddies (don’t tell them about the Lady in Black – they’ll pay no attention to the movie!)
I catch films at The Island every summer, and I’ve never set eyes on this discarnate darling from who-knows-where? But I do anticipate a message any day now from Mr. Rogers.
I’ll let you know what he has to say. You can depend on me for that.