Friday, April 10, 2009

Washington Opera House

Maysville's Washington Opera House is said by some to be one of Kentucky's most haunted places, but it's also notable for being the fifth oldest performing arts theatre in the United States. The building was erected in 1898, on the spot where a previous opera house had stood since 1851.

Of the many alleged ghosts here, one of them is believed to be that of Loretta Stambo, a dancer in a traveling theatre troupe in the late 19th century. Supposedly Stambo was in town to perform and collapsed onstage from pneumonia. On her deathbed, she requested to be buried underneath the dressing room there. Unfortunately, like most ghost stories, this doesn't sound terribly believable. The ways in which this story is so unlikely are so numerous I'm not even going to enumerate them.

I tried a cursory Google search but couldn't actually come up with any proof that Loretta Stambo ever even existed. Some versions of the account list her name as Laura Stambo, and I did find a Laura Stambo from Floyd, KY in the 1930 census, but this obviously could not be the same person who supposedly died in Maysville in the late 19th century.

The book Cincinnati Ghosts, And other Tri-State Haunts recounts various anecdotes actors have told over the years of weird goings-on in the Opera House, however. A Coke bottle is said to have exploded in the dressing room, which of course was taken as a sign that Loretta's ghost must have been displeased.

The story is told that a picture of Loretta was painted on the wall of the lobby area, and that its eyes would follow people. Supposedly it was painted over numerous times but the portrait remained visible, with the eyes of Loretta in this painting seemingly becoming angrier and angrier. Aside from these campfire tales, however, there is no proof that such a painting ever existed, nor that it paranormally refused to stay painted over.

Like most ghost stories, it snowballs as subsequent generations hear of the legend, and then they start looking for something weird to happen. Spooky noises and distant footsteps are the commonly reported "evidence" proferred by people who insist that it simply must be the angry ghost of this hypothetical actress whose corpse supposedly lies under the dressing room floor.

I don't rule out the potential for genuine haunted activity here, however. Theatres can often be a magnet for psychic energies and paranormal phenomena, and there is a lot of history here. I just like the place for its own sake. The Maysville Players have been putting on shows consistently in the Washington Opera House since 1962, so check out one of their shows this summer. The Opera House is at 116 West 2nd Street (the corner of 2nd and Grave) in Maysville.

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