|The Garman Theater, fall of 2010|
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Ghosts of the Garman
The ”Ghosts of the Garman” was originally written as a part of “The Lamplighter’s Tour,” which was a walking tour of Bellefonte’s haunted history. That year I had the pleasure of writing two different stories for the tour and this is one of them. The second piece "Haunted Hastings Mansion," will be posted soon,
Also, before I start this article, I must make a sad announcement: the Garman Theater is no more. On September 9, 2012, the historic theater burned to the ground. A new building has been erected on the ashes of the ruined theater. The Garman stood along East High Street, across from the Centre County Court House.
The Garman’s place in Bellefonte’s history was a unique, yet important, one. Erected in 1890, the stage of the Garman Opera House brought a variety of entertainment to town. The Garman's stage had the privilege of having George Burns and Gracie Allen, Harry Houdini, and a number of Wild West shows, along with other one-act shows grace its stage. Supposedly the song “After the Ball is Over” was first performed on the stage of The Garman.
The theater continued vaudeville entertainment until silent films began in the early 1900’s. First it was silent films and then it moved on to the "talkies" of the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Unfortunately, when the multiplexes made their debut in the 60’s, downtown single screens lost their appeal and the Garman (which was known during the 50’s as “The State Theater”) stopped showing film in 1961.
After the theater closed, a local furniture company used the Garman as a warehouse for thirty years. It was scheduled to be torn down when several downtown businessmen came together and bought the Garman. The theater went through a number of owners, each improving it until a movie theater once again came to Bellefonte in the late 1990s. I spent more than a couple hours in the theater, preferring the old theater to the more modern multiplexes in the region. The years the movie theater was open, in the 1990s and 2000s, left me with a lot of great memories.
Though it is gone, the theater was – like many other theaters – rumored to be haunted. Reports of ghostly activity in the Garman had existed since I can remember, though nobody is exactly sure who it is that haunted the historic building. Reports over the years include a light seen floating on the balcony, lights turning themselves on and off, strange shadows appearing, a mysterious light appearing in the window, and objects being moved by unseen forces.
Who haunted the theater? It could have been any of the actors or actresses who graced its stage. One possibility was it was the ghost of Harry Houdini, who promised he would return after his death to perform on the stages he stood on while he was alive. Houdini had an interest in the paranormal, so it would be no surprise if he returned at least once to perform on the Garman’s stage.
If not Houdini, maybe it is the ghost of another actor or actress, who may or may not have been famous, but nonetheless fell in love with the beautiful theater and returns nightly to act out their lines once more.
Another possibility was the ghost of an employee who died while working here. Rumor states that an employee fell to his death while rebuilding the inside of the theater. Of course, word of mouth also states that every theater or entertainment complex is supposedly haunted by the ghost of somebody who had supposedly died during its construction. I doubt that this is the case seeing I have never read anywhere of somebody dying while remodeling the Garman.
I have been told that during the conversion of the Garman from a warehouse back into a theater, the contractors were often the victims of ghostly pranks. More than once tools would disappear only to reappear later at a different location. Maybe the phantom construction worker needed to borrow them to make a quick fix of his own.
However, a previous owner tells this story about the Garman. He claims that the ghost who haunts the stage is the ghost of an understudy to a famous actress. Her name long forgotten, she, along with another understudy, had been in a constant struggle to fill the actresses role. Upon arriving in Bellefonte, the lead fell ill and the two understudies had the chance to fill the lead role. One of them, knowing she probably would not get the part, tricked the favored one into leaving, falsifying a report that her mother was ill. The poor girl ran to the train station and waited for the next train to return home.
While waiting at the train station, word was received that the favored understudy's mother was not ill. The girl hurried back to the theater only to discover her rival was receiving the applause for the performance. Distraught, the favored understudy ran out into the road and was struck and killed. Though the story has all the parts of a great romance, it too is merely word of mouth with little evidence that this really ever happened.
So who haunted the Garman? We may never know. However, I do have two stories to share. The first comes from Ryan B. who emailed shortly after the original article was posted. Ryan writes: “This happened a year or two before they started showing movies in the place (The Garman). With nothing to do in town, my girlfriend and I would often just walk around searching for something to do. One evening we were sitting on the steps of the courthouse talking with some other friends when she pointed at the Garman and asked "what is that?" We all turned to where she was pointing. In the second floor window was a glowing ball of light. It hovered there for a minute or two before disappearing...it didn't move away from the window, it just vanished." In a second email, he added a couple more details. "It was roughly the size of a baseball and it glowed bright yellow. Whatever it was, it seemed to be giving off its own light. It freaked my girlfriend out enough that when they started showing movies there, she refused to go see any."
I must share an event I witnessed at the Garman one summer afternoon. That day a handful of us were greeted with an interesting event that will probably keep us scratching our heads for awhile. While watching the movie, the video suddenly stopped and the house lights came on. Then lights behind the screen flickered on and off a few times, the house lights snapped back off, then on, then off one more time and the movie resumed. We were apologized to as we left the theater that day with the owners stating, "We're not exactly sure what happened...it was a technical difficulty."
Strange indeed...very strange indeed.
With the Garman now gone and apartments being built there, it will be interesting to see if the spirits that lingered here finally were freed or will they continue to haunt the new building. Only time will tell.