15 West Aspen Avenue
Constructed in 1916 by community builder and pioneer John W. Weatherford, the Orpheum Theater is a historic icon of entertainment in the beautiful mountain town of Flagstaff, AZ.
Over the years, it’s had its fair share of hauntings, including the spirits who roam the balcony at night, the bad energy in the men’s bathroom, and the prankster poltergeist who once caused a ruckus at the concession stand.
Inside Flagstaff’s historic Orpheum theater are two ghosts that regularly appear on the balcony. One, according to a late night janitor, is a dark shadowy figure that glides eerily through the aisles. The first time the janitor saw it, he went to investigate, but soon discovered that no one was there.
The second reported ghost is an older woman, most commonly seen dressed in white. Unlike the darker specter, she only appears standing by the railing briefly before she vanishes.
Meanwhile, in the men’s bathroom, many people have sensed a strong presence and have even heard disembodied footsteps, while others have reported the sensation of mild electric shocks as they moved throughout the room.
One night after close, past employees recount that the toilets began flushing on their own, and the sinks started running at full blast.
As another story goes, one evening at the concession stand, while the last show was playing, a roll of paper towels on the wall began to unwind itself onto the floor. One of the workers tried to stop it, but the roll continued to spin the moment they lifted their hand away.
Near the projection room at the top of the balcony, there is a crawl space with a ladder leading to the marquee. It’s here that it’s said a man once hung himself, though there are no news sources to verify the claim.
Still, some insist that the suicidal man is among the spirits that haunt the Orpheum Theater to this day.
Originally, there was nothing but an empty lot to the west of Weatherford’s hotel, but after a rising demand from their guests for fresh eggs, it was enclosed with an eight-foot high fence and stocked with chickens.
This didn’t last long, however. Upon finding out that chickens needed to be heated during the winter, Weatherford promptly had a sale on chicken dinners and that was the end of that.
Inspired by the popularity of both film and opera, he partnered with John J. Costigan and Lee Smith to build the Majestic Theater, which opened in November of 1911. Its first production was “All the Comforts of a Home” featuring local actors Mary Riordan, Ray and Ed Babbitt, and Majorie Sisson.
With an impressive stage, movie screen, and hardwood dance floor, it served as a regularly packed opera house, playhouse, and movie theater for the next few years.
Unfortunately, on December 31, 1915, Flagstaff received a record heavy snowfall of over five feet, which caved in the roof and completely crushed the walls of the theater.
Not wanting to wait for the place to be rebuilt, Costigan and Smith managed to salvage the projector and moved their film showings. First, to a rented space in the McMillan Building to the south, and then to a garage owned by the Babbitt brothers back on Aspen Avenue.
Later, once Costigan bought out Smith, he turned the garage into a brand new theater he named The Empress, which opened in March of 1916.
Meanwhile, Weatherford still had plans for his own theater, and in August of that same year, he opened the Orpheum, named after the musician and poet of Greek myth.
It was much larger and more lavish than either the Majestic or the Empress, seating a total of one-thousand people.
The Orpheum was operated by John Bamcord until August 4, 1917 when Costigan chose to purchase the lease and close his previous theater. His sister Mary helped him run it, as well as fundraisers, war bond sales, and other community-centered activities. She took over management when John’s health declined three years later.
In October of 1925, Mary Costigan received her license to operate Flagstaff’s first radio station, KFXY, which began broadcasting out of the Orpheum that December. In addition, she became the first woman in the state to own and operate a radio station.
The Orpheum was known as the College Theater from 1930 to 1933, and in 1937 it saw its first major renovation. By 1950, it was under the management of the Harry L. Nace Theaters chain. When the chain left Flagstaff in 1999, it closed the theater down, much to the dismay of locals.
The building languished for the next three years until it was leased by event planner Chris Scully along with his team of fellow music enthusiasts: Turney Postlewait, Art Babbot, and Neil Nepsky. Together, they reopened the Orpheum as the modern concert hall and entertainment venue it is today.
The theater’s lease ran out in 2009 and funds to renew it were low. So, in a desperate move to save the theater, Scully and his new business partner, Charles Smith, bought the property outright.
Looking to pursue other management projects, Scully left the Orpheum entirely in Smith’s hands in 2018.
If you’re looking for a good show and maybe some scares, swing by the Orpheum and see for yourself. Its one-thousand seats fill up quickly, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, so plan your visit ahead.
You’ll find the historic theater at 15 West Aspen Avenue.