The Historic Savannah Theatre was built in 1818, and can be found at 222 Bull Street on Savannah, Georgia’s Chippewa Square. To this day, it is widely considered to be one of the oldest theaters in the United States. In the last two hundreds years the theatre has gone from showcasing live theatre in the footlights to screening some of Hollywood's best pictures ever made. However, in the early 2000s, the theatre once again became the primary house in Savannah for live shows and great music.
Savannah is so rich in the performing arts that the Landmark Historic District established the Savannah Theater District, comprising of Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah Music Festival and the Savannah Film Festival. The Savannah Theater District offers Broadway productions, concerts and comedy acts. You can catch some of these amazing live performances at the Historic Savannah Theatre.
On the evening of December 4th, in the year of 1818, the doors to the Savannah Theatre officially opened to the public for the first time ever. The productions that were presented to the people of Savannah were the comedy The Soldier's Daughter and the farce Raising the Wind.
William Jay, a well respected British architect, designed the original structure. The following year (1819), William Jay built the much celebrated Telfair Mansion for Alexander Telfair (go figure), and the Owens-Thomas House (completed in 1819).
The building that housed the theatre is a three story structure, that features astounding beauty with its highly detailed wrought-iron at the front, along with its spectacular sign. It was constructed by mason, Amos Scudder, who also built the Independent Presbyterian Church, which conveniently can be found just around the corner from the Savannah Theatre. The interior of the theatre was decorated by William Jay's friend and fellow Englishman William Etty. Etty painted murals of dramatic scenes featuring gilt eagles, green wreaths and crimson panels.
The first couple of decades were rough for the Savannah Theatre, as it changed hands several times and was even auctioned off on two separate occasions. However, the theatre's luck began to change in 1838, when a stable stock company got things organized. And, by December of that year, they were able to incorporate the Savannah Theatre.
During the antebellum era in Georgia, the Savannah Theatre became the premiere source of entertainment of the state, and would often host performances including the most popular songs of the day.
Many stars brought their talents to the stage of the Savannah Theatre. Some of the better knowns stars were: Fanny Davenport, E.H. Sothern, Julia Marlowe, Otis Skinner, Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt, W.C. Fields, Tyrone Power, Ellen Terry, Lillian Russell and Oscar Wilde. Another actor to appear at the theatre (and, frequently so) was Edwin Booth, (yep, yep) the older brother of John Wilkes Booth.
There are currently no records available of John Wilkes having ever performed at the Savannah Theatre himself, but perhaps on at least one occasion the future Presidential assassin got his Shakespeare on down at the Savannah, "The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch." As John Wilkes Booth would go on to sin, in a way, not even Robert E. Lee dared to commit.
In a long history of distinguished performances, one of the most memorable (for its oddity) was when Ty Cobb (of Baseball fame) appeared in a production of The College Widow on November 17, 1911. The controversial ballplayer's foray into the footlights of the theatre world, was not an as successful endeavor as his days had been when upon the diamond.
In the past two centuries the Savannah Theatre has endured many disasters. On August 31st in 1898, the structure was subject to immense damage when a hurricane tore through Savannah. The theatre's roof was ripped off like a can of SpagettiO's and the auditorium was turned into an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Less than a decade later (in 1906), tragedy struck the theatre again, this time with a fire. When the theatre was remolded for the second time in a decade, it received a new brick facade, completely discarding the theatre's original design by William Jay.
Despite the hurricane and fire, The Savannah Theatre continued to be the city's main house for plays, music and other cultural events. But, now with the new creation of the Municipal Auditorium in Savannah's Orleans Square, the Historic Savannah fell out of favor with the people of the city.
If that wasn't enough, the theatre suffered another fire in the year of 1948, following this event the building received a "face-left," a dramatic overhaul. The theatre now reflected the times with a new Art Deco style. The new Savannah Theatre reopened its door (this time as a movie house), on October 21, 1950. Its first screening was Mister Eighty-Eight, featuring Dorothy McGuire and Burt Lancaster.
It’s been said that unfinished business tends to be a frequent byproduct from the mishaps that life willfully throws at all. The Savannah Theatre, clearly was not able to avoid life, with its more than fair share of unfortunate mishaps. And, as it undoubtedly holds true, no soul carries the burden of unfinished business more seriously than a ghost, a soul trapped, unable to move on, to let go of the wrongs committed or just unable to let go of the past. And, life after all, is nothing less than a novel by Charles Dickens, filled with characters like Miss Havisham, Jacob Marley and the Artful Dodger.
There's no question that people are fascinated by Savannah's history of hauntings. Are there still those who remain skeptical of these supernatural occurrences? Well, of course! But, you shouldn't ignore the fact that people have indeed had personal experiences. And, that many others believe whole heartedly, that there are these ghostly occupants (sometimes unnoticed ones) who still hang around the City of Savannah.
Obviously, you do not have to look very hard to find haunted spots in Savannah, it seems like every hotel, store and square in town has a ghost story to tell. Well, you can add The Savannah Theatre to the top of that list. It's been around the block longer than most of Savannah's operating establishments, and as such, it has collected many lost souls over the years.
There are three ghosts of the theatre who are seen more than any others, and all three are believed to have died while at the theatre. The first spirit of the Savannah Theatre is Betty, Betty was an actress at the theatre, she was never able to move on, as she loved the staged too much. She can be seen most nights behind the curtain, dressed in her costume, ready to step out and give the performance of her life.
Secondly, we have the ghost of a young boy (Ben), he can be found up in the balcony, harassing the spotlight operator. He's just a little curious, as most boys are. This little impulsive and aggravating ghost loves playing pranks, and is clearly enjoying his afterlife at the theatre.
The most infamous spirit at the Savannah Theatre is known to those who work at the theatre, as The Director. Having spent his living-life behind the scenes, The Director relishes every opportunity to step out from the shadows, finally enjoying a little recognition. While he enjoys his role in the afterlife, he is unable to let go of his passion for directing, and he still can be heard shouting at actors, critiquing their performances.
According to one report, the Savannah Morning News claimed in an 1895 edition that the Savannah Theatre is truly haunted. Police patrols would often hear applause and other ruckus coming from the theatre, however, the theatre was closed and no one (living) could be found inside. This became such a common occurrence that the police patrolmen stopped their futile investigations into the theatre, they allegedly noted as much in their log books.
Another newspaper article that came from 1895, reported that the owner of the Savannah Theatre, witnessed on numerous occasions very odd happenings that he simply could not rationalize.
Early one morning, the owner decided to get a jump on the day, and headed to the theatre in hopes of getting their before anyone else had a chance to arrive. He opened the door, and entered, to find he had succeeded, he was the first one there. He decided to check things out in theatre, all seemed to be good in the lobby, up in the balcony and in the audience seats. He then went to check out the back stage area, again all was in order. Last thing to check on his list was the dressing room.
When the owner entered the dressing room, he was stunned to see that a small fire had ignited during the hours of the night, and subsequently burnt a quite noticeable hole in the the floor. Nothing else in the dressing room was damaged, and the fire had seemingly put itself out. You wouldn't have even known that there was a fire, if it weren't for the eerie circular hole burnt right into the center of the room.
This wasn't the only strange occurrence to happen in the dressing room at the Savannah. During one evening, just before a big show, a group of female dancers, were getting set to perform. They begin changing into their costumes when they felt that something was watching them, something evil. Unnerved, well, more like, freaked completely out (and, understandably so), the dancers ran out of the dressing rooms, some forgetting that they hadn't actually finished changing. Oh, what a sight that must have been, and a true thrill for the men in the audience!
Some believe the Savannah Theatre is cursed. The source of the curse might actually involve a penny, not just any penny but one from the year of 1818 (when the theatre was built). The penny was discovered when the theatre was undergoing renovations. It was found stuck inside a brick wall. From then on out, the theatre's owner (at that time), Fred Weis, would carry the penny with him at all times, not as a memento, but for good luck.
This is an important distinction, because this penny seemingly had the powers of good fortune. But, this was all about to change. One day, in 1948, Fred went on a trip to New York, and while there he lost the lucky penny. Well, everything went straight to hell after that, as the Theatre went ablaze and was nearly burnt to the ground.
Dru Jones (House Manager) of the Savannah Theatre shared one of her many experiences in regard to the rumored hauntings at the theatre, after all she is considered to be their resident ghost whisperer. Dru ran the spotlight for two years, and it seemed that virtually every week, she would feel someone tug on the back of her shirt, much in the way a child would have done when trying to get an adult's attention. But, every time she would turn around, she would find herself alone.
After awhile, she realized the only explanation is that she wasn't actually alone, that there is a ghostly child who wishes to work the spotlight with her. And, the apparent story behind this ghostly child, is that long ago, a boy named Ben was playing in the area near the spotlight and for unknown reasons he died.
When Dru would inevitably feel Ben tugging on her shirt, she would turn around and firmly say to him, "not now I am busy," and Ben would then politely stop. Dru was also featured on the Biography Channel's My Ghost Story, where she discussed the story of Ben.
Ben isn't the only ghostly child that has been spotted in the theatre. From time to time people have also reportedly had run-ins with the spirit of a little girl. There's not much information known about this little ghostly girl, no back story, no name, but she seems to prefer her anonymity, taking much delight in moving around in secrecy.
In late 2007, another person had an experience, she was inside the theatre with a small group of friends, part of a ghost tour. There wasn't many people in the theatre on this particular night, and the closest people to her were actually several rows back. But, she had an unsettling feeling, that someone was behind her.
She kept turning around, almost the entire time, as she was convinced that something had to be there. But, at the same time, she thought her eyes could have been playing tricks on her, she was also caught up in the stories that were told by the tour guide. The tour guide later approached her and told her that he saw shadows in her area near where she was sitting.
In 2002, the Savannah Theatre once again became the place to go for amazing plays in the state of Georgia. In addition, they have become a premiere music venue, bringing in amazing artists from around the world. The Savannah is the perfect mix of history, lore and Art Deco. Stop by their lobby and you'll be treated to a museum of theatre relics from the past, some of which might be of a paranormal nature.
If you're a lover of the performing arts and ghostly tales then the Historic Savannah Theatre (222 Bull Street, on the Chippewa Square) is the place for you to visit. We at Ghost City highly recommend that you go and check it out for yourself. You never know, you just might be the next person to have a ghostly experience at the Savannah Theatre.
To learn more information about the Savannah Theatre's offerings and hours, please visit their website here.