; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ghostly Apparitions, Voices Remain at Historic Ohio Theatre

newsandsentinel - Virginia Lyons felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

A man's laughter echoed in the dark lobby of the Colony Theater in Marietta, Ohio where she felt a gentle tug on her hair, but when she turned around, no one was there.

At the time, Lyons was a 16-year-old concession worker cleaning at the Colony Theater after closing time. The experience was one of several in her childhood that sparked her interest in paranormal activity.

Today, Lyons is a member of the Mid-Ohio Valley Ghost Hunters, a group that explores paranormal activity and frequents historical places in search of a spiritual presence.

"I would describe ghost hunting is a hobby of mine, but I like to joke that it's my second life," said Lyons. "I enjoy being able to talk about this stuff without people looking at me like I'm crazy."

The group has become more popular since its formation in 2000, even catching the interest of the television show "Creepy Canada," a program about hauntings in Canada and the United States. In 2007, members of the Mid-Ohio Valley Ghost Hunters were filmed by the Canadian television crew during an all-night ghost hunt in Moundsville.

Tom Moore, the group's founder, said the Mid-Ohio Valley is full of historical buildings, cemeteries and houses that have shown signs of paranormal activity. The group has traveled to the Twin City Opera House in McConnelsville, Silver Run Tunnel in Cairo, the old West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, Eaton's Tunnel near Walker, Trans Allegheny Books, the Van Winkle Mansion, Quincy Hill, Fort Boreman Park and Riverview Cemetery.

Most places of interest allow ghost hunting groups to conduct hunts and all-night outings for a small fee or donation.

"This area is full of historical places with interesting stories behind them," said Moore. "When I go to a new place, I like to go in open-minded, without having too much knowledge about the history of that place. That way if I experience something, I know I haven't been influenced somehow."

Moore said people are drawn to ghost hunting for the thrill, the excitement and a curiosity about the spiritual world.

"Once you start ghost hunting and you have a personal experience, it's hard to stop," said Moore.

Cameras, recording devices, boom microphones and night surveillance equipment are used by the group to capture sounds and movement. Disturbances in electromagnetic fields are measured and infrared thermometers capture dramatic temperature changes.

"We use various pieces of equipment to gather evidence," said Moore. "We've picked up background voices, shadowy figures and temperature changes of around 30 degrees in just a few minutes."

The group plans two or three ghost hunts each month, usually scheduled around full or new moons.

Some outings are uneventful. Others are filled with strange happenings.

The most memorable paranormal experience for Moore occurred nearly five years ago at Prospect Place Mansion in Dresden, Ohio. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

"I saw a girl walking around the staircase wearing a dress down to her ankles. She looked like a normal person, but as she walked around the stairs, she disappeared right before my eyes," said Moore.

Later, he learned that in the 19th century, a young girl fell to her death from the top of the staircase.

"Ghost hunting is a lot about personal experience. I think in this type of field, it's so easy for people to fake it. So for me, I need to actually experience something myself to believe it," said Moore.


Previously called the Hippodrome, its original location was at the corner of Second and Union Streets, 0n a lot that is currently occupied by the Wesbanco building.

This original vaudeville house was built on May 18, 1911, and had a seating capacity of 657. The theatre was a destination for traveling live acts, plays, magic lantern projections and later silent moving pictures which were accompanied by live music.

When the German National Bank purchased the Hippodrome property in 1918 to expand the bank, the C & M Amusement Company immediately purchased lots on both Putnam and Third Streets to build a new theatre.

While construction was underway, performances continued at the Old Hipp, and on May 9th, 1919, the new Hippodrome Theatre opened to the public with a premiere showing of Daddy Long Legs, starring Mary Pickford.

The new Hippodrome boasted one of the Midwest's largest "legitimate theatre" stages that could accommodate the biggest Broadway plays of the time.

Among its many features was its giant boiler that provided steam heat in the winter and its unique cold-water cooling system, the 1918 equivalent of central air conditioning.

The theatre also boasted seven dressing rooms, a large chorus girls room, plush carpeting, a seating capacity of 1,200, perfect sight lines, exceptional acoustics, a giant silver screen, an orchestra pit and a 50-foot fly loft for rigging drops, scenery and lighting.

The projection booth housed two moving picture projectors and spotlights, and the pipes of the Echo theatre pipe organ were located in chambers on either side of the stage.

Opening eight years before the advent of talking pictures, the new Hippodrome offered vaudeville acts, Broadway plays, magical acts, and silent films accompanied by the Hippodrome's own five-piece orchestra.

In 1929, C&M Amusement Company installed Vitaphone talking and synchronized moving pictures using high class RCA Photophone equipment, the first of its kind in the Marietta area. And for the next 30 years, the Hippodrome reigned as Marietta's number-one amusement palace.

In 1949 the new owners of the Hippodrome, Shea Theatres of New York, began remodeling the theatre at an estimated cost of $50,000.

The distinctive stone archway was replaced with a two-story Southern-Colonial façade. The box office was moved to the side of the entranceway, and new carpeting, stage drapes and other decorative improvements transformed the theatre.

A highly publicized contest was held to rename the theatre, and on June 25th, 1949 the Colony Cinema opened to the public showing the Esther Williams musical Neptune's Daughter.

In its prime, the Colony's stage was graced by some of America's most famous entertainers, politicians and other celebrities. Some of its guests included Boris Karloff, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, Dick Van Patten, Tex Ritter, Minnie Pearl, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Randy Travis and many more.

On February 12th, 1957, the Colony Cinema added to its history of firsts and milestones by hosting the world premiere of Battle Hymn, in which Rock Hudson portrayed Marietta native Colonel Dean Hess.

25,000 screaming fans took to the streets, mobbing visiting Hollywood stars including Rock Hudson himself. The Colony hosted a week's worth of packed-house events that are unmatched to this day in local theatrical history.

From 1975 to 1989, the Colony changed hands several times, passing from Shea Theatres to Cinemette of Pittsburgh, whose 1975 remodeling included the removal of a lobby staircase and replacement of the concession stand. Shortly thereafter, ownership passed to Ohio Movies.

In March of 1980, a failed boiler threatened to close the Colony, but a determined Marjorie Bee, who had worked at the theatre since 1968, made an offer and bought the Colony on February 15th, 1981, making her the theatre's first local owner.

Forming M.B.M Corporation of Marietta, Mrs. Bee and her sons ran the theatre until low attendance and high heating bills, up to $1,300 per month in 1983 and '84, forced the closure of the Colony in December 1985.

Local businessman Dan Stephan Sr., purchased the theatre in 1989 in the hope that someday this treasured local landmark might be preserved and restored.

In its more than 80 years, the Colony Theatre has changed locations, appearances and even names. But it's always been a shining jewel in the cultural landscape of the Mid-Ohio Valley. Innovations ranging from heating and cooling to talking pictures and celebrity appearances have earned this theatre a special place in Marietta's history, and in the hearts of the many who can still recall what a night out at the Colony was like...colonytheatre.com

Ghostly Apparitions, Voices Remain at Historic Ohio Theatre