Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Haunted Springer Opera House

Edwin Booth, the older brother of John Wilkes-Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, is said to be the ghost that haunts Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. 

As legend states he promised that after his death, he would return and haunt the Springer. He stated it must stage a performance of “Hamlet” once again. According to some, he made good on this promise for many claims his ghost has haunted the opera house ever since his death in 1893.

Witnesses state his ghost is sometimes restless, other times helpful, and at other times roguish.

Edwin Booth was a famous Shakespearean actor in the 19th century who toured throughout America and the major capitals of Europe. *  He performed first with his famous father, who was also an actor, in Richard II, when he was sixteen years old. 

His infamous brother John Wilkes-Booth was also an actor. The three appeared in one play together.

Edwin was a Unionist, so he and his younger brother did not get along. When John shot and killed Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, the entire Booth family had to go into seclusion. 

Edwin in 1869 did petition President Andrew Johnson for his brothers’ remains so they could be buried in the family plot, but for the rest of his life he disowned his brother and would not even speak his name.

It wasn’t until several months after Edwin was forced into seclusion in 1866 that he ventured upon the stage again. When he did, he played “Hamlet” which eventually became his signature role. 

When he appeared at the Springer Opera House, he played his now-famous role as Hamlet. Georgia welcomed him with open arms, which some say is one reason he returned to the opera house after his death.

In an ironic turn of fate Edwin Booth actually saved the life of one of Lincoln’s sons, Robert Todd Lincoln, in early 1864 ** just months before his younger brother shot and killed Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. 

The incident happened at a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. The platform was crowded, and Robert Todd Lincoln was pressed against a rail car. As the train moved without warning, Edwin Booth saw Robert lose his footing and drop down in a space between two train cars where he lost his balance and couldn’t move. 

Booth quickly hauled Robert back up to the platform by his coat collar. If Edwin had not reacted so fast, Robert Lincoln would have been crushed to death.

As the story goes, Robert recognized the famous actor immediately and thanked him by name. Another ironic twist is Edwin Booth didn’t know the identity of the male he saved until months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln when a friend told him the man was Lincoln’s son Robert. 

This news is said to have given him some comfort but he never came to terms with the fact that his brother had murdered Abraham Lincoln.

The presence of Edwin Booth’s ghost is often felt and sometimes seen at the Springer Opera House. 

One tour guide has reported a phenomenon that many have witnessed. The smaller upper balconies are no longer used because they are considered a fire hazard, so the doors to these seats remain shut, but many have reported seeing all these doors open as they enter the main hall. 

Several workers state that if they are in the opera house alone, they almost always hear strange unexplained noises.

A small group of people one night stood near the portrait of Edwin Booth that hangs near the lobby. As they were talking about his ghost, they were facing the bar that serves refreshments to the theatre’s patrons. Without warning, they saw one of three wine bottles that were sitting on the bar tip over without cause and roll down the flat surface.

One annoying thing that Booth’s ghost does is to tap people on the shoulder—when they turn, no one is there.

A female that works in the costume shop stated that the dress forms they hang the costumes on were found scattered around the room, but when she turned around, these forms were all lined up in a straight row. 

Edwin’s ghost is known to be partial to ladies. They encounter him more often than men. Another female employee went outside to where there is a table and chairs where the workers often unwind and relax after shows. 

She was alone, so she was surprised to see a figure of a man wearing a hat sitting in one of the chairs, she stated, “Oh, is there someone here?” But as she approached, the figure disappeared.

Yet another female employee at the Springer has had many encounters with Booth’s ghost. This witness, for many years, was the costume designer at the Springer. 

One night she was searching the theatre’s costume loft over and over, trying to find a specific coat. Finally, giving up and frustrated, she stated out loud, “Where is that large man’s evening jacket?” 

She walked down the aisle to leave and turned when she heard a noise. To her surprise, a piece of clothing was on the floor in the middle of the corridor she had passed. She picked up the piece and realized it was the jacket she had been looking for.

After this initial incident, she found that all she had to do was announce I need that pair of shoes, or I need that belt, and the exact item would be lying on the floor when she returned to the costume loft. 

Because of this, she is convinced that Edwin Booth was helping her.

* From 1863 until 1867 Booth managed the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City, when this theatre was damaged in a fire he built his own theatre, Booth’s Theatre, in Manhattan. In 1888 Booth founded the Players’ Club for actors and other artists.

** Some historians state the incident at the Jersey City platform happened in late 1863 instead of early 1864. 

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