Monday, November 25, 2013

The Ghost of Annie Russell

Annie Russell was born in Liverpool, England, in 1864. Her family then moved to Canada when Annie was a child. She first appeared on stage at the age of 8 in a Montreal Academy of Music production. 

By 1881, at age 17, she was the lead actress in a very successful production of Esmeralda on the New York stage.

By the late 19th Century her career had taken off. Russell performed in over 60 productions on Broadway, and London’s West End. But she was plagued by illness throughout most of her adult life, so her career had many gaps.

In 1905, she originated the title role in George Bernard Shaw’s play Major Barbara in London. In 1908, she appeared with Robert Drovet in The Stronger Sex. In 1910, she appeared in the Twelfth Night. Just to name a few.

Annie reluctantly retired in 1928, and moved to Winter Gardens, Florida.

A friend encouraged her to teach at Rollins College. In 1932, at the age of 67, she was invited to star in this college's first theatre production--Robert Browning’s’ In A Balcony. 

Russell then formed two theatre companies on campus and spent the next four years acting in and directing several plays.

The Rollins College Mediterranean-style theatre is named after Annie Russell. It has been over 70 years since she died in 1936, but many feel she haunts this theatre. College alumni, students, and faculty all have encountered her ghost.

It seems she still takes an active interest in the productions that are performed. She is even known to “mother,” and encourage young aspiring actors that perform at the theatre.

One example of her friendly presence occurred in 1978. Late one night, a young actress curled up on the theatre’s green room sofa and fell asleep. She awakened the next morning to find a blanket had been tucked around her. A chair had also been placed against the couch as a barrier so she wouldn’t roll off the couch. The night before, this chair had been across the room.

When this actress inquired who had tucked her in, she discovered that she was the only one in the theatre. Many feel this was the kind handiwork of Annie.

Over the years, witnesses have seen and heard Russell’s ghost. She is seen wearing a Victorian floor-length lavender gown. 

Two theatre majors encountered her separately but on the same evening. The first student saw an old lady in a lavender gown walk by her in a corridor outside the main theatre. Wandering at her strange clothes and thinking the lady was lost, she asked if she could help. Russell did not respond but just stared at her.

Later another student was painting stage scenery when she looked up at the balcony. She saw the same old lady wearing lavender, staring down at her. No one else saw this oddly dressed lady even though many people were in the theatre that evening.

Annie in 1931
Annie often gives young actors encouragement. Many have stated that after they performed, they felt a light pat of approval from an unseen hand on their back. 

One young actress that was rehearsing on stage alone heard one person clapping after she finished her scene. She was surprised because she thought she was the only one in the theatre. She leaped off the stage and searched but discovered she was indeed alone.

It is believed Russell watches many of the productions performed at the theatre. She even has a favorite seat. It is located in the third row of the balcony. 

The bottom of this seat is often seen down when no one is sitting in it. One professor at the college told a newspaper reporter that his dog went to Russell’s place in the balcony and sat near it, looking up expectantly.

A stagehand states that Annie saved his life. He was standing on a tall ladder, adjusting a stage light when he felt something tug at his pants leg. Seeing no one, he ignored it. Again he felt a tug. Thinking he imagined it, he moved up a rung. His hand then touched a live wire, and he fell.

One of his co-workers rushed to call an ambulance. But when he made the call, he was informed that someone else had already called. 

The emergency crew got to the theatre within minutes of the accident. Because of this, they were able to save the man’s life. Many feel that Annie made the initial call frustrated; the man was ignoring her warning.

Russell often shows her approval, or disapproval of productions being performed. There is a door 15 feet up on the back wall of the stage. People state this was Annie’s old dressing room. This door is kept closed--and today there is no easy access to this area, but during performances, it is often seen open. One theatre professor helping to move a prop backstage, during one performance, spotted this door open and heard the sound of a xylophone being played.

This photo was taken during an investigation.
Peace River Ghost Tracker
Russell is known to move a rocking chair in a corner dressing room and make thud noises when she approves. She is also known to smash or break stage props when she doesn’t approve.

One classic superstition that surrounds Annie’s ghost is if she makes an appearance early Wednesday morning--between midnight and one-- before a new play, musical, etc., opens, it means the play will be a great success. 

But if she doesn’t appear, it means the performance will fail, and even worse, something terrible will happen to the actors involved. 

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