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5 Star Stories: Spirits sharing the show at the Orpheum Theatre

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 9:20 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - For almost 100 years, the corner of Beale Street and Main in downtown Memphis has been home to the Orpheum Theatre, a showplace of stars, symphonies, and apparently spirits - the ghostly kind.

In act one of this 5 Star Story, we shared the Orpheum’s storied legacy. Now, act two explores the theatre’s lore, which began in 1928 when the Orpheum was built.

The theater sits on the National Register of Historic Places, a gilded masterpiece of glittering gold leaf and crystal chandeliers. As Orpheum Theater Group president and CEO, Brett Batterson puts it, “the beauty of our building is unsurpassed.” The house seats more than 2,300. “You just feel good walking in,” claims Batterson.

It’s Batterson’s job to fill all those seats, although legend has it some sections may already be filled.

“The Orpheum is considered the second most haunted building in the city of Memphis, with the first being down the street at Ernestine and Hazel’s,” says Batterson.

There are said to be seven ghosts who tread the Orpheum boards, like 12-year-old Mary in white who, legend says, was killed by a streetcar in front of the Orpheum while headed to a show there with her family.

Batterson, only a part of the Orpheum family less than six years, but already a veteran of some of the theater’s more “spiritual” performances.

“One of my favorites is when “Annie” was here, and at one point, Daddy Warbucks gives Annie a big dollhouse as a Christmas present. It’s huge. It was huge. It’s massive. It took two or three stagehands to move it. So, they came in one day for the performance of “Annie” and the dollhouse was missing. They couldn’t find it. It wasn’t where it was supposed to be backstage. " And after searching all over, they found it in the balcony with no idea how it got there, no idea who could have moved it there, no idea of how it got from backstage to the front of the house. And the story is Mary must have wanted to play with the dollhouse, because she was that age and she moved it,” Batterson recalls.

There’s also the time Batterson and his wife attended a Jerry Seinfeld show and his wife sat in box one in the theater, said to be where Mary likes to sit. Throughout the whole show, his wife kept feeling a tap-tap-tap on her shoulder, but whenever she’d look, there was nobody there.

A sad ghost named Eleanor is said to reside in the upper balcony and if you go up there alone, you might hear her weeping. Batterson also recalls an experience when he and his wife were sitting in the Broadway Donor Lounge one night.

“We were the only ones in the Broadway Club, the only ones, and we saw that door open. We saw the crash bar go, the door opened and it slammed shut. Nobody in there,” he shares.

While the ghost stories add to the theatre’s lore, it’s really the supersized shows that keep audiences on their toes! And, after a year of COVID restrictions, the Orpheum plans to welcome back guests with a full lineup this fall.

Also on the ready and right next door to the Orpheum is the Halloran Center where more intimate performances are held.

“This smaller theater, the Halloran Theater with 365 seats, allows us to have a home for our education programs, to present artists who may not be able to sell enough tickets to justify being at the Orpheum,” Batterson says.

The Halloran Center opened in 2015 and is named after Batterson’s predecessor, Pat Halloran, who retired that same year and is another space to build upon the nearly century-old legacy of wow-ing audiences, and maybe even apparitions at the legendary Orpheum Theatre.

For more information about the shows scheduled at the Orpheum or Halloran Center, click here.

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