My heart!" Blonde bombshell Virgina Shea gasped, clutching at her more than ample heaving bosom, a look of terror on the movie star's face. The glass dropped, spilling red wine like blood onto the floor. Dropping to her knees, she frantically tried to breathe, desperately clutching her throat. The aging screen siren looked for help from her gathered family.
'Why?" she breathed, looking beseechingly into their eyes as she gasped her last breath...."Why???"
She fell dead to the ground. The lights suddenly went out.
"And....Scene!" Robert, the director and writer of the show announced a break.
I jumped up and dusted off myMonroe style dress...pulling off my blonde wig.
"Whew! That is hard work dying like that!" I laughed. "Now I need a real drink!"
It was dress rehearsal at the Olde Town Hall in Cookstown, home of the South Simcoe Theatre. The Mumsy Murders was opening next evening and I was having the time of my life! Playing Virginia was a role of a lifetime. Hilariously dramatic death scenes are what we actresses live for. And we were doing a murder mystery in the reputedly haunted old South Simcoe Theatre in Cookstown! The little theatre always felt like home, it's charming old wooden seats, squeaky backstage staircase, and leaky basement giving it that authentic rural charm that had been attracting audiences for more than 45 years! The building had originally been built as the Town Hall, and although musical recitals were held there in the 1800's, it did not become a theatre until the mid sixties.
Over the years people had heard and seen some very strange things in the beautiful old building. Like the sound of something being dragged across the stage. Or a ghostly apparition floating above it, reportedly a woman. The musician's balcony and sound booth behind the audience was thought to be inhabited by more than one spirit. Some had felt cold air, a hand touching them or tugging at their clothes. Sometimes the old wooden seats would be in an 'up' position one moment, and 'down' the next. They are heavy and cannot move on their own. Once, years ago, a stage manager had been in the theatre alone, and a loud banging noise downstairs had scared him so badly he refused to be left alone in there again. There was no question that the old theatre was a veritable hotbed of paranormal activity.
I hadn't told any of the other cast members about the fact that paranormal investigators had been in the theatre afew months beforehand. I didn't want to scare anyone, but I had been told that a ghost inhabited downstage left. That is the part of the stage on the right from the audience's point of view, closest to the audience. Rumour had it that the ghost of a black man, a farmer, who had been killed for having an affair with his employer's daughter, inhabited that part of the stage. Actors had seen him and felt him, and the investigators picked his energy up right away. Or so rumour had it.
Up on stage Madame Zorasta was waving her arms about chanting. Philip the stagehand was snapping his usual candid shots from the seats as the rehearsal went on. Zorasta sat down in her chair again. She sat in a big armchair on stage pretty much throughout most of the show. The chair was located downstage left. As I watched the rest of the rehearsal I wondered whether or not I should tell Patty, the actress playing Madame Z this fact, but decided once again it was probably best not to. What she didn't know about wouldn't hurt her right?
"MJ look at this!" Philip ran to catch up with me as we left the theatre. "Look at these pics I took!"
I looked at the screen on his camera.
"They are all full of orbs!" Philip's eyes were bright with excitement. "Orbs everywhere...in the aisles, over the proscenium arch, on the stage!"
I looked as he showed me pic after pic, each one with perfect round white orbs floating through them. Orbs are often seen captured on film in places where there is paranormal activity.
"And this one here - look at this!"
Philip loves to take pictures of random things. His talent is quite extraordinary.
"There's a man sitting in the armchair."
Quite clearly one could see the outline of a man sitting in the chair.
We looked at each other.
“ I think we'd better tell Patty about this!” We ran off to catch her before she left.
Opening night Patty decided to add afew lines to her opening scene. As she approached the chair she addressed the ghost and asked permission to sit in the chair. It worked for her character, and seemed to work for the rest of the show. Oh sure, there were afew items moved around backstage, one or two cool breezes that could not be explained. We certainly felt that the presence was with us still, but almost as an unseen cast member who was up there rooting for us night after night, sharing in the excitement of the play, the thrill of the show. Once or twice when I was onstage I felt someone beside me. We had an uneventful run until closing night
That is when the ghost played a little prank on me. I think he liked my character Virginia - after all he had seen me do that death scene over and over again - I felt he related to me.
As I took my curtain call and was bowing to the audience, I felt a little tug on my skirt. The audience gasped as my slip suddenly fell to the ground at my ankles! Hearing the gasps from the crowd I looked down and saw it lying there, carefully stepped out of it and picked it up. Making a joke of the situation I flung it over my shoulder flamboyantly as I exited the stage for the last time, smiling to myself because I knew that the ghost had most certainly played that flirtatious little prank on the final night, just to let me know he had enjoyed the show!
Later on we checked the slip of course, to see if the elastic had gone on the waistband, but it had not, and there was absolutely no way it could have fallen down on it's own. Sandy, a local psychic and theatre member reports that the theatre is routinely 'cleansed' of it's spirit inhabitants, but that more and more keep coming! The theatre, she tells me, is a kind of 'vortex' location that actually attracts spirits. In fact there is a gentleman ghost recently arrived who is not ready to leave just yet…he says he is too busy enjoying the entertainment! One thing for certain, the actors at The Olde Town Hall are playing to a full house!
Next edition - a secret pioneer graveyard hidden at the top of a hill!
photos by Philip Lock
as published in the Great North Arrow Newspaper, February, 2011Diaries Of A Nostalgic Muse/Chapter Four/Wilson's Hill Pioneer Cemetary