Ghostly Encounters: The Haunted Movie House
My maternal grandmother lived most of her life in an isolated farmhouse far off the beaten path. It wasn't until the late 1970s that she finally decided to move to the small town of Alderson, West Virginia. Her new home was located across the railroad tracks from the only source of entertainment in the area: the local movie theater.
I can remember being so excited to learn that we would finally have something to do during my family's twice-yearly visits to my grandmother's house. Unfortunately, my mother would not take us to see any of the movies that were showing. She would eventually tell us that the theater had closed down. I'm not sure if it was true or simply something she said in an attempt to silence our constant pleas to be taken to the cinema.
At any rate, at some point, I heard one of my aunts telling my mother that the man who had managed the theater, and presumably owned it, had died. I will never forget her gruesome description of the condition in which he had been found.
My aunt told my mother that the man, who she called "Old Man Lemon", had been discovered lying at the bottom of a stairwell. His body had apparently lain undisturbed for several days before someone happened to stumble upon the grisly scene.
She said that he had already begun to decompose and that she had heard that insects were found inside of his eye sockets and nostrils. As a child, I was appalled by what I was hearing, but at the same time intrigued. I had never heard of such things and had not realized that death was something more than just closing one's eyes and sighing, as I had seen James Caan do in Brian's Song.
I won't go into further detail, although that was only the beginning of the macabre information that was shared that day. Let's suffice it to say that there was an in-depth discussion on the subject of the body breaking down that would give me nightmares for years to come.
The theater owner had been a married man. If I'm not mistaken, it was his wife who found the body. There was no explanation given as to why several days had gone by before she noticed that her husband was missing. Perhaps, he was prone to spending long hours at the theater and she thought nothing of his absence. No one discussed the matter in front of me so her reasons were never explored.
It would be much later that I would learn why my mother had not allowed us to set foot inside the movie house. It had not been because she was mean, as we had thought. We would discover that she had known more about the theater than she had let on. The place had a past and it wasn't pleasant. A darkness existed inside of the cinema walls that was not welcoming to patrons or, possibly, the man who acted as its caretaker.
My mother's side of the family has always been one that enjoyed a good ghost story. Both of my aunts were great sources of supernatural tales. Over the years, countless hours were spent listening to them recount strange events that either happened to them or someone with whom they were acquainted. As a child, my thirst for these stories could never be quenched and they knew it.
Apparently, stories had been circulating around town that the theater was haunted long before the death of the curator. The cinema had been a mainstay in the small haven for as long as anyone could remember. It seemed only natural that it had built up quite a reputation over the years, but not for the reasons one might think.
I remember one of my aunts saying that she had taken my cousin to see a movie one afternoon only to leave before the film was over. She said that as soon as they had been seated, someone began to kick the back of her seat. When she turned around to confront the culprit, there was no one there. In fact, the entire row behind them was empty.
She had no more that turned back around when the kicking started up once again. This time, both seats were being assaulted by whoever was sitting behind them. My aunt and cousin both whirled around to face the prankster, but again all they saw were rows of vacant seats.
A bit put out, but not ready to give up, my aunt and cousin moved to another area of the theater. They once again settled into their seats and prepared to watch the movie. As the lights went down and the reel began to play, they heard someone whispering from someplace nearby.
Talking in a theater is not unheard of, so my aunt let it go for a while. She says that after several minutes, when the whispering had begun to turn into an animated conversation, she decided to speak up. The room was dark, but she could still see the other moviegoers as she scanned the area around them.
My aunt said that there was only a handful of people in the theater that day and none of them were sitting close to her and my cousin. Even so, someone was still talking up a storm and she had heard all that she intended to of their conversation. She had paid to see a movie and wanted to hear it as well.
Try as she might, she could not locate the source of the voices. She noticed that some of the other people in the theater were also looking around as if they, too, were disturbed by the rude patrons who couldn't seem to be quiet during the show.
My aunt became so distracted by the mindless chatter that she found it impossible to concentrate on the movie. Worse still, she couldn't make a word that the voices were saying. Although they were getting louder by the minute, she was unable to make out one word of their conversation. She remembered what she had heard as being a garbled collection of sounds that seemed to her to be words being spoken backwards or with the syllables rearranged.
As unsettling as the unintelligible voices were, something else was even more disturbing. My aunt said that amid all of the other voices, which were obviously male, she could hear a female who seemed to be in great distress.
As the men carried on speaking nonsensical words, the female sobbed uncontrollably. The girl sounded very young and extremely upset. Her cries were so mournful that my aunt's motherly instincts had taken over. She had felt a great need to protect and comfort the girl, if only she had been able to find her. As with the other voices, the girl's woeful wails were coming from someplace that could not be seen my aunt or, apparently, anyone else.
In the end, she grabbed my cousin and left the theater before the end of the movie. She hadn't been able to hear it anyway and was becoming more and more uneasy as she listened to the jumble of voices mixed with the pitiful cries. The symphony of bizarre sounds she was hearing had made her feel as though she was in the company of beings that no longer belonged in this world.
As she and my cousin walked through the lobby, she stopped briefly to have a word with the manager. She explained to him the reasons for their abrupt departure. The man had apologized and assured her that he would get to the bottom of the problem. She recalled that he had seemed a bit jittery during their conversation, but he was known to be the nervous type. They parted company and she and my cousin stepped out into the sunlight. She vowed that this would be their one and only visit to the theater.
No Way Out
After the untimely death of the theater manager, more stories began to surface regarding the building that had been his second home for decades. Both of my aunts would tell stories about all sorts of haunted places in the area, but none more so than the old movie house.
They had heard various accounts that closely mimicked the experiences of my aunt and cousin. Moviegoers would complain that they had been unable to enjoy the show because of noisy patrons who would disturb the other audience members while, somehow, remaining unseen.
Although the phantom pranksters had disrupted numerous movie showings, that wasn't always the case. Long periods of time, sometimes years, would go by when the theater would fall strangely silent. During those periods of calm, no disembodied voices or otherwise strange goings-on would be reported. For whatever reason, the entities that dwelled inside of the movie house made their presence known in cycles that would come without warning and disappear in exactly the same way.
During the times that the spirits were active, some witnesses claimed that they had been pinched by something that they could not see while trying to enjoy a movie. One of my aunts said that a woman, whom she had known well, told her that someone had tripped her as she was walking down the aisle to her seat. As she prepared to scold the person who had nearly caused her to fall, she found that there was no one there.
Since my aunts didn't know everyone in town, it is hard to say what other stories might be attached to the old theater. These were simply stories that they had experienced themselves or heard from friends.
Not long after the death of Old Man Lemon, one of my aunts had spoken with his wife about his passing. She was the one who had reported the horrifying details of how his body had been discovered.
As the two women spoke, she confided to my aunt that her husband had known for years that the theater was infested with ghosts. She said that they had been there for as long as he had operated the movie house. Her husband had told her that he thought that the building was sitting on an old burial ground of some kind, but hadn't provided any details as to how he had come to that conclusion.
The woman went on to say that, even though her husband had at times feared the entities, he had accepted the fact that they were there to stay. The ghostly interlopers had always seemed more interested in annoying people than harming them. That being said, since she hadn't been present when her husband died, she couldn't say for certain that his death had been entirely accidental. That was something that only he and the otherworldly residents of the movie house would know and, as we are all aware, dead men tell no tales.
I haven't been back to Alderson in many years and don't know if the theater has ever reopened. I can say that it was closed down the last time I was there, which would have been in the early 1990s.
The proprietor had died over a decade prior to that and, to my knowledge, the place sat unattended in the years that followed. This was apparent because the name of the last movie that had been showing before his death remained unchanged on the marque when we made our bi-yearly visits to the town.
Whether or not the building still stands, the history of the land on which it was built is one of mystery. It is uncertain why the spirits of the movie house were prevented from moving on to whatever awaited them in the afterlife. Perhaps they were finally able to find peace when the theater closed its doors for the last time.