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The Lincoln Theater After Dark: Part One

October 24, 2018
BY CHUCK CLEGG - COLUMNIST , Wetzel Chronicle

Last summer Earl Yost donated an original painting to the Lincoln Theater. I accompanied him to take a picture of the presentation to Bev Gibb, director of the city's parks and recreation department. While they were hanging the painting I stepped inside the dark theater attempting to take a picture, but my camera would not focus. A camera needs reflective light off a surface for the automatic focus to work properly. No real mystery here.

I changed to the manual mode. When I pushed the shutter button the camera began taking pictures in rapid succession. In the dark, I may accidentally have chosen the sports mode instead of the manual mode. The sports mode takes ten pictures in three seconds. Again, no mystery... Or was it? After checking the settings, I discovered I had, in fact, selected the manual mode. There was no reason for my camera to take ten pictures in rapid succession. Checking the ten pictures, I discovered nothing registered, only darkness.

With my camera in manual mode I pointed it towards the stage. On the camera's screen I saw a faint glow of light near the left side. I wondered if the glass in Earl's picture had caused light to reflect into the theater. But I quickly noticed the front doors were closed, preventing stray outside light from entering the darkened room. I dismissed the faint glow as an anomaly with my eyes. Maybe the screen of my camera had a static discharge when I touched it. That's what it must have been. No other explanation was possible.

Before leaving, I mentioned my unusual experiences to Bev. It's at that point she told us stories of her experiences in the theater. Bev proceeded to tell how, on one occasion, she glimpsed a dark shadowy figure move from the lobby into the theater. On another occasion, she explained that she, along with another woman, were in the balcony trying to unlock the storage room padlock without success. The two ladies then moved onto the projection room's lock. They were not able to open it either. As they were pondering what next to do, they noticed the lock on the storage door moving back and forth. It was the lock they had tried to undo three or four minutes before. What unseen force caused the lock to continue swaying like a pendulum in the darkness? Another incident, there were little flickers of lights that appeared and disappeared. And if all those happenings were not enough, once, alone in the dark, Bev felt a tug on her hair as she entered the main theater.

After hearing Bev's stories, I will have to admit, my curiosity was intrigued. Could the old theater built in 1920 truly be haunted? I never thought of myself as being a person who believes in ghosts, or at least the kind that enter our world. But how could I explain what I had experienced with my camera in the theater? I also thought about the closed iron gate of Infant Mary's cemetery plot and how, after the midnight rain, it was opened.

Not many things that go bump in the night have I found to be credible in my life, but, at the same time, I will have to admit there are things I cannot explain. And when I hear stories likes Bev's and others, I have to reconsider my skepticism. After all, being a storyteller, it is important for me to try and keep an open mind.

Growing up, I spent many a summer's night fishing in the creek near my home. It was not unusual to hear sounds coming out of the darkness of things just beyond the light from my kerosene lantern. Waiting for a fish to bite, I may have thought about the Creature from the Black Lagoon or a werewolf scaring some kids in the dark theater. Other kids were scared and screamed, but not me. I knew those images were only flickers of light projected onto the big screen. I also knew the scary sounds in the darkness along the creek at night would vanish come the daylight.

After my encounter with the mystery light in the theater, I spent time investigating the theater from its opening in 1920, until it stopped showing movies in 1967.

I could not find, in the old paper reports, any history of a possible source for these unusual happenings to Bev or me. I was determined to try and find out if something still lurks inside the theater after nearly ninety eight years. No unsolved crimes or missing person was ever documented to have taken place inside the theater. The only thing I could find were reports of kids being banished by ushers for letting loose jars of lightning bugs.

The Lincoln Theater for nearly a half century was the place where kids and adults came to watch cowboys and Indians battle on the western frontier. During the Second World War, newsreel footage showed the war overseas. It was the place where Glory Swanson came in 1923 to film her movie, "Stage Struck". It was at that point, I realized thousands of people must have came in the darkened theater and were transported into the world of make believe and fantasy.

In 1920 the Lincoln Theater opened its doors to the public for the next five decades. That's nearly 1700 nights. Most of those nights it showed a double feature. That means at least 3400 movies were shown. Could the old theater itself, over the half century, have absorbed tiny bits of the movies' magic into its walls and seats? Isn't it possible something from the flickering screen still remained? Some reading this may say the movies were not real, just projected images on celluloid film. But I would disagree. Do you remember the movie, "The Tingler?" A horrible centipede-like creature that was drawn to screams of fright coming from a theater? Watching in the dark, you suddenly felt something touch the bottom of your seat. Did you not scream? Remember, you have told yourself movies are not real, but still you screamed.

Never mind when you found out it was the boy behind you that touched the bottom of your chair with his foot. In the movies "House of Wax" and "Man in the Dark," movie goers watched the screen images through 3-D glasses. You could almost reach out and touch the movie images floating free from the screen. Perhaps in the confines of the Lincoln Theater those images were so real to each of us, they may still be hiding in the darkness.

Only one way I could find out if, inside the theater, some force was waiting in the dark Spend the night inside alone. I talked with Bev Gibb and told her what I would like to do to find answers. To hear myself even say those words made me want to look around to see if anyone else had heard the far-fetched idea of me being a Ghost Hunter. Still, I needed to know if that reflection in my camera was a simple electrical discharge. Or, was it some unknown force? Maybe, alone in the darkness of the Lincoln Theater, I would discover the answer. Join me next week for my story of a rainy night inside the Lincoln Theater, as I looked Through the Lens.

 
 
 

 

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