Haunted Houses: The Untold Ghost Stories of Broadway with Jennifer Ashley Tepper!

If you think the Phantom is the only ghostly character to take up residency on Broadway, think again!

By: Oct. 23, 2021
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When you think "haunted houses" you probably don't picture the inside of a theatre. But with an over 100 year history, many of Broadway's buildings are positively teeming with reports of the supernatural.

From paranormal apparitions to ghostly encounters (and even some histories of homicide), the 41 theaters that make up Broadway play host to numerous ghosts, some of which are said to be the stars themselves!

Broadway's belief in the paranormal so potent, in fact, that one of our nightly rituals, the ghost light, has roots in the mystical. The light, placed center stage before theaters shut down for the night, is said to either light the way for spirits or keep them away, depending on who you ask.

To get the scoop on Broadway's various ghostly residents, we checked in with theatre historian and author of The Untold Stories of Broadway anthology series, Jennifer Ashley Tepper!

To bring the Broadway scares to your Halloweek, Jen has picked out some of her favorite ghost stories from inside Broadway's theatres! Best read alone, in the dark...if you dare!

Volume 1:

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre:

Joanna Gleason, Actor

"The Martin Beck has a ghost, and the Martin Beck Ghost found her comfort in my dressing room. During Into The Woods, Bernadette Peters and I had the two dressing rooms stage right.

Every Sunday, after the matinee, I would close all the lids of my makeup and I would group everything together in the center of the table, so that the housecleaning staff could come in and dust without having to fuss with my stuff too much.

About three months into the run, I came in and two of my blushers were all the way down at the end of the table. I thought: That's strange. I'd put them back, a week would go by, I'd clump everything together, I'd come in on Tuesday for the new week, and two blushers, again, would be all the way down at the end of the table.

Nobody was using my makeup. It wasn't open, it was just all the way down at the end of the table. Then one week, on the mirror, there was the letter "M." I thought: Oh, it's just a thing on the mirror. I wiped it off. A couple weeks later, the letter "M" appeared again.

I thought: Someone is messing with me, and moving my makeup, and having a great joke at my expense. I still didn't think anything of it-and it went on until I finished the run.

Flash forward many years, and I was doing an episode of a TV show. I was picked up at my apartment by a teamster, and we went through the theatre district. I said, "Oh my God, I played that theater," and I pointed to the Martin Beck. I said, "My favorite time was there in that theater."

He said, "Yeah, my mother worked in that theater too." And I said, "Oh, she did?"

He said, "Years and years ago. She's long gone. And her name was-" It began with an "M." I said, "What did she do?" And he said, "Well, she was on the housekeeping staff. She cleaned the dressing rooms." I said, "Really?" and he said, "Yeah, she loved the stars' makeup. She loved to just go and look at all the makeup." "Okay, okay! Well, your mom visited my dressing room, that's all there is to it."

The Neil Simon Theatre:

Ann Morrison, Actor

"One day, I was getting out of my costume and makeup, and getting ready to go home, and I saw this young African American girl, standing at my dressing room door, looking at me. I said, "Oh hi! Did you see our show tonight?" She ignored my question, and said, "Are you a singer? Because God wanted me to talk to the singers. I have to find the singer." Now I was getting scared. She said that when she looked at people, she saw the face of the devil, and I told her that when I looked at people, I saw the face of God. She said, "I'm supposed to tell the singer that they do it through the singing. They have to pass it on through the singing." And I said, "I promise I'll do that for you, through the singing." I was just saying anything because I wanted her to be gone! I didn't want to meet her again in the hallway. After she left, I knocked on Lonny's door and Jim's door, and said, "Did you guys see that girl in the hallway?" They said, "What girl?" I ran downstairs and checked with Beverley and she hadn't seen anyone. I went down to our stage door and asked, "Did you send a little girl up?" They said no."

Volume 2:

The Palace Theatre

"Several actors at the Palace spoke about the backstage elevator operator. The Palace is the only Broadway theater that has one. Whoever is operating the elevator has a track, just the same as an actor in the show. "Scene three: go down to second floor, pick up these four people, go to stage level." The tiny elevator travels through the dressing room tower throughout the night, following along with the show.

The Palace also has a front-of-house elevator that takes people up to the mezzanine. Late at night after the show, when there's no one in the theater but the custodial staff and ushers, many of them have said that they've heard this elevator start to move. Rumor has it that the elevator has its own ghost, perhaps an old actor, stagehand, or usher.

In 1927, the head usher at the Palace, Murray Roe, was found dead in Central Park in between two boulders. The beloved usher had been suffering from asthma attacks. Upon his death, the theatre world found out that Murray was the son of the acclaimed writer E. P. Roe. He had inherited a huge estate and been a popular member of New York society and innovative engineer at the turn of the century. In 1905, he was married, and a year later, he was divorced and moved to South America. When he returned to America in 1913, he had lost his fortune. He became a porter and then an usher at the Palace Theatre, where he was cherished for his humility and leadership. Perhaps the elevator is just Murray Roe saying hello...

People say that the Palace has a ghost, and many think it is Louis Borsalino. Borsalino was an acrobat who fell 18 feet to the stage during a performance in August of 1935. He was reaching for another acrobat's arms and missed. However, he was only injured-he did not die, as many assumed. Palace players who spot the Palace ghost say that they hear someone swinging up in the fly and then they hear screams.

The opening act at the Palace in July of 1926 was an Algerian acrobat named Sie Tahar Ben Belhassen. Reportedly, before going onstage, he said to a stage manager, "They say opening acts always die at the Palace but Sie Tahar no die." On opening night, he was found dead in his dressing room of a heart attack after completing his act onstage. He's much more likely to be the Palace ghost although no one seems to remember him..."

Volume 3:

St. James Theatre:

Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Author

"Heidi directed me to Russ the door man to find out more about Henrietta the ghost. While Heidi hadn't crossed paths with her, she knew those who had their lights turned off and toilets flushed by the ghost. I exited the stage door, walked down the long alley, and turned right to head back into the St. James hallway leading to 44th Street. Just as Heidi predicated, Russ was standing right at the exit.

"Henrietta the ghost? Yeah she's real, alright," he told me. Russ first experienced her presence when he almost fell down a flight of stairs at the St. James. At the last moment, he inexplicably turned, which he claims was thanks to an otherworldly force. Many chorus girls have been locked in their bathrooms by Henrietta, and many stagehands note an odd mist coming up off the ground at the St. James that they attribute to a ghost. Henrietta got her name because Russ watched a movie with a ghost of the same name at the time he landed the job at the St. James."

Patti LuPone, Actor

"There was a woman in the Gypsy cast whose family is sensitive to that which is otherworldly and supernatural. Her brother was on Ghost Hunters. She couldn't sit in the St. James mezzanine. It totally freaked her out. She felt more than one ghostly presence."

The Belasco Theatre:

Known widely as the most haunted theater in New York City, the Belasco has been the home of many ghosts and legends over the years.

Joe Traina, House Manager

"If any theater on Broadway is haunted, then it is surely the Belasco. A couple of things have happened to me and to others whom I have known that I can't explain in any ordinary way.

One Sunday, I was working at the Belasco alone because I had to finish up some paperwork, and I walked downstairs to the restroom. The men's bathroom at the Belasco is downstairs from the back of the orchestra section. Upon my return, as I opened the door from the lobby to the staircase leading to the manager's office, a cold breeze whisked by me.

There was no window open, no air conditioning circulating, and it was somewhat warm in the theater. But this cold, eerie draft passed over me and I'll tell you: it really chilled me.

Another time, I had borrowed a biography on David Belasco from a friend and she wanted it to be returned. I had it on a little shelf high enough that I couldn't reach it from the floor, so I got up on a chair.

Next to the chair was a floor lamp. When I reached for the book and took it off the shelf, the light in the lamp went out. I took the book down, unscrewed the light bulb, and shook it, but it didn't sound like the filament was broken. I put it back in the lamp, turned the switch, and the light went on. Some say energy travels through electrical current, and I believe it. It certainly was a strange coincidence.

When I worked at the Belasco, one of the follow spot operators said he saw a man in a dark suit out of the corner of his eye in a section of the balcony, but that when he went to look directly at him, the man was gone. The whole balcony section was empty of patrons at the time.

Many people, including a producer, a box office treasurer, and theater engineers have claimed to see the apparition of a woman in a tattered blue gown. These sightings have been reported in early morning at the theater and at dusk.

A good friend at the Belasco was an eyewitness to seeing this spirit. He said that the ghost would have had to have walked through the exterior of the stage door alley wall into the box office lobby to have disappeared so quickly. There was simply nowhere else to go!

The story goes that she died in the theater and was doomed forever to haunt it."

James Woolley, Stage Manager/Usher/Dresser

"As a stage manager, I worked a lot with production stage manager Peter Lawrence. His first Broadway show was An Almost Perfect Person at the Belasco. It was a play starring Colleen Dewhurst.

Peter didn't believe at all in ghosts, but one day, he was sitting on the stage and saw a shimmery blue vision go across the mezzanine. He was positive he saw that.

Another stage manager I knew, Bob Borod, worked at the Belasco and had a ghostly experience there as well. His office was in one of the dressing rooms. One day, he was sitting in there and the temperature all of a sudden went down to freezing cold and then shot right back up. A few days later this happened again and he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around, but no one was there. He changed his office room and never went back in that room again."

Elizabeth Ashley, Actor

I performed at the Belasco twice: in Hide and Seek in 1980, and Enchanted April in 2003.

Hide and Seek was a thriller, so the Belasco was a good fit for us. Unfortunately, we closed after only a week. Other than Deathtrap and a few others, a hit thriller is hard to come by on Broadway.

The playwright, Lezley Havard was a teacher with no professional theatrical experience. In the show, I played a pregnant woman who moved into a new country house with her husband. Throughout the play, I was driven slowly mad by weird, supernatural happenings that only I could see. The play was very much filled with those kinds of horror tropes.

In one moment, I would lose my mind and regress to being a four-year-old. It was a great moment for acting, because Jennifer Von Mayrhauser had created these great pregnancy costumes, and you were really disturbed that a pregnant woman thought she was a child.

One night, during a two-show-day, I blacked out. I was exhausted, and the show was physically difficult, and I just actually lost my mind. I wind up on the floor in the scene, and that night, as I got up, I had a moment of panic, because I didn't know where I was. I don't remember passing out, but I remember coming to.

I ran off stage and the stage manager said, "My God, that was fantastic! You were speaking in tongues." I told her it wasn't a choice, and I had no memory of it!

The stagehands and the door man all told me: "Belasco. It's Belasco." They always experienced weird things there, because apparently the ghost of David Belasco was wandering around. They told me that he had made me speak in tongues.

Patti LuPone, Actor

When I was in Accidental Death of an Anarchist at the Belasco in 1984, I never got a chance to see David Belasco's suite above the theater. I didn't get to go upstairs until later.

There's a legend that the ghost of David Belasco showed up at every Belasco Theatre opening night, up until Oh! Calcutta! in 1971. That's when he disappeared.

There were only six of us in Accidental Death, and our dressing rooms were all on one side of the stage. There was myself, Joe Grifasi, Jonathan Pryce, Bill Irwin, Gerry Bamman, and Raymond Serra. We closed Café Un Deux Trois every night; that was our watering hole. I have fond memories of our door man and of our prop man, Abe Einhorn.

The play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, is rather peculiar. I couldn't tell if the house was haunted, or if the play dictated the type of vibe in the theater.

When I came back to the Belasco for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in 2010, the Belasco had just been renovated. They had broken up Jonathan's dressing room from Anarchist into three dressing rooms, and one of the rooms became mine. The renovation restored the original layout, which included a Tiffany chandelier, sconces, and lamps. The renovation is spectacular, and it was a thrill to work on that stage again.

A few people in the cast claimed they saw glowing orbs and a lady in blue in the mezzanine of the Belasco. I shudder to say it, but there was one time when I thought I saw an orb. Maybe it was just my imagination working overtime.

Jason Kantrowitz, Lighting Designer

I worked on a one-night benefit performance of The Odd Couple at the Belasco, with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. They did it for the National Actors' Theater that Tony was starting. The show was a full production, with a full set and lighting. It was rehearsed and teched as though it was a Broadway production, but it was only done once.

The theater was dark and dingy, but beautiful. It was covered with years of dust. Part of our plan was to show audiences the beautiful murals and molding and ornate richness of the theater for the first time in a long time, through lighting specific areas of the house. When we were first doing this, the porter of the theater, who had worked there for many years, walked by.

"He's not going to like this," he said. "Who?" "Mr. Belasco. You're letting him out. If you light those areas, people will see him." I couldn't imagine that David Belasco would mind if we lit up the dark nooks and crannies of his house, even if he liked to lurk there and watch shows.

In the middle of the dress rehearsal, when we were focusing lights on the beautiful murals in the house, the power went out-only it wasn't the power to the entire theater. There was a special sound system being used that still worked. The work-lights still worked, but the theatrical lights did not. It was early summer, and the air conditioning went out, so it was unpleasantly hot in the theater. The audience was already queued up on the street to get into the show that night. I wondered if the porter had done something. Did he turn off the circuit breakers backstage just to prove his point?

Con Edison was called, and they couldn't find anything inside the theater that had caused everything to go out. Con Ed had the audience move so that they could dig in the street in front of the Belasco. They opened up an electrical vault and found that there had been some kind of mysterious flash spark and fire in an electrical box.

To this day, I truly believe that the porter was right and David Belasco was just showing us who was the boss of the theater. The power came on at half-hour, just as we opened the house.

Fritz Weaver, Actor

"My last two Broadway shows were both at the Belasco: The Crucible in 1991, and Ring Around The Moon in 1999.

David Belasco was long gone by then-he died in 1931-but the place felt haunted by him in some ways. He had a secret way to see the stage from his penthouse, and some nights when I was playing a scene, I'd see the light go on, up there, and I'd know he was watching the action.

The Belasco is a great old theater. The production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible that I got to perform there was beautiful. I played Deputy-Governor Danforth. It's a powerful play about the Salem Witch Trials in 17th century Massachusetts.

Arthur Miller was always present at our rehearsals. One night, when we were rehearsing in the theater, Miller told me that I scared him. He said, "When you started to be influenced by the children who were insisting people were witches, I so deeply believed you that it was terrifying."

I had a moment in the play where I'd look up and say the line, "They're out there." Miller told me, "Today the look in your eyes when you said it really told me that you saw witches out there!" The truth was that I had looked up into the Belasco and thought I saw a ghost."

Laura Linney, Actor

"When I found out I was doing Honour at the Belasco, people started telling me it was haunted. I didn't think about it much until we were doing our final dress rehearsal.

The Belasco has a mezzanine and a balcony. The balcony could only be accessed from the outside in 1998, and those doors were locked. I had a monologue during the play that I would deliver to Jane Alexander. During the monologue, my character looked up to the balcony and then back at Jane. That night, I looked to the balcony, and standing at the railing there was a woman in a robin's egg blue satin dress with crimped blond hair. She was standing very still and looking at the theater. I looked right at her, and thought: Well, hello! She didn't scare me, and I didn't stop what I was doing.

I wanted her to feel welcome-but when I looked at the balcony again, she was gone. At the time, I didn't tell anyone. It felt wonderful, frankly. It was also frightening. It was a weirdly terrific feeling, to know that there was a spirit in the house with us.

Later in the run, I went to our house manager to chat. I had heard that the Con Edison guys wouldn't go in the Belasco Theater basement, because it was haunted. There were all sorts of rumors circulating around the theater. I told the house manager that I thought I'd seen a ghost during our final dress rehearsal. He asked, "Male or female?" I told him: "Female." And he went: "Blue dress, blonde hair?"

Apparently there are two ghosts at the Belasco and they like to show up at final dress rehearsals. She's one of them.

There was a chorus girl who fell down the elevator shaft at the Belasco. She was in the penthouse apartment and either had an accident or was pushed. They think the ghost in the blue dress is her.

Jennifer Ashley Tepper, Author

"The 'Blue Lady,' the ghost that haunts the Belasco, is supposedly a woman who died after falling down the elevator shaft. Legend has it that if a production costumes one of its actresses in a robin's egg blue dress in tribute to the ghost, she will leave that production alone. During the time that the original production of Oh! Calcutta! occupied the Belasco from 1971 to 1972, the house staff who saw the Blue Lady regularly noted that she was nowhere to be found. They hypothesized that maybe the excessive nudity wasn't her style.

The legend of Belasco's Blue Lady is well-known in the industry as there are countless stories of people who have gotten a glimpse of her over the years. And although the Belasco elevator is now disconnected, many say that they've heard it rattle.

The Belasco has a comparatively spacious second floor audience bar, which was originally a private reception room for David Belasco. It also has a bank of offices on the west side of the building, which were originally occupied by his staff.

The house manager's office can be reached through a door in the lobby, to the right of the box office. Walk up a flight of stairs and you are in an office that also has a door leading to the stairs on the mezzanine level. The office is surrounded by original glass work from when the theater opened. The house manager uses David Belasco's original desk.

Many Belasco staff members over the years told me that they believed a ghost was present because doors of the building would lock without them being touched.

Box office treasurer Diane Heatherington, now at the Barrymore, spent time at the Belasco over a decade ago. She told me, "The Belasco was always an interesting place to work, because you could feel the presence of Mr. Belasco there. I've heard him and I've felt him. I know he's there."

"I used to go in and set up the box office for a show when the theatre was still dark. Each time, I'd make an announcement: 'It's me. It's okay. I'm coming in.' Then I'd hear steps."

The box office treasurer's desk sits underneath the stairs to the house manager's office. During her time at the theater, Diane would hear footsteps up and down these stairs when no one else was supposed to be on the premises. One day, when a whole group of box office employees were there, they heard loud steps, and ran upstairs, but no one was on the second floor at all."

Kathleen Marshall, Director/Choreographer

The way our Follies opened was that the theatre was totally deserted and dark. Someone came down the aisle with a flashlight, and you heard these sort of ghostly sounds. And all of the ghosts, the girls of the chorus, kind of stepped out of the shadows, including in the boxes.

The Belasco has a second balcony and a second set of boxes. One of our dancers, Roxane Barlow, was waiting in the top box at the back of the shadows, to make her ghostly entrance and disappear. It was tech so no one was really up there, and she said she looked over and saw the profile of a man sitting in the top balcony. She looked away and looked back and he was gone.

We think it was the ghost of David Belasco. In that show, we also had a trap door because in the "Mirror, Mirror" number, the younger selves came up on this elevator. And there's a very, very deep trap door at the Belasco because Houdini performed there and apparently they excavated this big trap because he made an elephant disappear at one point during his show.

Kelli O'Hara, Actor

I did both Follies and Dracula at the Belasco. By that time, I had done Jekyll & Hyde at the Plymouth, so I was accustomed to these haunted types of shows occupying older theaters filled with history.

When we did Follies at the Belasco, the theater was really on its last legs before being fixed up. Our Follies was set in a theater that was decrepit, with everything falling down, since that's what the Belasco was like.

We got to take a tour of the upper floors of the theater where Belasco's apartment still stood. It was covered with air ducts, but there were remnants of his life up there. It was strange and surreal.

I went into Betty Garrett's dressing room one day, and she told me that the large mirror there had been in the Belasco for decades. She had been on Broadway since 1942, and did a show called Spoon River Anthology at the Belasco in 1963. She remembered that the mirror had been on the first floor then. It was so cool to think of so many generations passing through, sharing so many of the same surroundings.

During both Follies and Dracula, there were incidents with ghosts. In tech for Follies, my castmate Roxane Barlow started screaming. She described a man in a robe who was sitting in the balcony facing sideways, not watching us, but staring off. What she described sounded like David Belasco, but we all rushed up to the balcony and there was no one there. Then during Dracula, one day Melissa Errico came out of the bathroom in the second floor hallway. There was a mirror at the end of that hall, and she saw a woman ahead of her walking-and rather than turning down the hall, the woman walked straight into the mirror"

Frank Wildhorn, Writer

We did Dracula at the Belasco, and right before opening, the water main in the basement broke. There was a huge flood, and we had to stop the show. Everyone said that was our first sign from the ghost of David Belasco, and I believed them. The theater is wonderful and it's haunted. The energy of the Belasco definitely contributed to the energy of Dracula.

Artie Gaffin, Stage Manager

I worked on Journey's End at the Belasco. That show ended with many of the characters dying in war. Everyone was supposed to stay onstage and pose like dead statues.

Several of the men said that during that part of the show, at least a few times during the run, they looked up into the balcony and saw a lady ghost walking around. There are legends about this ghost. She was supposedly one of David Belasco's lovers and she jumped out of the window of his office upstairs and killed herself.

In the basement of the Belasco, there's a big pit. Rumor has it that Houdini was going to do a show there at one point and that's where his elephants were supposed to go. Others say that was never the plan, and that the space is because of something different.

Volume 4:

The Jacobs Theatre:

Anne L. Nathan, Actor

I do think there are ghosts in the Jacobs. Every night, I can feel somebody. I have a friend who passed away that I feel like is with me during the performance every night. There's just something about old theaters that makes you feel that.

The Morosco Theatre:

Estelle Parsons, Actor/Director

I was the first person onstage in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, which played the Morosco. My character came out of a kitchen, where I'd been making something in a blender, and walked onstage. During the first performance, I played that scene, and when I opened the door to enter, I thought John Gielgud was standing at the other door.

There was a door on the set that was supposed to be the front door of the house, and I swear I saw Gielgud there. I'm not that kind of person. That's the only experience like that I've ever had in a theater, where a ghost seemed to be haunting the set. I think Gielgud did a play there just before we moved in.

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