KiMo Theater

Albuquerque, New Mexico The theater lights dim as the show is about to start. The crowd finds their seats and the conversation dwindles to a murmur. In the darkness, a patron spins in her seat, as though icy hands had just run up her spine. She glances about, her eyes finally settling on the balcony, where a small child, far too young to be in attendance alone, waves to her with a gleam in his eye. She doesn’t know why, but the boy frightens her. Her attention is drawn by a man at center stage, who thanks the audience for coming, thanks the patrons, and, as a final note, thanks someone named “Bobby.”

Anyone who’s been around theaters, whether live or film, knows that there is an air of superstition that comes with the territory. For example, reciting any line, or even the title, of Shakespere’s "MacBeth" could get a person kicked out of the back stage area, as the play is thought to be cursed. New performers should only enter a theater from the back door, and only after being invited in. But some traditions are rooted not in superstition alone, but in tragedy. Such is the case of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s KiMo Theater.

The KiMo Theater, which sits on Central Avenue, was first opened in 1927 as a moving picture palace. At a time when most movie theaters were being designed after the exotic architectures of China or Saudi Arabia, The KiMo was something of a curiosity in that it chose Native American pueblos for its motif. The price tag for such an ambitious building was nearly $170,000, a great sum for the time, and the owners spared no expense at making the KiMo live up to its name, an amalgamation of two words that meant "the king of its kind."

During its heyday, the KiMo combined the best of live performances with both silent films and , later, talkies. Celebrities such as Sally Rand, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix and Ginger Rogers all performed on its grand main stage. Tragedy, however, marred the success of the giant.

On August 1, 1951, a six-year-old boy named Bobby Darnall went to the theater to see a matinee of "Abbott and Costello meet The Invisible Man." During the show, he exited the theater to get popcorn from the lobby concession stand. While he stood at the counter, a water heater exploded, injuring several, but only little Bobby was killed.

There are no reports of paranormal activity in the building between 1951 and 1977, but little is known about the happenings of the theater during that time. It is known that, in 1963, the main stage was destroyed by fire, and one assumes it was closed down after that. It was, however, scheduled for demolition until it was bought in 1977 by the citizens of Albuquerque, who felt that such a place could not simply be forgotten.

By the time renovation was completed, the KiMo once again resembled the "king" that it once was, but it soon became apparent that there was something in the building that was not part of the bargain.

During renovation of the third floor, people across the street would call the police because of a child, they said, who was waving at them from within the construction zone. Another woman swore she saw Bobby looking down at her from the balcony. Still more have claimed to see him run up the stairs or heard his laugh. When the theater reopened, opening night was said to have been a nightmare. Bulbs popped for no reason, sending glass down from the light rigs and onto the actors. Doors would open and close, seemingly by themselves, and many of the actors were locked in their dressing rooms. Several fell while making their entrances, claiming later to have been "tripped."

More than any other haunted location, the KiMo Theater is especially proud of their sprightly spook. There is little or no doubt as to whom it is that is haunting the old building: Bobby Darnall. He is regarded as something of a prankster, an attitude befitting his age when he died. He, according to the KiMo staff, seems sad at times, but is more often than not playful. He has been seen running up the stairs to the balcony and looking down upon the audience below. Several people claim to have seen him crossing the main stage.

Most sightings of Bobby, however, seem to center around the casts of the live performances that take place at the KiMo now. For a period of time, it seemed that not one performance went off without some type of disaster. Between actors locked in their dressing rooms and tripping while making their entrances, many of which were accompanied by child-like laughter, it seemed the little boy was bent on wrecking the business. His activities, however, sparked a strange tradition that lasts to this day.

Present Day:
The KiMo Theater is still an operating establishment with a full schedule of performances and events, and although Bobby is still frequently sighted, the performers and staff seemed to have discovered a way to placate the child. In the back of the theater, there stands a shrine to Bobby, covered in beads, small toys and doughnuts. Actors, it seems, place items on the shrine in hopes that Bobby will allow the performances to go off without a hitch. According to some, if an actor hasn’t left something for Bobby, things often go awry.

In addition, anyone doubting the validity of Bobby’s story, or who would like to know just who they’re dealing with, need only look in the theater’s archives. There, nestled between reviews and stories from old newspapers, is an original copy of the Albuquerque Journal, dated August 1, 1951, which tells of the boy’s accidental death. There is even a picture of Bobby on the front page.

Best Times:
Sightings of Bobby are continuous, year round. They do, according to some, intensify around the anniversary of his death. The KiMo, however, is a living theater and has regularly scheduled events. While the staff seems quite proud of their little prankster, they’re not always keen on having a bunch of would-be ghost hunters interrupting their schedule. The best idea, it seems is to look up their schedule and go see one of their many productions. Just keep your eyes open for a blond haired, fair skinned little boy with a mischievous grin. And don’t forget to bring doughnuts.

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson

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Scott A. Johnson