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The Opera House

Boothbay Harbor, Maine

The Opera House at Boothbay

One never knows what an evening at an historic opera house can bring. One night, the main stage may host a folk band, while the next an open microphone for poets. Swing music and string quartets sit side by side, giving the quiet town of Boothbay a cultural lift whenever they need it. But there is more to the opera house than just the main stage. At more than 100 years old, the walls, could they talk, would spill story upon story of countless things that went on inside. Up the stairs, while a group of poets read, a piano is heard playing a lively tune. Thinking you may have stumbled on to a second stage, or at least a classroom with more entertainment, you push open the door to hear the last chord of the piano fade into the darkened and empty room. The air is bitter cold, and though you see no one, you can feel eyes on you, as the piano across the room sends one last note into the air.

What makes a place haunted? For some, it is a tragedy that occurred within the walls. For others, it is a strong emotional attachment that burns the wood and brick. For some, however, there seems to be no real reason, leading some to believe the hauntings to be merely the product of superstition and imaginative locals. But when a presence is felt and heard by so many, few can deny that whatever, or whoever still roams the halls is anything but superstition. And though his identity remains unconfirmed, there is one word that describes him: Ghost.

History
Knights of Pythias1894 saw the United States rise to power as the most advanced industrial producer in the world, prompting many communities to show off their signs of prosperity. Boothbay did its share by building an enormous structure, an opera house that could be used for both performances of theater and as a civic center for any who wanted to use it. The structure took only 70 days to build at a cost of $14,000. When it was completed, the upstairs areas were claimed as lodge space by the Masons and The Knights of Pythias, while the city rented out the space below.

For the next seventy-five years, the building served as a town hall and meeting place for civic events. However, as time passed and newer facilities became available, the building’s usefulness began to dwindle. Despite the best efforts of the lodges that called the Opera House home, it was abandoned in 1978, and seemed headed for the wrecking ball. So many others from the time period suffered the same fate, that it simply seemed like natural process of a growing community.

At some point, public interest took pity on the historic building, and began the process of trying to save it. While its various lives as a Masonic Hall, movie theater, and even a high-school gym were over, it still had a great deal to offer to the community as a civic center and meeting place in the community. As late as 2003, pleas were still being sent to help save the structure from demolition. Through the concerted effort from the community, the building was saved for future generations to enjoy.

Ghosts
What would an old theater be without at least one ghost story? Almost every place where secret societies met and creative people gathered has the rumor of strange noises in the night and phantoms who disappear at will, and The Opera House at Boothbay is no exception. And while many have their own guesses as to the identity of the ghost, no one is really sure just who he is, or why he’s there.

He haunts the second floor room that once belonged to the Knights of Pythias. His presence is most often marked by a feeling of being watched or followed as well as a bitter chill in the air whenever he is present. He is fond of playing the piano that still sits in the room, leading many to hazard a guess as to his identity. According to some, the ghost is the restless soul of Earl Cliff, who played piano during theater programs prior to 1949. Since his death that year, reports surfaced of the presence and playing of someone who could not be seen. Reports occurred in 1957 and 1977, both times witnessed by several people.

The Boothbay Opera House

Present Day
The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor, today, thrives. It has been remodeled and modernized, though the historical feeling of the building has been carefully preserved. To quote the building’s mission statement, it provides “a performance, exhibition and activity center for the creative life of the region. It combines the inspiration and ambience of a carefully restored historical building with the advantages of a well-designed, modern multi-use facility. Serving a wide range of arts and civic organizations, it strives to enliven and enrich the region on a year-round basis, and grow along with the needs and vision of the community.” Music, theater, and even classes are taught at the building.

The spectral visitor, however, seems quiet most of the time. Still, if one digs deep enough, one will find instances and reports of activity, as well as signs that those in charge of the building take it in stride. A “Phantom” has often been charged with giving away free tickets to performances.

Best Times
Some theorize that the ghost of Earl Cliff, if that’s who he is, appears only in years that end in a “7.” Others believe he appears more often, and is just unnoticed. Whichever the case, the best way to visit The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor is to check their calendar on their website and plan accordingly.

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

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