Ghosts, it’s said, often like to stick around in places where they left their mark while still alive. Whether those places were host to a person’s greatest tragedy or triumph doesn’t always seem to matter, so much as those occasions made an impression. Perhaps that’s why there are so many tales of ghosts in places that are full of drama and tension, such as White House phantoms, spirits that haunt hospitals, and even haunted movie sets.
Broadway, considered this way, seems utterly primed for ghosts. Indeed, if the stories are to be believed, theaters up and down this famous street in New York City are packed full of spirits. Some of them have been identified as famous faces who graced the stages or built the arts community that still supports Broadway today. Others are more mysterious figures, perhaps individuals who suffered their own tragedies or unrecognized victories on the stage and who, for whatever reason, just can’t seem to leave.
Whether or not you personally believe in the existence of specters or the paranormal, it’s difficult to deny that these stories of Broadway ghosts are utterly creepy. Imagine working a late night as an usher or security guard or as an actor lingering backstage after a show. You hear strange noises. Props and doors move on their own. You see something out of the corner of your eye or, more chillingly, a phantom appears right in front of you. Who wouldn’t feel a cold chill make its way down their spine as they encounter one of Broadway’s famous ghosts?
The Gershwin Theatre is reportedly full of Broadway ghosts
Built in 1971, the Gershwin Theatre seems a bit young to be sporting stories of spirits. Yet, if reports are to be believed, more than one ghostly apparition has surprised people in this Broadway theater. According to Playbill, some believe that there are three main ghosts in the theater. One is known as "Drew" or, sometimes, "Dennis." The other two are nameless, though it’s said that you can identify them more reliably by their clothing. One ghost appears in a simple white t-shirt, while the other is dressed in a distinctive blue suit from the 19th century.
Besides the sightings, workers in the Gershwin Theatre consistently report odd happenings there. Some claim to have been touched by unseen hands that tap them on the shoulder, only for them to turn and find empty air. In 2010, Playbill reports, an ensemble actor and stage manager both reported that they had seen what they assumed was another performer watching a rehearsal. Yet, when that person seemed to disappear behind a curtain, both of the observers turned … to see the same person next to them on the stage.
A chorus girl is said to haunt the New Amsterdam Theatre
Olive Thomas, an ill-fated Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl, makes afterlife appearances so frequently in the New Amsterdam Theatre that, according to Playbill, her picture is all over the structure. Reportedly, Dana Amendola, the vice president of operations for the Disney Theatrical Group, believes that placing Thomas’ image at the entrance gives everyone a chance to greet her. Saying hello and goodbye to Thomas is thought to keep her mischief at bay.
As per Catapult, Thomas moved to New York and joined the Ziegfeld Follies Girls in the 1920s and even appeared in some movies in that era, setting her up for a glamorous film career. Then she married Jack Pickford, the wayward brother of Hollywood actress Mary Pickford. On a second honeymoon in Paris, Thomas died. Pickford said that she had accidentally drank a bottle of mercury bichloride after a night of boozing. Others whispered that he had killed her, or that a despondent Thomas had committed suicide. She was only 25 when she died.
Now, people at the New Amsterdam Theatre report seeing her long after her death, sometimes even carrying the fateful blue bottle full of poison. She walks through walls, makes lights flicker, and was even said to have grabbed a booster seat for a young patron. One witness claimed to have seen her disembodied feet and legs descending some stairs, though the rest of Thomas grotesquely faded away at her knees.
Patti LuPone encountered something ghostly at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre
Even high octane Broadway divas, it seems, aren’t immune to a scare or two. At the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, recently home to the hit musical The Book of Mormon, headliner Patti LuPone may have herself encountered a spirit.
Playbill reports that LuPone was at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre during the 2006 run of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd. According to a report from fellow actor and singer Donna Lynne Champlin, LuPone’s dressing room seemed to have been a locus for paranormal activity. As Champlin maintained, the doors to LuPone’s room would often open and close without anyone near by. Once, LuPone believed that she had stepped backward onto her friend’s foot. When she apologized, the friend revealed that she hadn’t been standing anywhere nearby. LuPone turned and saw no one behind her.
Otherwise, objects in the O’Neill Theatre seem to move of their own accord, sometimes disappearing and then reappearing in odd places like on a forgotten rack in the theater basement. Other objects appear to have been pushed or pulled off the prop shelves by unseen forces, while ghostly hands have been felt yanking on actors’ hair. Sometimes, the smell of lilacs wafts onto the stage for no discernible reason. Actors have also reported hearing names whispered right next to their ears, though no one can be seen at their side.
Vaudeville performers are said to haunt the Palace Theatre
Louis Borsalino was a vaudeville performer in the early days of the Palace Theatre who made his name as an acrobat. One night, reports Curbed, he was going through a tight-rope routine when the worst happened. Borsalino fell and, according to some versions of the story, died right there in the theater. Thereafter, people in the space have reported seeing the unfortunate man endlessly reenacting his death, complete with the lurid accident and appropriately frightening screams. Yet, as a 1935 article from The New York Times reports, Borsalino fell 18 feet and was "badly hurt" but wasn’t killed. Still, the legend persists that someone can be spotted walking a ghostly tight-rope above the stage of the Palace Theatre. Rumor has it that anyone who sees this specter is doomed to die in the near future.
Whether or not Borsalino really haunts the Palace Theatre, some people are convinced that a far more recognizable ghost appears in the structure. According to Theatre Nerds, singer and film legend Judy Garland herself has been seen there. She reportedly hangs out near a door at the back of the theater, which was put in just for Garland to use while in residence.
The Palace Theatre may be packed full of ghosts
Though the Palace Theatre is rife with named ghosts, it’s also said to be full of yet more unnamed spirits. For some, considering all the tales of hauntings that have been reported here, it could be that the Palace is one of the most haunted theaters on all of Broadway.
Playbill reports that the orchestra pit in the Palace is haunted by the utterly spooky apparition of a cellist wearing a white dress. An office in the theater contains further frights, as people sitting in the room have reported the sudden appearance of a man in a brown suit who walks quickly past the office’s open doorway. When they go to investigate, no one is there, of course. A sad-faced girl has been spotted in the balcony, while a ghostly boy plays with his toy trucks on the theater’s mezzanine level.
Perhaps all of the ghosts are here because the Palace is one of the older theaters still operating on Broadway. According to Curbed, it was built in 1913 and quickly became known as one of the most coveted spots for performers to make their mark. With acts like Fred Astaire, Mae West, Frank Sinatra, and more gracing the stage, no wonder that "to play the Palace" meant a performer had finally secured a place for themselves in the difficult industry. Perhaps some of those people, having achieved a measure of glory at the Palace Theatre, don’t want to leave. Ever.
David Belasco won’t leave his Broadway theater
Even before his 1931 death, theater producer David Belasco was making memorable impressions with his colorful, indomitable spirit. As Playbill recounts, Belasco built his namesake theater on Broadway in 1907. He was already well known as a playwright himself and was a passionate lover of the theater. Belasco was rarely seen outside of a playhouse, in fact, to the point where he set himself up in an apartment above the Belasco Theatre and was known as the "Bishop of Broadway." It is absolutely unsurprising, then, to hear so many stories of his spirit returning again and again to what must have been the site of some of his happiest, most heartfelt experiences.
Witnesses have reported seeing Belasco in his trademark outfit of a priest’s cassock and collar, though he was never ordained in any church. Some actors have said that this man would speak to them and even shake their hands. More unlucky ones have said that he also had a propensity to get a bit too close, especially if the ghost finds them attractive. Other times, workers were forced to check on his uninhabited apartment after they heard a raucous party going on upstairs. Yet, when they entered, they found only dust and emptiness in Belasco’s old quarters. As the word got out, actors began to believe that getting goosed by the ghost of Belasco, or at least spotting him, was a good omen.
A "Blue Lady" may also scare people at the Belasco Theatre
As outsized as his personality may have been both in life and perhaps now in death, David Belasco isn’t the only spirit said to be inhabiting his theater, at least now if reports are to be believed. Those reports, as per the Museum of the City of New York, include sightings of a mysterious and ethereal "Blue Lady." One story maintains that she is the spirit of a showgirl who died after plummeting down an open elevator shaft. She may also be the source of an odd blue glow witnessed by one actress, who said that her dressing room bathroom was suddenly steeped in the light while she was in the midst of a shower.
A version of the Blue Lady legend shared at Curbed says that some believe she’s a girlfriend of Belasco. If that’s true, maybe she’s drawn to the theater by Belasco’s libertine, romantic ways. Yet another tale, as reported by NYC Ghosts, says that this figure could also be the shade of a dancer who worked in a rather seedier capacity when the theater housed a gentleman’s club known as "The Follies." Clearly, no one’s entirely sure who the Blue Lady is, but enough people have spotted her to bolster the belief that someone else is lingering around the Belasco Theatre other than Belasco himself.
Some believe that Broadway legend Ethel Merman haunts the Imperial Theatre
In life, Broadway superstar Ethel Merman was possessed of a legendary personality and a powerful, commanding stage presence. With her unique, arresting voice, she captured attention on film and stage, including her appearances at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre. According to Haunted Histories in America, some people who have witnessed odd goings-on at the Imperial believe that it’s Merman who’s opening and closing doors without a visible person moving things around. It just might be that Merman’s spirit is still hanging around a theater where she garnered plenty of critical acclaim, as some suspect. Or, maybe she just enjoys messing with people, as she sometimes did while still alive.
Other people who have worked in the theater claim that there’s a different presence haunting the staff, actors, and dancers inside. Playbill reports that the ballet dancers who were part of a performance of Billy Elliot at the Imperial claimed to have been bothered by a ghost they named "Fred." The spirit, they say, is busy haunting the girls’ dressing room and creeping out the young occupants there. One young dancer reported seeing a bathroom door moving on its own while she was sitting by herself late one night, doing homework.
Crewmembers say dancer Bob Fosse is still at the Lyceum Theatre
The legendary dancer and choreographer Bob Fosse may haunt the Lyceum, if actors and crew are to be believed. According to Playbill, Fosse was also a well-known and well-regarded director, leaving an outsize mark on the already pretty outsize world of Broadway theater.
People who claim to have experienced something supernatural at the Lyceum report hearing odd noises from the catwalk, the smell of cigarettes, and a weird, almost unexplainable presence in the seats. The smoking is especially noteworthy, as it’s now banned entirely in Broadway theaters and other indoor spaces in the city. Fosse, however, was rarely seen without a cigarette while he was still on this side of existence. While he was alive, Fosse also told actor Roger Rees that he enjoyed getting a view of the theater from the balcony, where he could overlook the entire space in all its glory.
What could be keeping Fosse at the Lyceum? According to Page Six, it might be some lingering personal connection. In 2015, the theater hosted The Visit, a show starring another Broadway great, Chita Rivera. Fosse was close to Rivera, as well as co-stars Roger Rees and Rivera’s understudy, Donna McKechnie. Some speculate that their presence may have called Fosse back for yet another show at the Lyceum.
The Richard Rodgers Theatre is said to attract red-headed ghosts
The Richard Rodgers Theatre has most recently come to public attention as the home of the ultra-hit musical Hamilton, as well as creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous show, In the Heights. As per Lights Up On Stage, it was built in 1925 and, though it has changed management quite a few times over the intervening years, it’s been in more or less continuous operation since then.
Yet, according to Playbill, this theater is packed full of more than eager audience members. The ghostly sightings and events run the gamut from cheeky to utterly frightening. The ladies room is apparently plagued by red lipstick smudges, which keep reappearing even after cleaning staff have scrubbed them off the bathroom’s surfaces. Ghostly footsteps are sometimes heard, which seems to be a hallmark of many a haunted theater. Yet, perhaps most frightening are the reports of eerie howling noises that echo throughout the theater after it’s closed to the public.
Multiple people have reported seeing a mysterious series of spectral red heads. Sometimes, they show up in one of the theater boxes, while another has been spotted in a more plebeian seat in the mezzanine. No one’s sure who these red-haired women are, but many believe they are largely benevolent and enjoy the performances in the theater much like the living audience members.
One sighting at the Hilton Theatre made women faint from fear
The Lyric Theatre, also known as the Hilton Theatre and Ford Center, was once witness to a notorious incident involving Broadway actors, a rapt audience, and the appearance, they say, of a spirit so frightening that one woman lost consciousness.
Said specter is reputed to belong to one Clyde Fitch. According to Ghosts and Murders of Manhattan, Fitch was a well-known and prolific playwright whose latest work, The City, premiered at the Lyric Theatre on Dec. 21, 1909. At that time, he had written more than 60 plays altogether, though The City was to be his last.
That’s because, as Playbill reports, Fitch had died that summer, well before his final play opened. Yet, if the legend is to be believed, he was still there to enjoy the acclaim. As the story goes, the cast was taking in the applause of the audience at the end of their performance when they were joined by none other than Fitch himself. He’s said to have made his way to the center of the stage and taken a bow before disappearing in front of the entire theater audience. A number of women screamed and fainted at the sight of the playwright enjoying one last curtain call.
Radio City Music Hall could still be home to a man associated with the Rockettes
Though it’s technically not on Broadway like some other theaters, Radio City Music Hall is still part of the vibrant and spirited arts scene of New York City that’s deeply connected to Broadway and the rest of the city. And, like its fellow venues only a couple of blocks away, Radio City Music Hall is also said to be full of ghosts.
Many of the stories of haunted Radio City Music Hall center on Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, the theater impresario who brought the Rockettes to fame at the venue, which opened in 1932. According to Radio City Music Hall, the place is the largest indoor theater in the world, with a custom-built pipe organ and grand interior design. Could the razzle dazzle of the hall still be resonating with the energetic Roxy? According to America’s Haunted Road Trip, he has been spotted strolling about the theater with a beautiful woman, even though he died in 1936, only a few short years after the hall opened. The pair are said to always disappear into thin air before they reach their seats in the audience.
As Curbed reports, ushers also say that his seat is always down at the end of the night, even when all the others have been flipped up. Rothafel’s former apartment in the building, which is empty but still maintained by staff, is also reputed to house some ghostly energy.