SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Strand Cinema Manager Montana Murray was alone at the top of theater two on one dark, lonely night a few years ago, loading movie reels into the projection machine. After adding the first, she turned to pick up the next reel and out of the corner of her eye saw what appeared to be a woman walk into the room behind her.
Thinking it was a co-worker, she turned around, but there was no one there. The woman she believed she’d seen had disappeared.
Legend has it a woman who used to live above the theater died years ago in her apartment, Murray said. Her spirit reportedly wanders the carpeted halls, traveling up and down the multi-level building, past exposed brick walls and wrought iron lights shaped like faces. Some say she is angry.
One night an employee headed down creaky wooden steps into the the theater’s dark basement to fill a bucket of ice. The machine groaned and shook as it spit out cubes. She filled her bucket, turned and headed back up.
But a few steps from the top, she stopped, frozen in her tracks. Her whole body went stiff, taken over by the supposed angry spirit.
Tears streamed down her face as she shared her experience with her co-workers, telling them that it felt like a spirit had overcome her body, not allowing her to move. She quit soon after.
“She couldn’t move and just started crying when she told everyone … she said she thought she was possessed,” Murray said.
The theater is full of paintings with sayings like “Thank you for coming” and life-like images of people whose eyes seem to follow you. Staff regularly hear sounds at night from behind the screens, up in the balconies and especially in the basement.
On occasion, the ghost is said to cause a bit of mayhem. Papers fly off desks and scatter on the floor and whiteboard markers fly across the room.
There’s some, of course, who don’t believe, but for those who do, nights working alone at the theater aren’t always so lonely.
“I don’t know, some people don’t believe it, but I have to turn on music when I’m alone and I’ve tried to ignore some of the sounds,” Murray said.
Haunted theaters in Maine
The Strand Cinema, built in 1929, isn’t the most foreboding building, but there are details that hint at some of the paranormal that staff and others say they’ve experienced there.
Letters on the old, black marquee are faded, large projection reels sit in otherwise empty corners of long brick hallways, the basement is cold and home to a looming cavernous hole in the otherwise solid wall. The building’s front windows are black and empty other than a discarded “now playing” sign, an old theater seat and an indistinguishable stain under the door that provides access to the display.
David Hopkins, co-founder of Maine Ghost Hunters and co-owner of the Merkaba Sol store in Augusta, said often ghosts that haunt the theater have ties to the space. Maybe they enjoyed seeing shows or perhaps they worked there.
“A lot of their spirits are drawn back [to a theater] because it was a great place for them to be when they were alive,” Hopkins said. “[Maybe] a lot of their favorite times occurred there … maybe they really enjoyed this place, put their energy into it when they were alive, and maybe they want their energy to be there when they pass.”
But for the theater in Skowhegan, the energy might not be so positive. Some say the lady-ghost who allegedly haunts the cinema is angry, according to hauntedplaces.org, a website featuring more than 5,000 ghost-filled places in the United States. However, others have reported seeing a man sitting alone chewing gum.
The disturbances were said to have started around 1978 when an apartment, the one Murray said the woman died in, was added to the building.
Want to check it out for yourself? Visit the Strand Cinema at 19 Court St. in Skowhegan or one of the other allegedly haunted theaters in Maine:
— The Boothbay Opera House in Boothbay Harbor is said to be home to a ghost of an “unknown soul” living on the second story.
— The Biddeford City Theatre has a face sculpture above the stage and patrons have said it seems like the eyes open, close and look around. According to hauntedplaces.org, there have also been reports of unexplained noises, and people say they often feel “watched from above.”
— The Pickard Theatre at Bowdoin College in Brunswick is just one of many reportedly haunted locations on campus. A technician once reported a lamp swinging in a room of the theatre although there was no ventilation. You can tour several of the haunted buildings, including the Thorne Servery basement, which is typically not open to the public.
— The Ogunquit Playhouse on Main Street is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Revolutionary War soldiers.