Savannah’s Haunted Lucas Theatre
The Lucas Theatre attracts art-lovers and theater aficionados from all around Savannah and the surrounding areas. The theater hosts musicals, plays and concerts. Now owned and operated by SCAD, the theater tycoon Arthur Melville Lucas constructed the theater in 1921. Despite having built over forty theaters across the country, only Savannah’s Lucas Theatre bears his name — there must be something special about it.
The theater once hosted primetime movie premiers and also served as a community center for the people of Savannah. After the historic theater fell into complete disrepair after WWII, it went a dramatic restoration, and millions of dollars were raised to bring the theater back to its original glory.
Today, the Savannah Film Festival is one of many events hosted by the theater and patrons to the festival have left with ghost stories of their very own. Strange shadow people have been reported hovering around the stage and there also seems to be a phantom audience with ghostly applause and laughter coming from the theater when the curtain is closed. The spirit of an office worker shot in a drive-by is also reported in the lobby, how do guests know its him? Well, he’s seen with gunshots in his back stumbling into the lobby.
The Man Behind The Curtain
So, who was Arthur Lucas? Arthur was born in Florence, South Carolina and lived in Atlanta for most of his life. He loved the city of Savannah and kept ties with it through his friends and businesses. He took on numerous trades throughout his life and in 1917, he bought the Time Recorder Newspaper in Americus, Georgia and sold it five year later. In 1919, he took his seat at the Board of Directors for the Exchange Bank of Savannah and was also a contract agency for the Georgia Telephone and Telegraph Company. Arthur also ran a Ford dealership and renovated the Levy Department Store.
Despite his wide array of business interests, his true love was the arts. He got into showbiz in 1907, taking high-level positions in several large film companies, eventually managing the New Orleans division of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.
He moved fro managing theaters to building them in 1920. He set his sights right onto Savannah, taking on the functions of the Odeon and Folly Theatres. He started to plan his largest move yet, the Lucas Theatre. Arthur would come to build over forty theaters in his lifetime.
History of the Lucas Theatre
The Lucas Theatre opened for business in late 1921 after just two years of construction. The theater cost $500,000 to build, the equivalent to $7.5 million today. The theater opened with two silent films, Buster Keaton’s ‘Hard Luck,’ and ‘Camille.’ These premiers attracted prominent politicians, business people, and socialites who were in awe at the Lucas Theatre’s Spanish-style architecture.
Arthur had rushed the grand opening of his namesake theater, and even though the premiere was well received, the Lucas Theatre still had much work to be done. In 1926, an air conditioning system was added and the theater became the first building in Savannah to have ‘man-made weather.’ A/C wouldn’t become mainstream for another thirty years.
Arthur used the theater to keep his ties with the city he loved and made the theater a community space where people could gather for more than just movies. He handed out tickets to the theater to newborns and sent letters to his employees who were drafted during WWII.
After WWII ended, Savannah experienced a pretty steep economic downturn. Attendance declined and eventually the Lucas Theatre was forced to close the curtain in 1976. Just three days after its closure, the ABC Southeastern Theatres, the owners of the Lucas Theatre, petitioned the Savannah Historic Foundation to tear the building down. They declined, but ABC persisted for the next ten years, planning to turn the once-lavish theater into a parking lot. In 1987, a non-profit was dedicated to saving the theater. Restoration efforts started in 1995 and Director Clint Eastwood even held the release party for the movie ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ at the Lucas Theatre. Tons of donors were attracted and Kevin Spacey donated $200,000 to save the Lucas.
Five years later, the Lucas Theatre reopened, almost eighty-eight years to the day of the original opening. The Lucas Theatre is now a major destination for performers and hosts major events like the Savannah Film Festival, the Savannah Music Festival and the Savannah Philharmonic.
Phantoms of the Opera
Like many historic theaters, the Lucas Theatre has a few spirits floating about. The ghosts tend to come around when the theater is empty, but some lucky visitors have caught glimpses of shadow people on the stage. Others have reported the sounds of a packed show even when the theater is empty. Theater staff have also reported the feeling of being watched or even preyed upon when they’re working alone.
During upgrades of the theater, some construction workers witnessed some truly unexplained phenomena in the form of the projector whirring from the ceiling, even though that piece of equipment was removed years ago. Other workers claim to have seen the apparitions of early 20th-century theater-goers walking about the halls.
The Infamous Drive-By
In 1928, a large crowd was gathered, eagerly waiting to enter the Lucas Theatre. Just as the line started to move, a group of people drove by and opened fire on the crowd with Tommy guns. While most of the crowd escaped, the ticket taker was shot in the back.
Many visitors of today say they see a man with bullet holes covering his back standing by the front entrance, when they open the front door to the lobby, the man stumbles in, falls onto the ground and then disappears. Could this just be a residual haunting, replaying this man’s final moments?
Many people dispute the story while others point to a repair job that was done on the building’s facade as evidence of the shootout.
The Lucas Theatre is one of Savannah’s haunted gems. It seems to be replaying the past, over and over, through the apparitions and sounds that once rang through its halls. If a visit to this haunted theater just isn’t your cup of tea, or — your bucket of popcorn, Savannah offers more than just a few haunted locations to visit. The best way to learn about Savannah’s most haunted places is with a ghost tour with us. We offer our tours rain or shine, day or night, every day. You’ll get up close and personal with the history of Savannah, and who knows – maybe you’ll witness a ghost or two.