The Orpheum Theatre stands at the corner of South Main and Beale Street, in the heart of the city’s bustling entertainment district. It has hosted countless entertainers over the years, with the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Eddie Cantor all stepping foot in the historic building.
While known as a center for culture and the arts, the Orpheum Theatre also has a darker, much more sinister title. The Orpheum Theatre is known as Memphis’s most haunted theatre, and for good reason.
It burned to the ground in 1923, and although quickly rebuilt in 1928, the devastation left behind a horrid amount of trauma. Now, as though a portal has been ripped open, the old theatre is subject to a plethora of unexplained activity. On any given night, witnesses have experienced lights flickering and mysterious cold spots, just to name a few.
Learn more about The Orpheum Theatre on a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures and discover why it’s earned its haunted reputation for yourself!
The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee, “The South’s Finest Theatre,” has had a turbulent history filled with devastation, disappointment, and rebirth. Yet, through it all, it has continued to reemerge stronger and more lively than before.
Extremely lively if you count the seven spirits that haunt the Italian Renaissance building.
In 1890, the first incarnation of the Orpheum was born on the corner of South Main and Beale Street and operated as the Grand Opera House. Although not the first Opera House in Memphis, it was the finest and considered the most elegant theatre outside New York.
By 1899, Vaudeville and Minstrel mogul John D. Hopkins bought the Grand Opera Theatre and renamed it the Hopkins Grand. He brought Vaudeville from Chicago to Memphis and, along with a sprawling renovation, increased the reputation of the Grand Theater.
Opera was slowly replaced as the main form of entertainment in Memphis, and soon, in 1907, the building was purchased by the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit. It was renamed the Orpheum Theatre that same year and became a permanent fixture on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit.
The Orpheum Theatre sustained nearly two decades’ worth of success and prosperity before it all came crumbling to the ground. On October 16th, 1923, a fire ignited on the third floor shortly after all the happy patrons had left the building.
The theatre was lost to the blaze, but the spirit of the Orpheum lived on. Five years later, it was rebuilt for the astounding cost of 1.5 million dollars. The new Orpheum was twice as large as its Victorian counterpart and came equipped with dazzling crystal chandeliers, a Wurlitzer organ, and the capability to show silent films.
Twenty-eight thousand people could now fit inside the majestic theatre. When artists like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong came to town, it filled up quickly.
The Great Depression nearly ended the Orpheum Theatre. It was on the verge of closing until it was purchased in 1940 for the lowly sum of seventy-five thousand dollars. It was once again reborn, this time as the Malco Theatre, and proceeded to show first-run movies until 1976.
The 1970s was a time of economic downturn and abandonment for Memphis, and the Orpheum was nearly lost once again. Luckily, in 1976, the building was saved by the Memphis Development Foundation and became one of the first buildings in Memphis to be deemed a National Historic Landmark. It was saved from destruction yet again.
A five-million-dollar renovation took place in 1982, and in 1984, the old theatre was alive once more! Live music, performances, and Broadway plays returned to the newly minted Orpheum.
However, its old name, new lights, and its restored razzle dazzle weren’t the only things returning to the Orpheum. Many started noticing strange occurrences happening around the newly opened historic theatre.
According to a 1979 investigation done by paranormal researchers from the University of Memphis, seven spirits occupy Memphis’s most haunted theatre. The most well-known of them is a little girl named “Mary.”
The first official report of “Mary” came from organist Vincent Astor, who first began noticing oddities while he was playing the famous Wurlitzer during movies and performances. Doors would creepily open and close, lights would flicker, and an unnerving coldness would fill the air.
With the help of an Ouija board, a team of paranormal investigators discovered that this entity had been killed in a terrible street-side accident in the 1920s. Her spirit has been reported in a variety of manifestations since this initial sighting in the late 70s.
Multiple researchers, employees, and guests have noticed that Mary has a strong affection for seat C5, high up on the balcony. To the shock of onlookers, she appears in a white 1920s-style dress, wearing no shoes. Some sightings of Mary on the balcony even predate Astor’s more well-known report.
In the 1960s, as the production of The King and I was housed at the Malco, a whole rehearsal was stopped when the orchestra saw her dancing in the lobby. The famous Russian actor and star of the play, Yul Brenner, even attempted communication with Mary after seeing her in her favorite seat one evening.
As Mary’s spirit continues to dance through the balconies of the Orpheum Theatre, Memphis’s most haunted theatre, it makes one wonder what other secrets are hidden in Bluff City.
Find out for yourself on a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures, the #1-rated ghost tour in Memphis!