Twin City Opera House
15 West Main Street
McConnelsville, OH, 43756
The small town of McConnelsville, Ohio, about an hour north of Athens, Ohio, was once a busy, bustling area back in the mid 1800’s. At the center of the town sits the former town hall and opera house, built over an old burnt down building. The structure shows off the ingenuity and beauty of its time. Incredibly, even though the landscape and surrounding industry has altered over the years, the building has never shut its doors and always remained operable. Aside from the stereotypical political animosity, the building has had quite the history of violence and bloodshed. These unfortunate events have been hidden by the town through time, but these incidents tend to resurface for some visitors, completely unaware of these events, in the form of ghastly apparitions.
With the growth of the railroads which passed right through its main business district and the already booming river boat trade route along the Muskingum River, McConnelsville grew to almost a 30,000 population. This was the town’s heyday for business including factories and mills which also brought in other business to grow like hotels and restaurants.
Toward the tail end of the 1880’s, the town council agreed that they needed to expand their town hall and placement of the government building itself. Being that it was a politically charged move and the disagreements built from the beginning, it’s no surprise that the construction and move created a plethora of controversy. The majority democratic comprised town council voted to proceed whereas the republican mayor and remaining republican council members voted against this. This was argued over for nearly a year until the democratic committee found a loophole as a democratic member acted as mayor in his absence and voted to proceed. The approval of the new town hall, now including an opera house, was completed in late 1889. Following the year-long argument, the next issue arose: the location.
The aptly named “Burned District” held a perfect spot for the new construction. The plot was actually the start of the destructive fire which spread through the town in 1879. This was once the home of a former tombstone cutter, Seth Brewster. The fire had sprung up through the kitchen flue and spread through neighboring wooden structures holding other similar storefronts. It overtook and destroyed nearly four blocks in the town. The area lay in disrepair and abandonment until 1889 when the council purchased 31 lots for nearly $4,000.00.
The construction began in October of 1889 and took nearly two and a half years to complete. The total cost was nearly $16,000.00 and was considered very progressive for the time including a first-floor auditorium to host the opera house, a sloped stage floor to help the audience see the performers easier, a dome in the center of the room to help add a special acoustical value, and even electrical lighting. The offices were separated from the opera house on the second floor so the two could operate as separate entities. As the time drew on and funds were drained, the plans for a clock tower with a grand clock were abandoned; the clock was never installed.
During the opening night in May of 1892, every single seat (it originally held up to 800 seats) was sold and the cast was at its capacity numbering approximately 100 people. Before the show began, the electrical plant failed, plummeting the entire building into darkness. As the cliché statement says, “The show must go on,” and so it did thanks to lamps and candlelight. But by that point, much of the audience had already left. After this debacle, the electricity was regarded as unreliable, so the council made the difficult (and expensive) decision to install gas and oil lighting which included a large gas chandelier hanging under the dome.
The opera house built up its reputation and resume with celebrity performances and popular shows which would bring in clientele from all over the state and sometimes even the country. Speakers, local shows, and even high school graduations occurred in the opera house. The shows and performances were highlighted by their over the top and extravagant backdrops and décor. Being that this was a high point, the building constructed new large doors behind the stage to help unload and build these artistic pieces. Trap doors were added so the shows’ mystique could be elevated. As a show ended, the curtains would close, the trap doors would activate, dropping the actors down below to their dressing rooms attached by a slide. This allowed for both quick exits during the show and fast wardrobe changes between acts.
One of the more infamous moments occurred early in the opera house’s lifetime in the early 1900’s. Below the main stage, a coal ash pit was cleaned and stoked between shows. During one performance, the hot ash was left over from the play beforehand and began to spark. These sparks caught the stage joists on fire, creating heavy smoke and limited visibility. The crew dropped the curtain and instructed the orchestra to play. By the time the local fire crew burst through the stage door behind the building to extinguish the flame, a large hole was already burnt through the stage floor. Luckily, the crew put out the fire before it caused any more damage. Local lore, based on those in attendance, claim that the actors continued on utilizing only half the stage.
In order to keep up with technology and popular demand, the opera house added on a new system to show silent movies in 1913. This came with the construction of a separated booth placed on the rear balcony to project the movies onto the screen attached to the stage. By 1930, movies with sound made their way to the opera house which required another system to be installed to allow for sound. This was about the time the projection booth was removed to make room for a larger booth, which is the one that is currently in place.
A dedication to a local performer (a Master Magician) MacDonald Birch gave the opera house’s auditorium its namesake of Birch Hall. MacDonald Birch traveled the world to perform, but when he was not on tour he made McConnelsville his home and performed locally for friends and family inside the opera house.
For a building this age, there is no surprise that there are numerous ghost stories and paranormal activity said to take place in the opera house. Stories have sprung up from locals visiting the theater to employees to ownership. The majority of the hauntings that occur inside this historic landmark are said to be friendly; that is most, not all. There are rumored to be up to 14 spirits residing here in the afterlife.
The first, and possibly most well-known spirit that is said to lurk here is that of Everett Miller. He was an usher in the opera house for nearly 30 years before passing away. Everett has been seen in formal attire roaming about the seating areas as if cleaning up or still performing his ushering duties. He has been said to have returned to the place he loved to simply watch over the building and his eternal home.
Another friendly apparition that has been seen peeking around the corners of the catwalk and giggling is that of the playful 10-year-old, Elizabeth. Her mother Victoria was a performer and was said to make her way around backstage with the male actors. It is unknown who her father is, but according to some, it was a stagehand named Robert. Elizabeth passed away in the theater one evening as her mother was on stage during a performance. She has become known as more of a playful resident spirit simply wondering about this catwalk area.
A stagehand, Robert Lowery, has been said to return to that similar area of the catwalk. It’s rumored that he was the unknown father of Elizabeth. Robert has been known to speak through EVP’s and other electronic devices. His nickname has become synonymous with the hauntings here as Robert has been dubbed “Red Wine Robert” after some drunken sounding EVP’s captured stating that “I’ve got red wine.” Being that he and Elizabeth have both been seen on the catwalk, it’s possible that these two were reunited in the afterlife.
One of the grislier occurrences in the opera house was the result of a stabbing during the early 1900’s. This scene has been said to play out in the ballroom producing the final fatal events of John Leezer who was stabbed to death there.
Another horrific incident occurred in 1905 when a former marshal, Horace Porter, was attacked from behind by a mental patient and shot four times. He died just inside the rear alley door. Horace has been known to return as more of just a shadow figure lurking in that alleyway, disappearing in the doorway where he was savagely murdered.
The more sinister apparitions are those of the Dark Shadow Masses. These black masses prowl in the lower basement near the tunnels that formerly ran underneath the town. These dark shadows are known to growl and hiss as visitors approach, they have been said to drop the temperature in the room, and even absorb the light sources. For these reasons, these entities have been considered almost demonic in nature. One of the terrifying stories regarding these dark energies involves a tour guide, keep in mind, a 300-hundred-pound tour guide. As he was standing in front of one of the blocked-out tunnels, he felt a cold tug followed by a tight grip on his arms. He was lifted into the air and shaken about. This only lasted a few seconds, but to him he claimed it felt like an hour. Those witnessing the events asked him afterward how he pulled that trick off. After he explained that it was no trick, in a serious, stern voice, the group drew pale in the face and practically ran out of the building.
This strange entity has been dubbed Charlie by the locals and the owners. Charlie tends to attack those who are comfortable and confident in the building (like the tour guide), but more so that of unsuspecting women. There have been over a dozen reports of women who get scratched or pushed in the area, and even more of others simply getting lightheaded or would throw up right in the middle of a tour.
One of the owners of the building has gone on record stating that they have not really seen anything paranormal but has definitely experienced oddities that are beyond her comprehension. She has been said to hear things like scratching, phantom footsteps, and growling. She has also smelled odd and out of character smells like cigar smoke and strong stenches of alcohol, for a building that is closed during the night. She has experienced her electrical devices (cameras, computers, phones) being completely drained of their batteries even while they are plugged in and charging.
It’s reported that the opera house has produced over 1000 EVP’s and many photographs of those stuck here in the afterlife. Visitors and paranormal investigators alike have agreed that the old building hosts a plethora of spirits, and that the activity is, more often than not, off the charts.