Note: the above header image is actually the logo for a legitimate paranormal
research organization based out of Huntington, West Virginia. Shhh, don't tell
Henry Jewett as Macbeth the eponymous character from the Scottish play. Painted by Jacob Binder in 1927.
Hanging over the stairwell to the mezzanine in the BU Theatre hangs a dusty old portrait of a man dressed in Elizabethan garb. A small plaque just below the painting — but still above the sightlines of my 6'1" frame — identifies the subject as Henry Jewett, dressed as the eponymous lead of That Scottish Play Whose Name You're Not Supposed To Say Out Loud In A Theatre For Fear Of Terrible Things Happening, a fact which only adds more eerie presience to the faded frame that overlooks the audience at every performance.
The painting was done in 1927, two years after the Australian-born Jewett opened the Repertory Theatre of Boston as a permanent home for his company, the Henry Jewett Players. Three years later, the Henry Jewett Players disbanded1 and the Repertory Theatre of Boston shut its doors. The company had fallen into financial ruin thanks to the emergence of the "talkies," and the theatre itself was bought and converted into a movie theatre, salting the still-fresh wounds which littered Henry Jewett's ruined psyche. He died several months later on June 25, and though his obituary in The Boston Globe insists that he passed in the comfort of his own home (referred to as "The Branches"), there are many who believe that Henry Jewett hanged himself underneath the stage, so distraught with grief from the loss of his theatre that he no longer wished to live.
A newspaper review for the Henry Jewett Players' production of Candida by George Bernard Shaw, from The Boston Tribune, January 27, 1917.
Boston University purchased the former Repertory Theatre of Boston in october 1953, with the Huntington Theatre Company taking up residence in the space upon our founding in 1982, and Mr. Jewett's spirit still remains within the walls of his beloved building — perhaps literally. BU students and Huntington staff alike have reportedly seen his ethereal presence, sporting the same iconic garb of Shakespeare's Scot with which he appears in the painting, drifting through the corridors at 252-264 Huntington Avenue. Unexplained electrical glitches and strange scenic alterations are among the mysterious boughts of mischief that Mr. Jewett has wrought upon the theatre. His actions have never seemed malicious — sure, he pulls the occasional prank, but most of those who've seen his ectoplasmic form believe that he's merely looking out for his beloved artform, supervising rehearsals from the balcony (a favorite seat of his) or adjusting a lighting cue for the betterment of the production (at least according to his personal presence). In the summer of 1991, on the opening night of Trinity Rep's Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune (performed at the BU Theatre during the Huntington's off-season), the House Manager was unable to dim the lights for the start of the show. After a bit of frantic headscratching, the lights dimmed themselves. At the end of the performance, a number of patrons complained about feeling "chills," despite the oppressive New England summer heat.
The original marquee above the entrance to the Studio 210 at the Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre
Could this grainy figure, seen only through a nightvision camera in an otherwise darkened room, by the so-called "Sentry?"
It must get lonely in the undead afterlife, but fortunately, Henry Jewett is not the only spirit who (allegedly) haunts the hallways of the Huntington. There's also "The Sentry," a grainy gaurdian who is known to appear in the Green Room (though some people suspect this be just another one of Henry's spectral forms). When a television crew came to the BU Theatre in the late 1980s to film an episode about haunted theatres in America, the front doors were suddenly slammed and locked, supposedly by the Sentry, who sought to protect his sacred space from the opportunistic invaders.
And if you're concerned about a gender imbalance, well, fear not (or, maybe, do): the BU Theatre is proud to be an equal opportunity haunting ground. Many people have reported sightings of "The Lady In White," another benign apparition believed to be a former wardrobe mistress who tends to hang around at dress rehearsal to make sure everything is going right. A former Huntington staff member even heard a female voice whisper, "I don't like it in the dark," after turning off the lights in the otherwise-empty lower level lounge.
This is just a spooky-lookin' photo of the BU Theatre because I needed something to put here.
While the identity (or at least, as she was known in life) of The Lady In White remains unknown, there is one other ghost-ess about whom we know a little more — and whose circumstances are much more gruesome. In 1999, students and employees had begun to notice a sickly smell emanating from somewhere in the theatre. Most people figured that something, presumably an animal of some kind, had died in a hidden location in or around the building. Unfortunately, they were more right than they realized. After stepping into the alleyway behind the theatre, a Huntington staff member noticed several maggots falling from the sky, and discovered a decomposing body on the catwalk overhead, just outside of the BU Theatre's Studio 210. It turned out that the woman had been a resident of the building next door, and though the specifics remain vague, all that is known is that she fell from a window to the fire escape, where her body was found several weeks later. To this day, her spirit — affectionately referred to as "Girlfriend" — still haunts the dressing rooms and second floor studio space. Props and costumes have both been found damaged or altered, and sometimes disappear without a trace.
In 2008, a pilot episode was filmed at the BU theatre for a television series called Project Ghostlight, a Ghosthunters-esque project that sought to explore the many haunted theatres of America. While the series never got off the ground (as far as I can tell), the episode is available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure:
So next time you hear a strange whisper that doesn't fit the sound design, or feel a chill running through your bones while you're waiting in the lobby at the BU Theatre, don't worry; it's probably just a ghost.
1Bonus fact: Peg Entwistle, the so-called "Hollywood Sign Girl" who famously jumped to her death from the "H" on the sign in the Hollywood Hills, was also a member of the Henry Jewett Players.