This legendary Craft Avenue site is possibly the most renowned haunt in Pittsburgh. Built by Richard Rauh, it opened its doors in 1933, variously known as the Hamlet Theatre, the Summer Playhouse, and the Civic Playhouse. And the theatre wasn't the only entertainment venue located in the house over the years.
The upstairs was used as a brothel, the theatre served as a church, and the basement was a restaurant at various times. Part of the building was the Tree of Life Synagogue and another section served as a social hall in 1910. And it was built over the rubble of a neighborhood of old tenements, which segues right into our story.
The first ghost is Weeping Eleanor, who is never seen but whose sobbing and moaning can be heard at night. She was the victim of a fire that claimed her Oakland rowhouse, once standing where the Playhouse dressing rooms are now located. Eleanor and her daughter perished in the blaze, and she's been lamenting their fate ever since.
The Lady In White is next on the list. She was an actress who discovered her husband was having an tryst with one of the ladies from the upstairs bordello – on their wedding day! The reception was being held in the downstairs restaurant after they were married in the Playhouse church. She climbed the steps in a rage, found them in flagrante delicto, and shot the amorous pair dead. Then she committed suicide by leaping off the balcony, which she yet paces, gun in hand.
The lady has appeared to people on numerous occasions, always in a white dress. She once pointed a ghostly pistol at a stagehand's head while backstage and pulled the trigger. He dodged the spectral bullet, but ended up somewhat the worse for wear – he promptly left the building, never to return.
The third spirit is that of John Johns, an accountant by day and stage actor by night who began performing at the Playhouse in the thirties. It's said that he suffered a heart attack while at a banquet in the downstairs restaurant. His castmates carried him up to his dressing room, #7, to wait for the ambulance, but Johns died before they could get him inside.
Since that day, people have heard disembodied footsteps climbing the stairway to room #7, always stopping just short of the door. Johns occasionally appears wandering the Playhouse, often dressed to kill in his tuxedo.
Caveat emptor with him. As the only spook who is clearly identified, we researched him a bit, and came away with enough to know that the trouper did exist and was a Playhouse regular, but we couldn't find his obituary.
A reader, Deb, wrote that "When I was a student at the playhouse, I was told by Bill Leach, who was the director of the Playhouse Jr. and who had known John Johns, that the actor died at the Veteran's Hospital in Oakland, not in the dressing room." As for the other stuff, she adds simply that "I had some experiences at the Playhouse..."
JJ has sometimes been spotted dancing on stage with the White Lady (We guess she got over her meandering hubby after crossing to the other side.) Johns also checks the sets and fancies himself a director, intently watching the rehearsals from the seats, and will occasionally share some tricks of the trade or a criticism with the actors.
Following in the illustrious line of spooks is Gorgeous George, a misnomer if ever there was one. His claim to fame is that he has a green, oozing face and an unmistakably rank aroma. He likes to tap people on the shoulder and watch their shock when they turn and see his rotting visage. Then he *poof* disappears, cackling maniacally. No one knows where exactly he came from. Maybe he just enjoys the Playhouse company.
The latest ghoul to join in the fun is the Bouncing Red Meanie, sometimes called the Bouncing Loony. On a Halloween Night in the seventies, a group of students held a séance to try to communicate with the ghostly gang at the Playhouse. They conjured up a little more than they bargained for.
During their trance, they looked at the stage. On it was a man with a gashed gray face, dressed in red from head to toe, pacing back and forth. He picked up steam every time he crossed the stage, until eventually he was going so fast he rose in the air and began bouncing of the walls. As that happened, the house phones in the theatre began ringing, distracting them.
One student's gaze again turned towards the seats, and the other eyes followed hers. They found that the auditorium was completely filled with people dressed in turn of the century outfits – starched collars, dark jackets, and evening gowns. A spotlight focused on the Bouncing Red Meanie. He turned toward the crowd and the audience broke into a silent ovation, his reward for the evening's performance that the seance had so rudely interrupted.
The Bouncing Red Meanie manifests itself now either as a man or a red ball-shaped light, and his pleasure is to chase people around at breakneck speed.
There's also alleged to be some ghostly shenanigans that occur in the ticket office, but its mischievous poltergeist pales compared to the antics of the phantom posse working the building.
The Pittsburgh Playhouse has been owned and operated by Point Park University since 1973. It's home to three performance spaces for shows staged by The Rep, Point Park's resident professional theatre company, and three student companies: the Conservatory Theatre Company, Conservatory Dance Company, and Playhouse Jr.
A think tank has suggested that the University relocate its renowned theater department from Oakland to its downtown campus. It might be the smart move for PPU, but would break the hearts of local theatre - and ghost - lovers.