Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ghosts of Music Hall

Auditorium, Cincinnati’s Music Hall

Dear George,

I can’t even guess how often we’ve been to Cincinnati’s Music Hall over the years. Katja’s parents were devotees of classical music, so we’ve usually had subscriptions to symphony and opera performances each season. Given all those years I was shocked to learn that experts in the paranormal regard our Music Hall as one of the best-documented locations for ghosts in the U.S.

The authorities speculate that there are ghosts in Music Hall because of the land’s early history. In 1818 the city purchased a large lot near Elm and 12th Streets, the current Music Hall site, and established “a Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum” for the state of Ohio. When an 1832 cholera outbreak killed 832 people and orphaned many children, the Cincinnati Orphan Asylum was built right next door. When it was later used to isolate people with infectious diseases, it became known as the Pest House. The ground around the building was used as a pauper’s cemetery where the hospital buried suicides, strangers, and homeless people, all of whom were simply bundled up in blankets and stuck in the ground. In the 1870’s Music Hall was built on the original site of the Pest House and Orphan Asylum. Because the resting places of the poor were not marked by tombstones, the new building was simply constructed on top of the graves. When workers dug a new elevator shaft in 1988, 88 pounds of bones were exhumed on the first day, 119 pounds on the second.

Ghosts were reported at the Elm St. site from the very beginning of construction. In 1876 a local newspaper reported that the ghosts hadn’t bothered anyone until the ground was excavated for an elevator and yellow bones had been dug up. “From that hour shadowy people wandered restlessly through the creaking halls by night, hiding in dark corners, stealing behind pillars, and creating crepitating noises under the dim roof.” The account added that, when dogs were brought into the building, they whined to be let out “and followed their masters with every sign of abject terror – eye balls wildly protruding, and ears laid back.”

An actual early photo of some of the Music Hall ghosts

The ghosts still make their presence known today. On President’s Day in 2003 a Music Hall box office worker who was alone at the closed building heard strange noises all day long. He heard music stands in the lobby being knocked over, but when he checked they were still upright. A button signaling that there was a customer at the window was rung several times, but no customers were there and there were no footprints in the newly fallen snow. Later he heard a crystal chandelier in the lobby crashing to the floor and shattering, but he found the chandelier still hanging from the ceiling. And when he walked by the Critics’ Club, he heard “what sounded like a party going on,” except that the door was locked and the lights were out. Patricia Beggs, CEO of the opera, observed recently, “Ghosts? Um, yes. Indeed, there are Music Hall ghosts.” Likewise Erich Kunzel, late conductor for the Pops orchestra, stated some years back, “I’ve met these people. They’re not in the offices, but when you go out into the house they’re there, they’re upstairs. …If you think I’m crazy just come over here sometime at three o’clock in the morning. They’re very friendly.”

I haven’t worried that much about ghosts since my twenties. I still don’t think we’re in any danger. We went to Music Hall last Saturday night, and I kept an eye out, even checking some nooks and crannies where audience members don’t typically go. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and concluded the spirits probably stay hidden while the symphony is going on. But I plan to be on the alert. If we do have any sightings, you’ll be the first to know.



G-Mail Comments

-Jennifer M (12-13): I like Kunzel's view that they are there and they are friendly. We often joke that Mrs. Buemiller's ghost lives here with us. I simply asked her, when we first moved in, to do her haunting in front of me so I didn't have to worry that someone had broken into the house. She has obliged and we all stay the house together peacefully. :-)

-Donna D (12-13): we should break in some morning around 3:00! donna

-JML (12-12): People in New Orleans have long believed that the Saints miserable first 43 years of existence was due to the fact that the superdome was built on an Indian burial ground and the spirits were angry. And after their success post-Katrina, it's widely believed that the flood waters washed away the sins of the past. I think you can come up with a story to explain whatever reality comes along.

-Linda C (12-12): the music hall looks wonderful and ghost free, even tho not as interesting, we have our own lady in blue that comes to a club in montara, eveyone knows about it, apparently she was killed there and then made to look like a suicide i don't believe in ghosts

-Phyllis SS (12-12): Dave, How very interesting - especially about the asylum and the orphanange and just building over the top of the graves.



  1. What a funny little coincidence? Synchronicity? I was looking for an image of Music Hall to accent a comment I was making about my father, who died of a heart attack in Music Hall. I hope if he haunts the place from time to time, it is merely for the lovely music, and that Mom is with him. They loved that place.

  2. Glad you ran across this ghost story. Your comment adds a lot of poignancy. Thanks.