No ghosts named George haunt Wayside Theatre

“On the nights they were rehearsing or nights that there was a show, the (paranormal) activity was pretty impressive.”
– John Rossi, Shenandoah Shadows investigaton

“Yes, it’s haunted, but it’s not haunted by the ghost we thought it was haunted by.”
– Thomasin Savaiano, actress and the theatre’s liaison with Shenandoah Shadows

“I walked in and it was as if I was walking into a twister of energy.”
– Michael Brooker, psychic medium from the United Kingdom

History debunks urban legend

By Linda O’Dell Ash – lash@nvdaily.com

It’s long been said that a former African-American movie usher named George has been haunting Wayside Theatre in Middletown.

Door knobs turning by an unseen hand, eerie footsteps heard on the basement steps, startling reflections on the control room booth window and other phenomena that made one more than a bit uncomfortable in the old building were, up until 2008, attributed to a ghost named George.

What happened in 2008 disappointed some folks, but added a whole new perspective on the topic of ghosts in the building.

Thomasin Savaiano, an actress who has appeared in many Wayside Theatre productions, says she delved into the building’s past through research and talking to area residents and she could not come up with any one person named George who was an usher at the movie theater that used to be in the building.

“I actually spoke to – he is passed now – former Mayor Gene Dicks – whose family took over the movie theater and ran the movie theater. There were no ushers – they were the ushers,” Savaiano said during an interview in the Curtain Call, the theatre’s concession area.

Savaiano’s research was conducted in 2008 in conjunction with the theatre’s first paranormal investigation. The result of that investigation disappointed some people.

The biggest thing to come out of that first investigation, Savaiano said, was the fact that the building was not haunted by one spirit.

“Yes, it’s haunted, but it’s not haunted by the ghost we thought it was haunted by,” she said.

In fact, John Rossi of Shenandoah Shadows, the paranormal group investigating the theatre, said there’s more than one ghost in the old building.

“History debunked urban legend,” Rossi said. “People were kind of disappointed.”

Rossi said that, after several investigations and EVP sessions, the one thing that became apparent to him was that the spirits there seemed to be attracted to the actors and the audience.

“On the nights they were rehearsing or nights that there was a show, the (paranormal) activity was pretty impressive. On the nights that this was a dark house when there weren’t things going on, there might be a little (paranormal activity), but there was nothing like when the theatre was going,” Rossi said.

“My belief is that we’re near the (Cedar Creek) battlefield. We’ve sensed males with their bearing that suggest to us like soldiers, as well as we have EVPs that were clearly female, sounds like an adult female. We have EVPs that clearly sound like children. So there are a variety of things coming here,” he said. “And I believe that when there is a show going on and the energy that the actors are putting out and the energy – the receptive energy – of this appreciative audience, it all combines together and I think it’s a huge beacon and I think it draws them in the same way a lighthouse in the fog and it pulls them here.”

Photo: Thomasin Savaiano sits in the control booth where dials and switches have been moved by an unseen hand and where images have appeared in the window facing out toward the stage. Linda O’Dell Ash/Daily

Both Savaiano and Rossi have had some interesting experiences in the theatre.

Rossi said one night he set up a camera panning the small lights control booth located at the back of the balcony, above the stage.

“The manager kept saying that all of her switches and dials and stuff were being moved to places that she knows she did not set. That night, (on the video) you hear electronic switches being flipped in the booth,” he said.

Another time he put some toys in the booth and the camera picked up a light that comes from off camera, pauses and seems to go into a toy.

“Seems to be a curious child playing with things,” Rossi said of the strange events in the control booth.

Savaiano said that during an investigation, her team, which included psychics, went into the theatre’s costume shop.

“Three of the gentlemen were all saying they were talking to this little girl, and she liked this yellow dress and we all looked around and the costume designer had a yellow dress hanging,” Savaiano said, adding that the little girl told the men that she liked the room because it was a very feminine room.

“In this particular instance they were talking to her and they said she was saying she loved to watch us rehearse on the stage. We were in rehearsal for the Christmas show, which was the original musical version of “A Christmas Carol” … I was the only person in the room in the show and I was the only person in the room who had ever been to rehearsal of the show and I was the only person in the room who had any clue what the show was. I said, ‘Ask her … we sing a lot of Christmas carols … there’s one we sing in the beginning, over and over again, what is that song? Ask her what it is,’ and all of them, one started humming it really badly, but saying the right words, came up with ‘Good King Winceslas,’ which is exactly what the opening is.

“… I know there is no way the three gentlemen in the room with me would have any idea … and not even that, they were quoting lyrics from the second verse, ‘Bring me pine logs,’ the less commonly known verse of the piece. That to me says something. It just does, plain out. There’s no other way they would know.”

Photo: Psychic Michael Brooker and paranormal investigator John Rossi talk about the apparitions haunting Wayside Theatre.  Brooker said anyone with an interest in the paranormal would “do themselves a very big favor by … popping in … and experience this for themselves.”  Linda O’Dell Ash/Daily

Prior to the interview, Savaiano met with Rossi and Michael Brooker, a psychic medium visiting the area from the United Kingdom. Saviano is theatre liaison with Shenandoah Shadows.

Rossi was there to show her a video taken during a November 2010
investigation in the Curtain Call. In the video, a shadow of a man can
be seen moving about the room as two women are chatting.

Photo: This is a view of the Curtain Call at Wayside Theatre. A video taken during an investigation captured the shadow of a man moving about the room in this area.  View video on YouTube.com

Brooker agreed that he felt there is more than one entity haunting the theatre.

“When I walked in I said to John (Rossi), this place is truly alive and active with energy,” Brooker said. “There is no one (entity). There is number and changeable number…

“Being in here and feeling what I do, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest and I think anyone that is remotely interested in, on whatever level or degree, in the supernatural or paranormal would do themselves a very big favor by … popping in … and experience this for themselves,” Brooker said.

“I walked in and it was as if I was walking into a twister of energy, he said.”

Photo: There have been numerous sightings of a female ghost in the window of the electrical room located in the back right corner of the balcony. Linda O’Dell Ash/Daily

While Brooker was on stage in the darkened theatre, he said he could sense the presence of several males on stage and, looking up, he could see the painted walls of the electrical room located in the back right corner of the balcony.

There was someone in that window, he said.

Savaiano noted that the theatre has had numerous reports of people seeing a lady in this window. But once up in the balcony, a closer look reveals that a dark curtain covers the window, blocking the view into the room.

Rossi says he had another paranormal experience on the balcony. He said that during one investigation he had a thermal imaging camera, which shows temperature changes, focused on the balcony.

“Up about four rows, center, all the chairs were the same temperature except this one chair,” he said, and then explained that the chair in the cold spot was next to where a psychic had been sitting “conversing” with a spirt while he was filming from the stage below.

Wayside Theatre

  • Location: 7853 Main St. – P.O. Box 260, Middletown,
    VA 22645. The theatre is located on U.S. Route 11 in the small historic
    town of Middletown in Frederick County, Va. Parking is available in
    the back of the theatre and there’s limited time parking along Route 11.
    You can get a closeup view of the theatre and the Curtain Call
    concession area by purchasing a ticket to a performance. You are
    welcome to stop in to see the lobby/box office area at other times
    during weekday business hours. If they have time, someone may also be
    able to take you into the Curtain Call.
  • Phone: 540-869-1776
  • Website: http://www.waysidetheatre.org/
  • History:
    In the 1800s, buildings where Wayside Theatre is now located included a
    store, a tavern and a hotel in the 1800s, according to the theatre’s website.
    The building currently housing the theatre was built in the 1940s after
    a fire destroyed businesses that were there prior. This structure once
    housed a movie theatre, a pharmacy, a store and a beauty shop.
    Businessman Leo Bernstein purchased the building in 1963 and opened
    Wayside Theatre.

Paranormal Investigations:

Shenandoah Shadows, a Northern Shenandoah Valley paranormal group, is conducting investigations at Wayside Inn.

Some of the Paranormal Events Experienced/Recorded:

  • Saw a spool of thread moved on suggestion
  • Saw a woman in the curtained window located in the balcony, right side of theatre
  • Saw doors opening and slamming for no apparent reason
  • Saw unusual light on video going into a toy
  • Saw reflections of someone in tiny control booth window behind the operator
  • Saw cold spot in a chair toward the center of the balcony on thermal imaging camera
  • Saw anomaly on EF meter move upon request
  • Captured on video shadow of a man moving in Curtain Call
  • Heard footsteps on the basement stairs
  • Heard psychics repeating words to a Christmas carol sung during a rehearsal – that they were not present at
  • Heard on video switches, dials being flipped in control booth when nobody was in there
  • Psychics had conversations with spirit of little girl in the costume shop
  • Psychics relaying answers by spirit of little girl in costume shop about what were the words to a song sung during a recent play rehearsal
  • Psychic sensing male spirits present that may have been Civil War soldiers
  • EVP recordings of women talking
  • EVP recordings of children talking