There are few places in Jacksonville that inspire as clear a sense of the juxtaposition between the physical world and the spirit realm as The Florida Theatre. Its peculiar energy positively radiates otherworldliness. Over the years, the theater has inspired legends aplenty; local ghost lore is rife with tales of paranormal experiences there.
On Halloween night, the cast of "Local Haunts" is giving the curious, the skeptical and the convinced a rare opportunity to experience the theater's rich spiritual world through the conduit of the interesting and talented Pamela Theresa.
The Florida Theatre first opened its doors on April 8, 1927, as the grandest movie house of the 15 that then operated in Downtown Jacksonville. After years of cigarette smoke and events as rockin' as the legendary Elvis Presley concerts — six shows in two days — in 1956, a painstaking restoration was completed in 1983 to return the theater to its former glory. But what couldn't be scrubbed or steamed or pried up and hauled away were the building's spiritual inhabitants. Over the years, countless stories have emerged about an apparition of a little girl, inexplicable light outages and other spooky phenomena.
The local legends about hauntings in the theater led Steve Christian, creator of "Local Haunts," to shoot an episode in the space in 2010. What they caught on camera was no less than the "holy grail" of EVPs or "Electronic Voice Phenomena." Their cameras picked up the image of a ghost sitting in a balcony seat that has come to be known as "the ghost chair," which many consider incontrovertible proof of the existence of the supernatural. The episode was so polarizing that SyFy's "Fact or Faked" tried to prove it was a hoax. They failed. And not only did they declare Christian's footage a "fact" rather than a "fake," SyFy's cameras picked up additional evidence that the theater is haunted.
"They did their own investigation with a thermal camera and chased the apparition all around the theater, and it ended up sitting in the same chair," Christian said.
The spirit that often occupies the ghost chair, which Christian said might be that of an organist who played there in the 1920s, is far from alone.
"Pamela said there's actually a lot there, and they're all tied to the theater; it's a very guarded space. They don't want riff-raff," Christian said. "You have to have some sort of affiliation to the theater to be allowed to possess the space."
The episode generated such interest that this past July "Local Haunts" held the first Paranormal "After Hours" Tour at the theater. When the event sold out, they raised the number of tickets; when it sold out again, they again raised the limit; all told, 157 lucky audience members experienced the theater's hauntings with the help of Theresa, who is a certified spiritual medium and doctor of philosophy specializing in metaphysical parapsychology. For the Halloween event, the tickets are again capped, this time at 100, to allow the attendees a more personal, hands-on experience. And while there is a possibility that the theater will schedule additional paranormal tours in the future, don't count on it becoming a regular thing.
"They don't want do to it too often because they want it to be exclusive and special," Christian said.
Theresa will first treat the audience to a gallery read, where she will demonstrate her gifts by connecting some members of the audience with the departed. Be prepared to be spooked.
"It's incredible the validations that come through," Christian said, "Your people know everything about you."
But don't worry that Uncle Marv and Aunt Frida are horrified by your, um, private moments. Spirits see the world through a different lens. "They have a different view on life than we do, they see the more universal side of things," Christian said.
Special experiences will include a lights-out portion and "a live EVP session so you can hear the dead speak." Don't show up expecting to experience a haunted house, though, with costumed cast members jumping out and scaring the kiddies. This is a full-on paranormal investigation, not a gimmick. And while children are permitted, minors should be accompanied by an adult.
Also with Theresa's help, the audience will have the chance to touch a ghost. It might come as a surprise that the area an apparition occupies doesn't feel the way Hollywood portrays it.
"They have a density to them, you can actually feel where they are — a warm spot, the air just feels denser," Christian said.
If that warmth doesn't give you the chills, nothing will.