Monday, May 9, 2016

HGB Episode 123 - Capitol Theater

Moment in Oddity - Spruce Goose
by: Bob Sherfield

In 1942, the U.S. War Department was suffering heavy losses in the North Atlantic. They needed an aircraft that would be able to cross the ocean while carrying a large payload. Henry J Kaiser, a ship builder, teamed up with the famed aircraft designer, film maker, business tycoon and billionaire Howard Hughes to design what would, at the time, be the world's largest aircraft. The aircraft would need to be made from non metallic materials and be able to carry a cargo that would consist of 2 Sherman tanks or 750 fully equipped troops. Many designs for the aircraft were considered, including twin and single hull designs, and four, six, and eight wing mounted engine combinations. The final plans called for the plane to be made from wood. Despite the initial contract being for the construction of 3 aircraft within 2 years, issues with materials combined with Hughes insistence on perfection, delayed construction of the first plane for 16 months. These problems eventually led to Kaiser withdrawing from the project. The order was revised to just one plane and Hughes focused on that, eventually completing the H-4 Hercules, nicknamed the Spruce Goose, sometime after the war had drawn to a conclusion. Constructed at the Hughes Aircraft Company, the huge aircraft was transported in sections to Pier E in Long Beach where the sections were assembled and readied for launch. Called before a Senate War Investigation Committee in 1947 to explain the use of government funds in constructing the aircraft, which cost in the region of 2.5 $million, Hughes is quoted as saying, “The Hercules was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That's more than a city block. Now, I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it's a failure, I'll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.” On November 2, 1947, the Spruce Goose would take its first and only flight, with a crew of 22 and 16 invited guests onboard. The aircraft performed two taxi runs and then, during its third and final test run of the day, the H-4 finally left the water, traveling for around 1 mile at a height of 70ft above the water and at a speed of 135mph. The H-4 returned to its hanger, were it would be maintained by a crew of 300 full time workers for the next 15 years, and then 50 staff from 1962 until Hughes death in 1976. The Spruce Goose changed hands several times between 1980 and the present day, including a period when Disney planned to make it a centre piece of their now abandoned Port Disney resort. The fact that so much time and money went into building a wooden plane that would only be flown once and is still treated with tender loving care to this day, certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Confederate Spy Belle Boyd Born
by: Jessica Bell

On this day, May 9th, in 1844, Belle Boyd, American actress and Confederate spy during the Civil War, was born. Belle was born in Martinsburg, Virginia to a prosperous family with strong Southern ties. During the Civil War, her father was a soldier in the Stonewall Brigade, and at least three other members of her family were convicted of being Confederate spies. In 1861, Federal troops occupied Martinsburg, and on July 4th, Belle shot and killed a drunken Union soldier. According to her memoirs, the soldier "addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive. I could stand it no longer, we ladies were obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage." Belle faced no punishment for this murder and at age 17 she began her career as a rebel spy.  At first, Belle started out as an informal spy, gathering what information she could. Her talents as a flirt helped her extract information from Union soldiers, and she wrote down her discoveries in letters that she got to the Confederate side. By the time she was 18, word of her identity and activities became widely circulated, and Belle found herself something of a celebrity. The press latched on to her story, calling her the “Cleopatra of the Secession,” “La Belle Rebelle," the “Siren of the Shenandoah" and the “Rebel Joan of Arc." Her high profile soon led to her imprisonment, but due to her age, she was only held a week and continued her espionage work upon her release.  Due to her espionage activities, Belle Boyd was placed under arrest six times, thrown in prison three times, and exiled twice. Belle lived out the rest of the War in London, England, with the hopes that she would be able to continue her rebel work. After the death of her husband, she began acting and wrote her memoirs in order to make money. Later she traveled all over the U.S. giving dramatic speeches detailing her experiences as a Confederate spy. Belle died in what is now Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, in 1900 while she was there to perform for a gathering of Union veterans.

Capitol Theater (Suggested by listener Sue Story, Research Assistant Ren Davenport)

Theaters have always shared a special place in history. We crave to be entertained and many of us desire to entertain. Theaters are a place of strong emotions, both those played out by actors and those evoked in the audience. Paranormal activity feeds off of those kinds of emotions. The Capitol Theater was built in the center of Salt Lake City and has entertained Utahans for more than a hundred years. Tragedy has been a part of the Capitol Theater's history as well and that has helped add to the theater's reputation as being a haunted location. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Capitol Theater!

The Salt Lake Valley was originally home to the Paiute, Shoshone and Ute tribes. The first US explorer credited with coming to the area was Jim Bridger in 1825. Army officer John C. Fremont surveyed the Salt Lake Valley in 1843 and 1845 and the Donner Party would also come through the area in 1846. The first permanent settlers would be Mormons who arrived in 1847 and this would become their domain. Construction began on the Salt Lake Temple in 1853, which is a well known landmark worldwide today. The Mormons wanted to call their settlement Deseret, but the US government would not allow it and instead referred to it as the Utah Territory and appointed Fillmore as the capital. In 1858, Great Salt Lake City replaced Fillmore as the capital and later the name was shortened to Salt Lake City. It would soon become one of the most populous cities in the West.

G. Albert Lansburgh was born in 1876. He was an American architect trained in both America and Paris. He launched his career in San Francisco shortly after both the devastating earthquake and fire that nearly destroyed the city. He designed numerous buildings for the city and one of those was a theater for the Orpheum Theater Circuit, that was based in San Francisco. Gustav Walter was a vaudeville actor who founded the Orpheum Opera House in San Francisco. Orpheum theaters were known for featuring vaudeville acts throughout the country. Orpheum would eventually become RKO. Lansburgh went on from that first theater design to design 50 more theaters and he became famous for that kind of architecture. One of those theaters was the Orpheum Theater in Salt Lake City.

1913 Opening
Construction of that theater was completed in 1913. It was built in the style of Italian Renaissance. Renaissance is known for emphasizing proportion and symmetry. Arches, domes and niches are key traits of the style. The base of the theater has six columns in front all curving into arches and all of the windows have arching peaks. The building is in a very boxy shape similar to the Doges Palace in Venice, Italy. The ceiling is a work of art. The theater had all the current updates of the time including fire proofing, air conditioning and earthquake damage prevention. A newspaper reporter wrote of the theater that it was "rich and restful, without vulgar or gaudy display" and the Deseret Evening News stated in an article about the theater's opening, “In point of architecture, appointments, size and all the latest improvements, Salt Lake can now truthfully boast of having one of the finest theaters in America.” The theater featured vaudeville acts and played silent movies starting in 1923. In 1927, the Capitol Theater Group took over and it was renamed The Capitol Theater. In 1929, sound motion pictures or "talkies" took the place of the silent films at the theater.

The Capitol continued to be privately owned until the city bought the theater in 1976 and restored much of it back to its original look. Today, the theater features many Broadway touring productions and has a very strong Ballet program in conjunction with the Ballet West Company, which renovated the theater in 2013, adding the Jessie Eccles Quinney Center for Dance. Productions and stars that have been featured at the theater are "Evening Shade" starring Marilu Henner, "Sweet Charity" starring Molly Ringwald, “Annie Get Your Gun” with Tom Wopat of “Dukes of Hazard” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” with Jonathan Crombie, Gilbert Blythe from CBC Television's “Anne of Green Gables.”

Tragedy knows this spot well. Before the Capitol Theater was built here, there stood the Old Walker Opera House. It was burned completely on July 4, 1890. In a weird twist of fate or in an odd coincidence, on July 4th, 1949 a fire broke out in the basement of the Capitol Theater. Six hundred patrons managed to escape the blaze, but unfortunately one young usher did not. Richard Duffin was 17 when he died because of smoke inhalation during the fire. He and two other employees were fleeing after trying to put out the fire. Duffin tripped in the basement and his body was saved by a daring retrieval made by Fire Captain William A. Limb. Duffin had only been employed by the theater for three weeks. No cause for the fire could be found.

One of the reported hauntings features Richard Duffin. He reportedly moves lights, unplugs extension cords, slams doors and moves the elevator up and down. Probably the most famous experience involving Duffin, occurred to Officers Dave Murphy and Morgan Mathews. Their accounts were featured on the the TV show “Paranormal Witness” that aired on the SyFy channel. Officer Murphy was hired to be a protective officer for the Capitol Theatre under the supervision of Officer Matthews. On his first training shift, he experienced slamming doors when no one was around, lights that would turn on seemingly on their own and doors that he knew he had locked, flung open even though he was the only one around with keys to the doors. On another night, Officer Mathews heard whispering voices behind him and when he turned around, there was no one there. He checked the building and could find no one, but when he got closer to the basement he smelled smoke. He investigated the basement and the rest of the building and there was no fire anywhere.

Weeks later, Officer Mathews overheard the theatre’s accountant, Blair Fuller, talking about his experience with the elevators going up and down on their own late at night when he had been working in the building alone. The accountant also had his filing cabinet drawers open and close on their own. The Officers decided to bring in a friend of theirs that had the ability to “see things” to try to discern what was going on at the theater. Their friend knew nothing of the theater before entering the building and the officers brought him in under the pretense of giving him a tour. As soon as their friend walked in the building he asked them if they knew the building was haunted. They went down to the basement where the friend and the officers again smelled smoke and the friend saw a young man standing in the corner. The officers could not see the young man. The activity in the theatre began to increase after the sensitive had left. Officer Mathews purchased an infrared monitor. One night he used the monitor in the theatre and picked up a figure sitting in one of the theatre chairs as if they were watching a show. The figure suddenly swooped in at Mathews quickly and snarled. He decided at that point that he wanted to be reassigned to a different building.

Officer Murphy soon did the same. Murphy was guarding the theater by himself and heard ragtime music coming from the theatre. He went in to investigate and found the piano had its lid down and it was not a player piano that can play on its own. He also claimed that a woman dressed in clothing from the early 1900s walked right past him while he sat in the control room. Murphy described some of his experiences as being menacing. He reported, "Toward the end, they wanted me out of that building for whatever reason." A shadow person attacked him and he described it by saying, "It felt just like I got a punch in the chest. Literally, I could not talk. Whatever it was, it had the power to shut me up." He requested a transfer after the incident. Officer Murphy sought to find out what could be the source of the hauntings. He reached out to former stagehand Doug Morgan who had worked at the theatre during 1949. Morgan told him the story of the fire and of the tragic death of the young usher, Richard Duffin.

Mark Lewis who produced the episode of Paranormal Witness advises Capitol Theater patrons, "Let me give you some tips. Stay away from the men's room on the third floor. Don't go down to the basement. And whatever you do, don't get on an elevator." As a side note, we thought it would be interesting to explore the basic thoughts on the paranormal within the Mormon religion. It parallels much of what Christendom believes. Mainly that these are disembodied evil spirits and that some are more mischievous than others. Mormons believe in a premortal life. They believe that our spirits have always existed and were just waiting to be born. When a righteous person dies, their spirit is disembodied for a while, but they do not participate in hauntings. That is only for evil spirits. They believe righteous spirits can make appearances if they are doing something for God like bringing a message. But again, they are not scary or dark and do not haunt. They believe that only LDS men over 18 can get rid of evil spirits.

Is it just a coincidence that two major fires took place on the same spot on the same date 59 years apart? Does the young usher Duffin haunt the theater? Is there something else here as well? Is the Capitol Theater haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes

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