Thursday, January 4, 2018

HGB Ep. 239 - Keith-Albee Theater

Moment in Oddity - Benjamin Bathurst Disappears

Benjamin Bathurst was a British man who was sent by the British government on a secret mission to Austria to ask them to join in a confederation to fight against Napoleon. His message was that Britain would attack the French occupying Spain if Austria would join. Things didn't work out and Austria ended up ceding territory to Napoleon. Bathurst began his journey home after delivering the message under the assumed name Koch. He told everyone that he was a wealthy merchant and he was traveling with his secretary. Bathhurst had been acting very vervous and was sure agents of Napoloen were following him. He decided to leave an inn where he was staying in the middle of the night. He left his secretary to pay the bill and he went out to check that the horses were rigged right. He walked around the horses and just disappeared. The valet did not see him anywhere and he had been loading the baggage. The secretary did not see him come back into the inn. Soldiers stationed at each end of the street did not see him pass. He literally just disappeared. Many stories theorized that he had somehow run away and been lost at sea, others say he was kidnapped and others say he slipped away and changed his identity. The only thing we know for certain is that he walked out around his horses and was no more and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Beatles Turned Down by Decca Records

In the month of January, on the 1st, in 1962, the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records and were turned down. The members of the Beatles at that time were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best. They travelled from Liverpool with their roadie Neil Aspinall. Brian Epstein met up with them later as he decided to take the train. They nearly missed their 11am audition with Decca because of snowstorms. The boys were eager to seal the deal. A representative from the company had already seen them perform live and he was not impressed, so they hoped the private audition would win the contract. They were thrown off at the beginning of the audition because their amplifiers were considered subpar and so they had to use some that Decca owned that they were unfamiliar with. The session took an hour to record. They recorded 15 songs most of which are only available today as bootleg. Another group had auditioned that day as well and that was Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. Decca Records could only choose one of them and in a decision they clearly must have regretted later, they decided to sign Brian Poole and the Tremeloes since they were a local group and would be easier to work with. The official reason Decca gave was that "guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein". Dick Rowe would forever be known as the "man who turned down the Beatles" and this line became infamous. Obviously, Brian Epstein pressed on for the Beatles and took the recordings they made around to other record labels. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Keith-Albee Theater (Suggested by Victoria Brooke)

The Keith-Albee Theater in Huntington, West Virginia was a part of a national chain of theaters that hosted vaudeville shows and then eventually converted to motion picture theaters. The Keith-Albee Theater also has the distinction of being one of a very few atmospheric theaters built in America. Nearly all of them are gone today. This theater has survived and has been refurbished to its former glory. All the decades of use has left spiritual residue behind. There are rumored to be several ghosts here. Join us as we share the history and hauntings of the Keith-Albee Theater.

Keith-Albee-Orpheum Theaters was a national chain of vaudeville theaters formed by the merger of the holdings of Benjamin Franklin Keith, Edward Franklin Albee II and Martin Beck's Orpheum Circuit. The company was incorporated in Delaware on January 28, 1928 and soon the company was operating a chain of theaters across America and Canada that could seat a total of 1,500,000 people. There were 700 theaters at its height. Fifteen thousand vaudeville acts passed through the theaters. Eventually the KAO theaters were bought out by RKO and motion pictures became the main source of entertainment at the theaters.

One of the locations where Keith and Albee decided to build a theater was in Huntington, West Virginia. The first permanent settlement in Huntington was "Holderby's Landing," which was founded in 1775. The official city of Huntington was incorporated in 1871 and named for founder Collis P. Huntington, who was one of the "Big Four" to build the Central Pacific Railroad. He and Delos W. Emmons wanted the city to be the western terminus for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. The tract of land was at the mouth of the Guyandotte River. Huntington boomed from that time in the late 1800s and the city was actually the second in America to feature electric street cars. They were eventually replaced by gas-powered buses. Things changed with the Great Flood of 1937. The Dust Bowl and Great Depression had already hit the country hard and this flood was devastating. For Huntington, it resulted in five people dead, millions of dollars in damage and tens of thousands left homeless. *Fun Fact: The movie "We Are Marshall" was filmed in Huntington.*

Construction on the Keith Albee Theater began in 1926 and ended up costing $2 million to build. The owners, the Hyman brothers, hired Scottish-born architect Thomas W. Lamb to design the theater in the rococo style. The rococo style dates back to the 18th century and was a French artistic movement. The style was ornate and featured light colors, curves, gold and asymmetrical designs. Many of the themes were quite witty and many times incorporated Chinese figures and designs. Interiors would integrate ornate furniture, tapestries, small sculptures and ornamental mirrors. Another unique part of the design for the theater is that Lamb chose to make it one of eight atmospheric theaters he designed. Atmospheric theatres were designed to create the illusion of being entertained outdoors in a magnificent courtyard. There are faux facades of various shops and village homes and the domed ceiling appears to be a blue night sky with a smattering of stars.There is only one other atmospheric theater left and it is in New York and scheduled for demolition.

The theater officially opened on May 7, 1928. Guests entered to find a grand theater with seating for 3000, chandeliers, intricate plasterwork, balconies, restrooms for men and women that had fireplaces, smoking rooms, cosmetic rooms and a gorgeous front lobby with Mexican Baroque styling. Inside the theater there was a Wurlitzer organ to accompany live performances and motion pictures. This type of organ was fun in that it could create sound effects for any silent pictures shown at the theater. The Hyman Brothers innovated the theater to have air-conditioning. It was one of few places to have such a luxury. There was also a state-of-the-art heating system, so guests were comfortable all year long. Huntington’s Herald-Dispatch newspaper called the theater the “temple of amusement.” That first opening featured a performance by singer Rae Samuels, some vaudeville acts and a screening of 1928's "Good Morning Judge" starring Reginald Denny. People paid .50 cents for a ticket.

The theater was hit hard through the Great Depression and the flood and the entertainment industry changed. The Wurlitzer organ was removed in the 1950s, but in 2001 the Huntington Theatre Organ Project, Inc., purchased a 1927 Wurlitzer organ and reinstalled it in the theater. In the 1960s, the theater was converted fully to a three screen theater. A fourth smaller theater was added later. In 1986, the theater was added to the Register of Historical Places. The Hyman family had owned it for eighty years and they decided to donate it to the Marshall University Foundation, Inc. in the 1990s. In January 2006, the Keith-Albee Theatre closed as a functioning movie theater. The foundation later passed it on to the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center Foundation. Many grand theaters dating back to the time of the Keith-Albee were demolished, so it is really special that the citizens of Huntington decided to save their theater. Today, the theater is used for weddings, special events, touring Broadway shows, music concerts and dance recitals.

The Keith-Albee shares a unique feature found in so many theaters and that is, ghosts. Several people have met their ends inside the theater and many believe that their spirits have opted to stay at the theater in the afterlife. There are claims that this is the most haunted building in the tri-state area. Three of the ghosts reputed to be here, belong to workmen, two of them electricians and one a maintenance man. The electricians were electrocuted while working on wiring and the maintenance man died in some way inside the modern projection room. They appear as shadow figures and fittingly, mess with the lighting and other electrical parts.

A homeless man had taken shelter in the basement, but there was no heat down there and he ended up freezing to death. It was right below the staging area. Much of the activity does center around the basement and it believed that this is where the electricians died as well. Ghostlore claims that the basement opens up into a system of tunnels, but we didn't find anything to prove that these tunnels exist today. They may have been under the city, but they are more than likely filled in now.

The most famous ghost at the theater is the Lady in Red. She tends to occupy the ladies restroom on the mezzanine level. There is a mirrored parlor that leads into the restroom and this is where she is often seen as a full-bodied apparition. The specter wears a fancy red dress and high heeled shoes. Another bathroom at the Keith-Albee is said to be haunted by a spirit, but no one is sure what is haunting it as it only appears as more of a poltergeist type spirit. Patrons describe feeling as though they are being watched or followed.

Most theaters claim to have at least one spirit hanging around. The Keith-Albee claims to have several. Is the Keith-Albee theater haunted? That is for you to decide!

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