Since it opened in 1926, the Tampa Theatre has relied on the passion of the people who love theatre to keep it up and running.
Some of those people are just no longer living.
“We are considered to be one of the most haunted buildings in Tampa,” said Jill Witecki, director of marketing & community relations at the Tampa Theatre.
According to Jeremy Rettig, the founder of Genesis Paranormal Services, the amount of ghostly evidence collected might make Tampa Theatre one of the most haunted buildings in the country.
“Tampa Theatre is by far the most active place I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The responses we get… It’s some of the most compelling evidence I’ve ever seen in any location.”
Angela Alderman, a member of Rettig’s team who has appeared on “Ghost Hunters International,” concurred.
“I think the place is one of the creepiest places I’ve ever been,” she said. “There’s more activity there than places that are centuries and centuries old. I’d be pretty creeped out to be there overnight.”
Witecki has worked with Rettig and Genesis Paranormal to investigate the theatre multiple times over the last three years. Each investigation has yielded evidence of spirits, like electronic voice phenomena (EVP) recordings. Rettig had a personal experience with the supernatural when he felt a tap on his shoulder in the projection room, a common claim from the theatre’s projectionists.
“We don’t like to know too many of the stories going in,” Rettig said. “I go into it looking for the natural causes first, but I don’t rule out the paranormal. You have to go in with a logical mind. Nine times out of 10 you find a reasonable explanation. The other times are what’s interesting.”
Rettig, Alderman and Witecki have all seen first-hand especially convincing evidence of an otherworldly presence in theatre seat 308 (Editor’s note, 4/12/18: As part of their 2017 renovations, the Tampa Theatre replaced all of their seats, so the original seat 308 no longer exists). Witecki’s predecessor reported seeing a man in a fedora sitting alone in the seat when the theatre was closed. When she called out to him, he stood up and disappeared. Genesis Paranormal conducted an EVP recording in front of the seat and found something chilling.
“When you went back and listened to the tape, you hear the investigator say ‘we’re just trying to help the Tampa Theatre,’ and you hear a man’s voice say ‘I’m trying,’” Witecki said.
Witecki leads ghost tours at the Tampa Theatre throughout the month of October. With any luck, visitors will have their own experience with one of the theatre’s friendly spirits.
“I don’t sense any bad spirits there,” Rettig said. “It’s just people who love the theatre.”
Scroll down to learn about a few of the theatre’s ghostly residents.
Visitors take photos with this strange feature of the theatre and post them on social media, even creating a hashtag for him.
The Woman in White
A psychic medium has seen the mangled body of a young woman killed by a carriage near the theatre on the upstairs mezzanine (top), where she reportedly spins a stone urn.
Guests report smelling coffee, cigarettes and lavender aftershave, hallmarks of the deceased projectionist’s morning routine, and theatre employees are often tapped on the should when it’s time to switch film reels.
Original to the theatre, the organ has a “toybox” filled with different sound effects organists used to play alongside silent films. It was sold to a local church after the rise of “talkie” films, but theatre supporters bought it back and reinstalled it in the theatre in the 1950s. Today, most of the scores for the silent films the theatre shows have been lost, so an organist writes original music for each film, weaving in pieces of popular tunes.