During a question and answer session immediately after the show, a young student raises his hand and asks about the unique effect. “How did you get the girl to float?” he asks. The cast and stage workers look at one another and the boy oddly. “What girl?”
More children raise their hands. “Yeah, how did you do that?” The demand to know the secret repeats until a teacher asks the same question, requesting how the woman dressed in white was made to look like she was floating above the stage.
The actors and crew share uneasy glances and dismiss the effect as a secret of the stage, but the truth was, they couldn’t explain the phenomenon. No such role or effect had been part of the play, despite the entire audience having seen the woman.
This is one of many ghost stories that surround the Wendy Williamson Auditorium; the so-called lady in white herself has been the star of several, though not always as dramatic as her widely attended stage appearance.
Stories of strange happenings and alleged hauntings have been appearing for roughly as long as the building has been open (since 1974), and brothers Shane and Wayne Mitchell can account for several first-hand experiences dating back to the early ‘80s when they were theater students at UAA.
“People started to experience incidents right away, so it’s not like it’s something that’s developed over time,” said Wayne, an event facilitator for the Wendy Williamson.
When people find out about the alleged haunting of the Wendy Williamson Auditorium, they tend to flock to the building in hopes of having a paranormal experience. The employees don’t pay them much attention, but a psychic was once permitted to stay the night in the building, and provided Shane, the facilities manager for the Wendy Williamson, with a written account of the different spirits that resided there; with varying details depending on the spirit.
The document was allegedly lost during an office move, but the details of it remain in memory. At the time, the psychic cataloged about six different ghosts, one being the lady in white.
Another ghost, a male musician, is believed to be the late John Wendell “Wendy” Williamson himself, for whom the building is named.
The ghost, whether Williamson or not, greatly dislikes a portrait of Williamson that used to hang in the building’s lobby. Every time the portrait is hung, it is found on the floor the morning after, though with no damage. After several days of this, the wire cable it was being hung from snapped in two. Shane didn’t put it back up after that.
Another of the resident ghosts is a little girl of about 8 or 9. She has been known to do a series of things, like floating near spotlights, but Shane’s first experience with her wasn’t a sighting.
“My brother Shane was in his office, and he heard the sound of little girls giggling. At the time, he wasn’t the facilities manager, he was just working here; he thought it was the children of the guy who was the facilities manager. He opened the door to say hello to them, and nobody was there,” said Wayne.
Another ghost often seen is the shadowy figure of a man who seems to enjoy listening to performances. He is often seen leaning on a wall or partition backstage, with all his weight on one side and his head tilted towards the music.
“There was a folk music group playing, and one of the members looked up and saw somebody leaning against these flats [backstage] with their arms folded, weight on one foot, listening to the music,” said Wayne. “After the show they were asking, ‘How’d this person get back here?’ and we told them that there was no access back here; there was no way.”
Not all the ghosts are benign, however. One catalogued by the psychic is a very angry male. The precise identity of this ghost is believed to be known, but the brothers have been asked by surviving family members to not identify him to others. This ghost has a habit of shoving young women with long brown hair down the left staircase in the Wendy Williamson lobby. One graphic tale of this took place during a beauty pageant. A girl was on the middle landing, descending the stairs, when she suddenly pitched forward and fell partway down the remaining steps.
“The girls laughed at her, saying she didn’t know how to stand in her heels, and she said, ‘No, I swear, I was pushed.’ I’d been standing right there, and no one was behind her,” said Shane. While Mitchell never saw the ghost, he was standing in the lobby and witnessed the girl fall forward in such a way that made it appear to have been more than a careless trip.
The next day, the girl was wearing an open-back gown for the evening wear contest, and had two large bruises in the shape of handprints, where she felt she’d been shoved.
This ghost is also believed to be responsible for many of the negative feelings workers feel in certain areas of the theater. The room with the most of these “get out” feelings is the lighting booth.
“There was a stage manager doing a show, and right in the middle of it, it was like somebody was pounding on all the outsides of these walls. Like somebody was hammering their way around these walls while doing the show,” said Petra Banks, an event facilitator at the Wendy Williamson.
The last ghost, a teenager believed by most to be a male, is seen and felt the least. However, he is possibly the kindest of the supernatural residents. A teenage girl who used to act in the theater became seriously ill and needed to go through surgery. She was frightened when she was separated from her family, but immediately felt the pressure of someone, that felt like a teenage boy, holding her wrist gently. She was immediately at ease, and despite the fact that no one present was actually holding her wrist, the overwhelming sense of comfort emitted by the presence stayed with her until the very moment she was reunited with her family again.
“She said that experience convinced her of the potential existence of ghosts, and in fact thought that it was something that had followed her from here,” said Wayne.
The ghosts, who all have different backgrounds not necessarily associated with the theater, are believed to be drawn to the Wendy Williamson because of all the raw emotional energy expelled in the theater in the form of plays and other shows.
“The way she [the psychic] explained it was that a being that is now nothing but energy, when they see a great deal of energy expended, emotional energy, will be drawn to it,” said Shane.
Whether ghosts are real, or simply figments of imagination, no one can deny that things happen which cannot be explained. So even if you don’t believe in ghosts, keep an eye out when visiting the Wendy Williamson Auditorium for any unusual happenings.
Maybe you’ll see a ghost, or maybe you’ll do the employees there a favor and find a more scientific explanation for all the oddities reported over the years.