It happened here: Stagehand’s ghost haunts the Capitol Theater | Pass
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than your philosophy dreams of. “
– “Hamlet”, act 1, scene 5
Ghosts are as much a part of theater as grease paint and reminders.
With their cavernous and dark interiors, theaters easily lend themselves to stories of spirits causing strange noises or other unexplained events within their walls. Especially older theaters, where the sound of a building settling in can also evoke supernatural thoughts.
Yakima’s Capitol Theater is no exception. Besides being the home of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and the Yakima Town Hall series, it has its own resident ghost.
“It’s hard to imagine a historic building without a ghost,” said Charlie Robin, general manager of the theater.
The Capitol Wraith’s name is Shorty, and it’s believed to have haunted the South Third Street Theater for decades. He’s been credited – or blamed, take your pick – for things like randomly flushing the toilet, unlocking doors, and hiding papers around the theater.
Nothing of the order of the disembodied spirits of horror films. More like a smart aleck.
The theater enabled Shorty to make a living during the pandemic, putting him in the limelight for a fundraiser while the theater was closed. (More on that later.)
History of the theater
The theater was the dream of Frederick Mercy Sr., whose family continues to operate cinemas in the valley. Mercy was planning to build a large vaudeville theater on South Third Street, going so far as to operate a small cinema next to the church that was on the site he wanted until church leaders gave in. at his requests to sell him the land.
The Mercy, as it was then called, opened in April 1920, with the Broadway musical “Maytime” the first show to be performed there.
According to legend, Shorty was a stagehand at the theater and fell in love with an actress. But she rejected her love, and a depressed Shorty committed suicide on the catwalks above the stage.
But Shorty, apparently, didn’t let something like death get in the way of his involvement in the theater. He also did not give up his post when the theater was destroyed by fire in 1975 and rebuilt.
(For the record, the fire was started by a short circuit. I can’t blame the ghost for that one.)
One of Shorty’s iconic antics involved the door to his “office” in the old theater organ gallery. If someone left the door open, something would mysteriously close it. And if it was closed, and locked, it would end up open the next day.
The papers that were missing from the theater were sometimes found in Shorty’s room behind the locked door.
Ushers at the theater reported feeling someone was following them, and even people with touring productions reported experiencing phenomena that theater elders attributed to Shorty.
Robin said one person even took a photo of what looked like a woman on stage. And there’s the story of a man setting in the audience and standing up, to reveal that he didn’t have a lower body.
In 2010, Shorty’s office was removed when the building’s production center was added to this area, but the walled-up door is still visible behind the scenes, and Shorty’s door remains behind the scenes.
So far, Shorty has not shown up in the production facility, Robin said, but to be on the safe side, no one intends to get rid of Shorty’s door.
But does Robin believe in Shorty?
Although he has not had a personal experience with Shorty, Robin refers to Hamlet’s suggestion to Horatio, after seeing Hamlet’s father’s ghost, that there are just a few things we don’t do not know and that we cannot explain.
“But Shorty has been around longer than me, so who am I to say?” Robin said.
Robin attempted to track down Shorty the man, enlisting John Baule, director emeritus and archivist at the Yakima Valley Museum to research the story of the enamored machinist. Originally believing Shorty’s last name was McCall, Baule couldn’t find anything about him, Robin said.
But Robin said a member of the Mercy family told him that Shorty’s last name was Michaud.
Research on FindaGrave.com des Michauds buried in Washington state found only two men with that last name, both buried in the western part of the state and both aged 70, which can safely exclude them.
However, Robin enlisted Shorty – or at least his legend – in a fundraiser to help the theater when COVID forced him to cancel events.
The theater asked customers to send funds for “Shorty’s Spirit Series”, featuring imaginary productions such as “The Laugh ‘Til You Die Tour”, “Dead At The Capitol”, “The Phantom of The Capitol” and “The Sound of No Music” among others.
Since the theater did not have live performances, it was deemed best to let Shorty spend his time on stage, the promotion said.
And like all theaters, the Capitol has a “phantom light,” a single bulb on a pole that illuminates the theater when not in use. But there is a practical reason for this: It prevents workers from falling off the stage or bumping into furniture in the dark.
Plus, Shorty doesn’t have to walk around in the dark.