In response to last week’s post “The Most Haunted Place in Pittsburgh,” Facebook friend Michael Brendan informs us that his father actually had an encounter with a Playhouse ghost. “It was John,” Michael writes, referring to the ghost of deceased thespian John Johns. “Dad saw him once in the seats after a show had ended. John later tried messing with Dad as he was doing some carpentry work, and Dad wasn’t having it.”
A ghost bugging a carpenter? What could go wrong?
<<< The Playhouse ghost John Johns sits alone in a still from a video recreation produced by Point Park University.
Michael’s description of John Johns is in keeping with other sightings. For example, the blog Haunts and History tells us that the ghost of Johns “fancies himself a director, intently watching rehearsals from the seats and [occasionally sharing] some tricks of the trade or a criticism with the actors.”
Interestingly, since Johns is the only Playhouse spirit with a known first and last name, it should be possible to determine exactly who he was, how he died, and why he haunted the theatre prior to its demolition in 2019. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
According to the website Ghosts.org, Johns suffered a heart attack while attending a banquet at the Playhouse. “While waiting for an ambulance, a group of men carried him to dressing room number seven. Just as they were entering the threshold, John Johns died. Now, people have heard footsteps climbing the stairs to number seven, never entering, never going back down the stairs.”
It seems fitting that he would have been attending a banquet, since many who have reported seeing his ghost describe him as wearing a tuxedo. However, Point Park University (which owned the Playhouse) tells us in their video (see above) that “Johns had a heart attack on stage and later died in his dressing room” [emphasis mine].
The stairs to dressing room number seven, from Only In Your State.>>>
And still other accounts, such as one from a Playhouse staffer who reportedly knew Johns in life, “claim that he died at the Oakland Veterans Hospital, not at the theater.”
Such contradictions are to be expected, given the oral tradition of ghost stories. But surprisingly, the blog Rick on Theatre tells us that although “research shows that the actor did exist and was a Playhouse regular, […] there’s no published obituary for him”—an indication that could suggest his tale is in fact more legend than history.
In other words, as mystery writer August LaFleur might say: “Ghost stories are everywhere.”
And that brings us to this week’s installment of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre’s “In the Ghost Light’s Glow,” in which you will encounter another Playhouse ghost, one whose story is summed up nicely by horror writer Scott A. Johnson:
At some point in the early development of the [Pittsburgh Playhouse], there was a fire that destroyed the row-houses behind it. Everyone survived the blaze but two: a woman and her daughter. Soon after, actors began hearing the sounds of a sobbing woman, whom they named “Weeping Eleanor,” coming from the dressing room area where her home once stood.
You’ll hear more about Weeping Eleanor in this week’s Mystery Theatre episode, which will also touch on hauntings in the New Amsterdam and Belasco Theatres in New York City. Beyond that, you can learn more about both those theatres and their ghosts in the article “The Ghosts of Broadway” from Playbill Magazine.
<<< The Belasco Theatre in NYC was supposedly haunted by the ghost of David Belasco, a.k.a the “Bishop of Broadway,” until he was scared away by performances of Oh Calcutta!
Click the player below to hear this week’s episode of Mystery Theatre, and if you’d like to catch up on the first three episodes of “In The Ghost Light’s Glow” or any other previous mystery installments, you can find them all (29 and counting!) by clicking here.
And finally, if you have a story about a theatre ghost, please share it by posting a comment below or reaching out via the social media buttons at the top of this page.