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Investigating a Playhouse Ghost:
What is the Sound of One Ghost Clapping?

February 28th, 2023

The story behind a real-life theatre mystery.

This month’s five-act installment of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre picks up where our previous story left off, with mysterious sounds emanating from somewhere in a theatre building.

But before diving into this new mystery, I had the chance to meet with writer and martial arts enthusiast Michael Brendan and his father (also Michael Brendan) to talk about an encounter with the Pittsburgh Playhouse ghost known as John Johns.

Above: An actor portrays the ghost of John Johns in a still from Point Park University’s mini-documentary Ghost Stories of the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Michael the Elder’s firsthand accounts of meeting the ghost provide a nice transition from our previous mystery “In the Ghost Light’s Glow” to our new fantasy-based story “The Ælf in the Wardrobe.” Moreover, by engaging in some detective work of their own, the elder Michael and his genealogist wife were able to uncover some surprising details about the mysterious Mr. Johns.

You can learn more about the ghosts of the Pittsburgh Playhouse by checking out some of our previous blog posts, which you will find here and here. And you can listen to our conversation with the Brendans in a special Mystery Theatre supplement here or by clicking the player at the bottom of this page. The following is a transcript of the intro to that interview.

Investigating a Playhouse Ghost

Hello theatre lovers and ghost story fans, and welcome to this special supplement to Prime Stage Mystery Theatre, in which we’ll be discussing a first-hand paranormal encounter at the old Pittsburgh Playhouse and an investigation into the true identity of the ghost known as John Johns.

I’m Lawrence Connolly, writer of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre, and if you found your way here before catching the first installment of our latest mystery, I hope you’ll take a moment to seek it out and add Prime Stage Mystery Theatre to your podcast queue. You’ll find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Libsyn, and others. Or you can also check us out at, where you can learn all about the show and help support the series by becoming a Prime Stage sponsor.

If you’ve already listened to the March 2nd installment of Mystery Theatre, you know it continues an investigation into some mysterious tapping sounds that were introduced in our previous episodes. And you also know that our November mystery “In the Ghost Light’s Glow” included discussions of haunted theatres—most notably the old Pittsburgh Playhouse on Craft Avenue and Hamlet Street.

You can read more about those ghosts at, and it was in response to one of my posts there that fellow writer Michael Brendan submitted an account of a ghost encounter told to him by his father. And since that experience involved a ghost that communicated through tapping and knocking sounds—a form of communication featured in our current mystery—we wanted to hear more.

But first, some introductions.

Michael Brendan the Younger is an IT administrator, martial arts enthusiast, and fantasy writer who earned an MFA from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction Program—where I had the pleasure of working with him while serving as one of the program’s residency writers. Among Michael’s current projects is a fantasy novel and a martial arts book for writers who want to craft more realistic fighting scenes.

His father, also Michael the Elder, worked as props master at the Pittsburgh Playhouse shortly after it was acquired by Point Park College and served for many years as a voluntary TD at Norwin High School. His wife Donna Jordan is an expert in genealogy, and with her help, he conducted a successful investigation to uncover the true history behind one of the most famous Pittsburgh Playhouse ghosts.

I connected with the Brendans over Zoom in a session which—like many Zoom get-togethers–began rather like a séance, with each of us saying things like “Are you there?” “I hear you now?” “Yes, I think I see you, now.” You know the meme. You’ve seen it before

<<< A version of the Zoom-séance meme from

Fortunately, we managed to establish a connection. Here, then, is that conversation ….

Click here to read the full, edited transcript of my interview with the Brendans, or use the player below and listen to the audio. Either way … I’ll meet you there!

This Week on Mystery Theatre:
Ghosts & Stories

November 22nd, 2022

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, 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.

This Week on Mystery Theatre:
The Most Haunted Place in Pittsburgh

November 17th, 2022

For two weeks running, audiences who attended Prime Stage Theatre’s production of Frankenstein witnessed a haunting at the New Hazlett Theatre. Of course, it was part of the performance, with actor Suzanne Ward appearing as the white-clad spirit of Victor Frankenstein’s mother.

<<< The ghost of Caroline Frankenstein haunts her son’s laboratory in Prime Stage’s Frankenstein.

But if you’ve ever worked on a stage production or spent any time among theatre people, you’ve probably heard that theatres are haunted. Case in point, the old Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Consistently listed as one of the most haunted places in Pittsburgh, the Playhouse was reportedly home to no fewer than six troubled spirits. Among them, a specter dubbed “The Lady in White,” who according to the website Only In Your State is said to have shot her cheating husband on their wedding night. She then supposedly turned the gun on herself and ever since has been making appearances in the Rauh Theatre (the first of many performance spaces to be housed at the Playhouse facility).

Then there is the legend of an entity alternately referred to as the “Red” or “Green Meanie,” which CBS Pittsburgh claims is “believed to have been summoned at a seance in the 1970s, [an entity] who comes from the other side to bounce off the walls and ceilings of the theater.”

Whether the stories are true, fabrications, or the products of overactive imaginations has been debated since the first apparition made its appearance in the complex that once occupied the block between Craft Avenue and Hamlet Street in South Oakland.

Above: A ghost hovers over the old Pittsburgh Playhouse in an illustration from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, October 1979. 

But one thing’s for sure, the tales are compelling. And you can hear some of them this week on Mystery Theatre when Prime Stage’s Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda opens the show to share his firsthand accounts of encounters with some of those Playhouse spirits. In particular, he shares his story of taking part in that fabled seance that attempted to conjure the “Green Meanie” back in the 70s.

Wayne also shares an eye-witness tale of an encounter with The Lady in White and a host of weird specters that seemed to fill the auditorium when a costume designer took him and some of his friends on a ghost tour.

After listening to his interview, I think you’ll understand why mystery writer August LaFleur (the super sleuth featured in all of our Mystery Theatre episodes) is writing a book about the place.

<<< The Lady in White as pictured on the website Only In Your State.

Click the player below to hear our interview with Wayne Brinda and the latest installment of our five-act mystery “In the Ghost Light’s Glow.” And after listening, if you have a ghost story of your own to share, drop us a note in the comment box below or via the social media apps in the upper right of this page. You can also reach us via the comment section of the Prime Stage website.

Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. Hit play. I’ll meet you there.