Saturday, October 31, 2009
The locations we have explored all have one thing in common: They all go deep into Cape Girardeau’s history. However, one of the most well-known haunted spots in town is not nearly as old … and the stories behind its haunting are not nearly as clear.
Rose Theatre on Southeast Missouri State University’s campus was built in the 1960s. Yet for some reason this building has several of the most persistent ghost stories in Cape Girardeau.
Listen to Christy Mershon's story about Rose Theatre.
If there’s anyone that knows the Southeast Missouri State University campus ghostly hot-spots, it’s Christy Mershon, assistant director of Extended & Continuing Education.
“Honestly, Rose Theatre is probably the stuff that I’m the least convinced would have been real, or that I was the least convinced would’ve had any basis in fact,” she says.
The theatre was built in 1966 and for many years housed the Theatre Department. One normally doesn’t associate a 1960’s era building with ghosts, especially one that does not have a history of death, mayhem, or murder. Regardless, Rose Theatre has its legends.
“There’s Mary, which is just a name students have given her. I think it comes from the old Bloody Mary stories,” Christy says. “Mary was said to be a girl who was murdered on the land before the theatre was built. And there’s a mysterious spot in the back row of the theatre said to be blood, and I’ve heard several variations of this, that when they poured the concrete that makes up the floor of Rose, that the spot just appeared. No matter what they did, it just kept coming back out, and so it couldn’t be rust, it had to be blood. And most of the Mary sightings are seen in that back row of the theatre where the ‘blood spot’ is.”
Christy thinks that the foundations of the Mary legend are muddy and unclear, and that just where Mary came from remains as mysterious as the ghost herself.
“Sometimes Mary is a young girl, and sometimes she’s an older woman, probably a woman in her twenties or so. There are some stories that I think lean toward her being a childish ghost, but in others Mary was the wife of a French fur trader,” she says. This fur trader husband often went downtown to partake in disreputable deeds, until presumably Mary had enough. “Apparently Mary decided that that was going to be the end of his nefarious activities, and she killed her fur trader husband and herself. So I think that story is where the woman in her twenties comes from, and she’s more of the vengeful spirit,” Christy says.
Christy started to see a ghost hunting trend at university extended and continuing education offices across the country around 2001. She was skeptical at first, but decided to give ghost hunts a try. The experiment proved successful. Dozens of amateur ghost-hunters crawled out of the woodwork over the next few years, and her haunted tours have become wildly popular.
“Rose Theatre was something that we sort of threw into our haunted tours because there were lots of stories about it. It was more because it was talked about and less because I really thought it had any shot at being haunted,” she admits.
A couple of years ago, Christy was facilitating a Haunted Cape Girardeau tour. She was going back and forth between different groups, making sure things ran smoothly. One of the groups was in Rose Theatre, and she needed to get them to speed things up.
“I hadn’t been in there with them the entire time,” she says. “I walked into the back of Rose Theatre, and as I was heading down the stairs I got to about the third stair from the top, and I felt like somebody shocked me.”
“My dad has a 1940s refrigerator that he’s very attached to and he’s never gotten rid of it. But I learned at a young age that if your hands were even slightly damp and you touched the door of this refrigerator it would almost make the hair stand up on your head It was a really similar feeling to that,” Christy recalls. “So I was looking around, thinking ‘OK, who put something here to get me,’ you know.”
She looked up at the group, and saw that they were all taking pictures of her.
“And this group that was here last year had a psychic with them. And she said, ‘She’s right beside you.’ And I’m looking around because there was no one beside me, thinking ‘Who? What? What’s shocking me?’ They said walk slowly down the stairs and they kept taking pictures. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, she said she had disappeared, and about the time she said that I quit feeling that staticy feeling.”
The people in the group started looking at their digital cameras. In every single photo, there was a pinkish colored floating ball of light right next to Christy.
“If you’ve watched the sci-fi stuff, they call that an orb,” she says. “People had taken their photos from different locations and angles, and so the likelihood of it being like a reflection from the exit sign or something I would have thought would have been moderated a little bit by the angles that folks were taking the pictures. There wasn’t any ambient light coming in from outside because that’s a pretty sealed area.”
History of Ghost Stories
Despite her shocking run-in with something in Rose Theatre, Christy says that there’s a perfectly practical element to many ghost stories throughout history, and that each tale attempts to communicate specific truths about what it means to be human. “If ghost stories transcend time and transcend cultures, then they must be true,” she says, then adds, “Or it could just be that it is human nature to a) try to make moral sense of the world, or b) try to make sense of why things happen.”
Archaeologists have found indicators that even Neanderthals had burial rights and customs for how to take care of their dead. Anthropologists have looked at this information and concluded that Neanderthals had figured something out: Dead bodies are kind of icky.
“If you, as a Neanderthal, were trying to make sense of, ‘If I leave this dead body in my cave and everyone starts to get sick,’ you don’t understand germs, but what you might be able to understand is, ‘If I don’t honor my kinsman, then their spirit is going to come back and visit some evil on me.’ And so we, again, try to make sense out of our world. So if we don’t have a clear understanding, we might then do the next best thing, which is rationalize why this is happening. If we don’t know germs, then it has to be a spirit. So the stories start to begin there,” she explains.
For generations, Christy says, people believed that they should behave in a certain way else the Boogeyman will get you. She points to today’s horror movies, which propagate a common mythology. “’If you do this, this might happen to you.’” So I think there’s some of that, and maybe just a little more wonder. Because the older you get, aren’t you more likely to start wanting for your own peace of mind to explain things away? So I think we sort of do that to ourselves, too—we begin to rationalize ourselves,” she says.
“We quit wanting to see the unexplained, and we want it to make sense. And that’s what a lot of ghost stories do for us,” she says. Christy cites the case of Lizzie Borden, who supposedly took an ax and gave her parents 40 whacks, but was never officially convicted of killing her family. Most people are familiar with this chilling tale, and the intrigue that surrounds it is still evident today.
“The building is still there, it’s a bed and breakfast now, for people who want to stay, and it’s been preserved—I think they have the same furniture, which I think is a creepy idea—so in that case, you can obviously see where the ghost story came from. I mean you have a gruesome history. Gettysburg is ripe with ghost stories. So they seem to be either tied to some historical fact, or tied to some sort of mythology, maybe like Port Cape’s elevator, some sort of tragedy, like the Glenn House—there was a lot of tragedy in the Glenn family. When tragedy happens, it’s easy to have ghost stories evolve after that.”
“You’re already hearing 9/11 ghost stories, right? About how that’s haunted and hallowed ground? We need to make sense of what happened, so I think in the future there will be more stories of people going to the memorial and strange things happening,” Christy says.
Wherever our tendency or desire to see ghosts comes from, Christy says that the commonalities found in the individual stories help define the human condition by continuing to terrify, perplex, and even unite us.
“The Neanderthals might have passed back and forth orally that you had to bury your dead or something bad would happen. Fast-forward to the 1940s and a soldier might have died, and a letter arrived that he must’ve written after he died. In the 1970s there might’ve been a phone call after someone had passed that couldn’t have happened. Today, there might be a Facebook message that was left after someone has passed on. So you can see moving forward where the stories are going to go, but in essence, they’re still the same story. And I think that’s why we’re so attracted to them.”