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Arizona ghost hunter travels: The Ghost of the KiMo Theatre is King of its Kind

Grand theaters of the golden years are a thing of the past in most modern cities. The city of Albuquerque has held on to one treasure that still offers venues for stars of the past and present. The KiMo Theatre opened in September 1927 as a Pueblo Deco picture palace and vaudeville theater. Pueblo Deco was a flamboyant, short lived architectural style that used the spirit of southwest Native American cultures with art modern elements that became popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Staircase in the KiMo Theatre
Photo by Devon Artrip
The KiMo theatre welcomes you
Photo by Debe Branning

The interior of the theatre included plaster ceiling beams to mimic actual wood vigas, colorful Indian symbols, air vents disguised as hanging Navajo rugs, war-drums, Native American death canoe chandeliers, wrought iron bird railings, shields and buffalo skulls with red glowing eyes. It was designed to create a mystical obeisance for the theatre goer.

The name "KiMo" (literally translated as "mountain lion" in Tewa, and sometimes loosely translated as "king of its kind") was suggested by Isleta Pueblo Governor Pablo Abeita who won $50 for his suggestion. Navajo singers blessed the building with song and Apache dancers performed the “Devil Dance” to rid the building of any evil spirits during the grand opening ceremonies.

By 1977, the grand old theater had fallen into disrepair. It was saved from the wrecking ball when voters approved a plan for the City of Albuquerque to purchase the structure. It has undergone several phases of continuing restoration to return it to its former glory. The KiMo theatre is again open to the public for performances.

The KiMo Theatre is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Bobby Darnall, a six-year old boy killed when a water heater in the theater's lobby exploded in August 1951 sending chunks of plaster, scalding steam and glass into the air. The boiler under the stairs exploded just as Bobby entered the lobby from the doors of main floor seating, his head and face crushed when the blast threw him into a wall. Bobby was buried in nearby Fairview Cemetery.

They say all seemed peaceful until December of 1974 during a performance of “A Christmas Carol.” One of the members of the theatre crew had taken a few donuts and strung them up against a brick wall at the back of the stage as a peace offering to Bobby. The director ordered the tribute to be immediately taken down. It would be a decision he would later regret!
Weird things started to happen. Actors forgot their lines, the cast was tripping and falling on stage, pieces of equipment fell from the ceiling and the light bulbs began to explode all around them. Many bizarre things began to happen to the production, and so the director reconsidered his ban on doughnuts and restrung the tasty delights. Not a word (or overhead lighting) was dropped.

And so it began. Actors and crew started leaving doughnuts for Bobby at every performance. Soon the doughnuts gave way to toys, notes, jewelry, and bigger items in a little nook beneath the stairs to the dressing rooms which later would become a shrine for Bobby.

The theatre staff still maintains the shrine in the backstage stairwell to appease young Bobby’s spirit. Some of the production staff claim to have actually seen Bobby's ghost, clad in denim jeans and a striped shirt. There is also a mysterious woman, wearing a bonnet walking down the hallways of the majestic theatre. She appears to be going about her business and does not disturb anyone around her. Perhaps she just enjoys visiting the old movie house.

Still a jewel of Albuquerque’s weekend night life, the KiMo Theatre remains true to its historic identity. As the say, “The KiMo is truly ‘King of its Kind’.”

More about tours of the KiMo Theatre

KiMo Theatre
423 Central Avenue NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102

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