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Haunted Charlotte: The Manor Theatre

Charlotte's Manor Theatre, the oldest movie theater in the Queen City, and home to several ghosts
Charlotte's Manor Theatre, the oldest movie theater in the Queen City, and home to several ghosts
Photo by the author

More often than not, theater houses--buildings that are home to acting companies that produce live plays and other performances--are notorious for being haunted. Each theater has its own story (or even multiple stories) of ghosts or strange activity, particularly if the building is old and/or historic. However, their younger sister, the movie or cinema house, is quite often just as prone to ghostly activity. One such movie theater is The Manor Theatre, or Regal Manor Twin, Charlotte's oldest movie house and "one of the jewels of the Queen City."

Constructed in the affluent Myers Park neighborhood in 1947, the Manor was considered to be the most beautiful movie house in Charlotte at that time. The bathrooms were floored with hand-laid tile, and elaborate plaster work in art-deco styling framed the theater's movie screen. The building was originally created as a single-screen theater, and opened with The Egg and I starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. Several years later, however, the theater was divided into two screens, and although this renovation made for smaller viewing auditoriums, it created a more intimate space that went nicely with the independent and foreign titles the theater became known for hosting. Today the Manor serves as Charlotte's premiere independent film venue, although it will still occasionally feature carefully-chosen mainline films.

Much like it's "live" sister theaters, the Manor has its share of ghost stories. "A few years ago, we had a psychic come in and say we had two ghosts," said Brandy Ray, one of the managers for the theater. "I kind of feel a negative presence in one auditorium--number one--and a positive feeling in number two." Another manager agrees. "Definitely number one is scarier than number two," he confirmed. "When I'm working in that auditorium, I will not look up at the projection booth because I'm scared I'll see someone looking back down."

The frightening presence centered around the number one projection booth is thought to be that of a projectionist (or usher, or janitor, depending on the source) that hanged himself there in the booth. The sound of disembodied sweeping has been heard in that area, and other strange activities have taken place in the upstairs section as well. Employees working in the building have often reported the sound of what seems to be a woman's high heels clicking on the floor upstairs, as if they are going towards the bathroom. This upstairs ladies' powder room seems to be a central point for ghostly activity. Cold spots have often been felt there, and supposedly a medium visiting the theater one evening to see a movie related feeling a very strong impression in the powder room of a woman named "Rose." Another account states that an employee reported hearing a woman scream in an upstairs bathroom; when they went to check on the source of the scream, there was no one there. Similar accounts from other employees report disembodied whispers, and the sound of objects hitting the bathroom wall when the building is closed and empty of patrons.

Although it is not known who all the upstairs ghosts may be, another of the Manor's otherworldly residents appears to be that of yet another former employee. During the theater's first year of operation in 1947, one of its managers at the time committed suicide at his home. While his death was not connected to the theater, his working life apparently had strong ties there, so much so that even after his death he appears to be still reporting for work at the theater dressed impeccably in his dinner-jacket uniform. He is most often seen late in the evening; employees have reported that they have seen a white-haired man in a dinner jacket wandering in the theater building after the doors have been locked. He appears so real that employees wonder how someone could have been left in the theater after closing; but upon approaching him and asking "May I help you?" he then suddenly vanishes.

In spite of--or perhaps because of--its ghosts, the Manor Theatre is an excellent place to catch an art-house film. It has survived several ownership turnovers, as well as the threat of the wrecking ball is it seemed doomed to extinction by the movie multiplexes. The theater has built its reputation on showing the best of classic, foreign, and independent films, and even though it is not a modern-day theater with multiple amenities, it does have an updated sound system and modern comfortable seating. Much of its historic charm remains intact, however--the hand-laid tile in the powder room is still there, as is some of the elaborate art-deco plaster work around the movie screen, hidden behind the screen draperies. Still there also, apparently, are the ghosts of some if its former employees and patrons, adding to the unique atmosphere of the oldest and longest running movie house in Charlotte.

This article taken from the author's book Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas (2009). The Manor Theatre/Regal Manor Twin (pp 109-113). Atglen PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd

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