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Haunted Charlotte: The spirit of Spirit Square

Spirit Square, originally the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, and home if the Loonis McGlohan Theatre
Spirit Square, originally the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, and home if the Loonis McGlohan Theatre
Photo by the author

The aptly named Spirit Square, located in the heart of downtown Charlotte, is one of the city's premiere community facilities for the performing arts and arts education. Part of the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the center takes seriously its commitment to community education, and offers a wide variety of classes and outreach programs. The Spirit Square complex comprises not only two active theater spaces--the Loonis McGlohan and Duke Energy Theatres--but offices, classrooms, and six art galleries as well. Theatre, music, and dance all come alive here.

The building that now houses the Loonis McGlohan Theatre originally began life as the First Baptist Church of Charlotte. Constructed in 1909, the church's most striking features are a Byzantine dome similar to Madison Square Presbyterian Church in New York, and several remarkable stained-glass windows. There had been some concern at the time the structure was built that the acoustics in the sanctuary might not be adequate to hear sermons, but they did work, and quite well. The sermons apparently reverberated throughout the sanctuary, and the sound of church music filled the space as well.

In the early 1970s, the church congregation relocated to a new home elsewhere in downtown Charlotte, and the city acquired the building. It was initially scheduled for demolition, but a group of community leaders rallied enough support for the old church to save it from destruction. The building was carefully restored to preserve and enhance its unique architectural details, and was eventually renovated into the 720-seat McGlohan Theatre, which opened in 1976. The Theatre, along with the rest of Spirit Square, was added to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in 1997.

Today, the theatre offers a wide variety of attractions including both drama and music, carrying on the tradition of its namesake. Loonis McGlohan was a native North Carolinian, a gifted pianist and composer who performed throughout the United States and in numerous countries throughout the world. A graduate of East Carolina University, McGlohan had a long and illustrious career as a radio/television producer as well as a musician and composer. His songs have been recorded and performed by many entertainers, including Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and Judy Garland. He collaborated with the late Charles Kuralt on a word-and-music tribute to his home state--North Carolina Is My Home--and with fellow composer Alec Wilder on numerous other songs.

Even though McGlohan could very easily have made an even bigger name for himself in the New York music scene, North Carolina truly was his home. He returned there after his travels to become an important civic leader, championing numerous worthy causes in his community. Mr. McGlohan passed away at his home in Charlotte in 2002, and the McGlohan Theatre honors the man known by many as one of Charlotte and North Carolina's musical treasures.

While a great deal is known about Mr. McGlohan and the theater that bears his name, not as much is known about the ghost or ghosts that supposedly haunt it. There have been reports of the sounds of people walking around in the church/theater when the building was closed and no one but an employee or two was present. Other employees have noted that sometimes when they are in the sub basement of the building, they can hear singing above. These both have the sound of residual hauntings--the echo of sounds trapped in the "fabric" of the building from the days when the church congregation gathered and sang in the sanctuary, and that are simply being "replayed." Or perhaps the singers had enjoyed the remarkable acoustics in the church so much that they've returned to enjoy them again!

However, not all the unusual activity in the building can be attributed to a residual haunting. Jeff Weeks, a theater technician who worked briefly at Spirit Square, had this story to tell:

"I was setting up one night in the theater for 'Monday Movie Night,' and was walking towards the elevator so that I could go into the basement and retrieve the equipment I needed. Before I could even get to the elevator, though, I noticed that it had already started on its way up from the basement on its own, and the doors opened for me just as I arrived--I didn't even touch the button to call it. I thought that perhaps someone down below had sent it up, but when I took the elevator down, there was no one else there, I gathered the equipment I needed and walked back to the elevator--once again, it was there waiting for me, and the doors opened for me as I came up to them. I was glad I didn't have to mess with the doors myself, but it just seemed odd!"

A performance in the McGlohan Theatre is truly beautiful in both sight and sound. With the church's original stained glass windows and the dome overhead, there is a feeling of both the sacred and the secular combined. Between the church's original patrons and the kind-hearted McGlohan, it seems only natural that the spirit of Spirit Square, whomever it may be, would be glad to lend a helping hand.

This article taken from the author's book Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas (2009). The Loonis McGlohan Theatre/Spirit Square (pp 95-98). Atglen PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd