Dr. Silkini’s Ghost Show: Do the Dead Return? Spooks Sit Beside You!

 

Do the dead return? Spooks sit beside you? Wow, a Ghost Show! I’d love to go! It’s even from a theatre in my home town! The only problem is that I’m several decades too late… and a McDonalds sits where the theatre once was. I did, however, get to see a few movies there as a kid though. Annie and Goonies are the ones I remember the most. 

The above poster, which Joe and I discovered in a very cool new antique store in Lexington, led me to reading and learning about a part of history I knew very little about. Should I be embarrassed about this? I’m now fascinated! I’ve not been able to find a similar version of this poster from another theatre, which may also be why this was marked at $145. I didn’t buy it, of course… oh but I wanted it really badly. If I had to make a guess, I’d say it was from the 1950s, but I’m not entirely sure. The piece of tape above “Thursday”, is covering what I assume is probably the word “MIDNIGHT”. The store, The Country Peddler, has so many similar posters and banners, including lots of oil painted canvas advertisements (not sure what else to call them) from as early as the 1800s , plus lots of large nostalgic items, like jukeboxes, for example. Check it out if you make it to Lexington.

 

The Midnight Ghost Show…

The concept of the ghost show was apparently started by Elwin-Charles Peck in 1929. Really it was a stage magic show inspired by the popularity of spiritualism, and the tricks were the same ones used by the charlatans and fraudulent mediums of the time. People (mainly kids and teens) went for the séances, conjuring, flying ghosts that glowed in the dark, terrifying stunts, and audience participation. Often there were staged blackouts, where tricks would then be played on audience members, making them believe there was a “spook” near them.

In the 1930s and 40s these traveling “midnight ghost shows” were very popular in small towns around the country. Peck inspired a generation of copycats, all known as “ghost masters”, that took the ghost show to an all new level in the 40s and the 50s. The most successful of these would be Jack Baker, whose stage name was Dr. Silkini. It is said that humor is what Baker added to the already popular ghost show formula to make it so wildly successful. The concept struggled to keep the attention of an audience through the 60s and 70s, mainly due to the popularity of television. Jack Baker died in 1980.  

I’m really bummed that I missed this craze. I bet it was really fun. Were any of my readers fortunate enough to have witnessed any of these shows from the time period? I’d love to hear from you!  

 

Want more info? 

The main sources I used for this blog post come from two wonderful articles: Matt Novak’s The Rise and Fall of the Midnight Ghost Shows and Jim Knipfel’s Dr. Silkini’s Asylum of Horrors.  I urge you to check these sites out if you want to learn more. 

 

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Shop Home for the Holidays (Big Séance)

Spirit Trumpets (Big Séance)

Spirit Trumpets (Big Séance)

Old School Locker (Big Séance)

Old School Locker (Big Séance)

 

 

 

 

 

About Patrick Keller

Patrick Keller is an educator, blogger, and the host of the Big Séance Podcast, which is a place for paranerds to have an open discussion on all things paranormal, but specifically topics like ghosts and hauntings, paranormal research, spirit communication, psychics and mediums, and life after death. He’s the founder of the now inactive Missouri Spirit Seekers and has spent a lot of time experimenting with spirit communication tools and techniques, such as EVP. Patrick also has a passion for spending hours at a time in cemeteries and loves cemetery photography. Visit BigSeance.com! View all posts by Patrick Keller

8 responses to “Dr. Silkini’s Ghost Show: Do the Dead Return? Spooks Sit Beside You!

  • angryscholar

    Very cool! It really does sound fun, and seems like a fascinating look at a little-known aspect of American popular culture. I’d like to learn more about these shows, actually. Seems to me like the theatrical ghost tours that so many American towns have these days are a kind of successor to this type of show, mixing supernatural belief with pure entertainment.

    • Patrick Keller

      You are probably right about the ghost tours. Hard to know what are embellishments and what is truth now days. I want to check out that book that one of the blogs I linked to mentions. Someone else recommended it as well.

  • Renae Rude - The Paranormalist

    Wow … I had no idea this was a thing. Thank you so much for sharing; my imagination is on fire.

  • Johnny Starke

    Thanks for posting a good quality scan of this poster! I went by the shop and saw it a few time, though it was a little too rich for my blood, I always think about it.

  • Jeff Markin

    I was doing research when I came upon your post. I was fortunate enough to get to see Jack Baker perform when I was 8 years old, not long before he passed away. The general public needs to be educated on The Midnight Ghost Shows, or they will fall into the cracks of history to be forgotten forever.

  • Kurt Kuersteiner

    What are the odds? I attended Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington and spent many nights in that exact movie theater, but I never knew they had spook shows there– let alone, one from the Master Jack Baker. I’ve since become a big fan of the Spookers, incorporating many of their illusions in our commercial haunted house (TerrorOfTallahassee.com), and highlighting their history and colorful posters in a trading card series about the subject (Spook Show, available via Monsterwax.com). It’s a delightful part of entertainment history. I’ve also met many of the Ghost Masters (the ones still alive circa 2000) and they were all quite characters! Thanks for sharing your story!

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