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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