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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Opera House Ghost


In Encore! The Renaissance of Wisconsin Opera Houses author Brian Leahy Doyle tells the chilling story of a devoted opera house employee who refuses to vacate the premises...despite having been dead for more than 40 years.

The brain-child of five local businessmen, the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh first opened its doors in 1883. Designed by architect William Waters, the $30,000 project was funded entirely by donations from community members. Eleven years after the first performance, managers hired a twelve-year-old boy who would become the most dedicated employee in the Grand's history.

Doorman Percy Keene was quickly promoted to lighting attendant—a reflection of his size and agility more than anything else. Squeezing through a small hole in the ceiling, Percy would navigate the attic beams until he got to an even smaller opening, through which he would reach out and ignite the first gas jet. Throughout his seventy-three year tenure at the Grand, Percy also worked as stagehand and later, stage manager.

Even more amazing than Percy's long career are reports of his activities since his death in 1967. Theater employees have reported several sightings of a small man wearing a white shirt and wire-rimmed glasses. Ever mindful of the theater he so loved, Percy's ghost has also been seen peering down from the balcony or gazing out of windows late at night. And his favorite theater seat in the second row of the lower-right section? Attempts to raise the seat into an upright position are fruitless for it mysteriously lowers again, as if occupied by an invisible audience member.

Theater-goers fear not. The ghost of Percy Keene means you no harm. He is simply a faithful employee who took his job very seriously — even beyond the grave.

For more stories of Wisconsin's opera houses, pick up a copy of Encore! The Renaissance of Wisconsin Opera Houses published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Encore! is part of the Places Along the Way series which also features Fill 'er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations.
:: Posted in Bizarre Events on September 18, 2009

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