Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on June 14, 2009
Last week I was privy to an unexpected ghost story involving a shattered romantic who died behind the screen. That’s right, this is not an on-screen drama to view from the customer’s perspective in the theater chair, but rather a story that unfolds behind the scenes and reaches its mortal conclusion on the darker-side of the projected image.
I was with Tony, my projectionist, and we were driving to a seedy part of Denver to look at some 35mm projector components that a company was offering to donate to us. They were anxious to move out of their current location and into new digs because the building they occupied had been a slaughterhouse up until the 1960′s, and “the rats and cockroaches were the real owners of the joint.” It was an old building that you could only get to by driving through a series of back-alleys in an industrial area. It was also prone to flooding, which brought out the old slaughterhouse smells. The noxious fumes drifting in from the nearby pet food factory added further insult to injury. It was no place for a bag-lunch, although that’s exactly what the staff there was eating when we approached.
As I took pictures of the equipment and walked around pile after pile of other items salvaged from an endless stream of now defunct theaters, all dead and gone, I tried not to think about all the hanging slabs of meat that once occupied this space as they got cut apart into smaller chunks, the blood draining along the grooves in the cement floor to the various drainage points visible throughout.
Back in the car I tried to clear my mind of all the morbid thoughts that were dancing around in my mind. Seeing this parade of mechanical parts gutted from old theaters and heaped into small mountains only made me wonder how much longer my theater was going to last. Tony then handed me a flier for the theater where he is working during the summer months, located in Estes Park – not too far from the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
I took solace from the fact that this venue where Tony also worked as a projectionist was still around and kicking. Not only that, but it had been constructed in 1913 and was one of the oldest theaters in the U.S. that was built as a motion picture theater and still operated as such.
The flier Tony gave me listed the films that were screening there for the month of June and was mostly dominated by a monthly grid. Film names fell in on the day they started their run with arrows extending out through the week to show their length of play. Angels & Demons, My Life in Ruins, Year One, Public Enemies. Nothing too crazy. On the upper left side was a picture of the theater, and that caught my attention.
“Historic Park Theatre.” Looking it up later, this is what Cinema Treasures says about it:
But Cinema Treasures isn’t telling you the whole story. And as I looked at the picture of the Tower of Love on the flier Tony had given to me I let out a whistle. It was a beautiful, ornate 80-foot-tall structure. Tony gave me a side-long glance (he was driving) and said: “There’s an interesting story behind that.”
According to Tony, Gwynn had been a projectionist in the Boulder-Denver area back in the early 1900′s and then made some cash off an invention. He bought the theater in Estes and built the Tower of Love himself as a memorial to the love of his life. Just as I was about to say how that was the sweetest thing I’d heard all day, Tony added: “She left him stranded at the alter.”
“What?!” I was shocked. “I take it she wasn’t too impressed with the tower.”
Tony: “He built it after she left him.”
That made no sense to me as I thought about the scale of the project and its large size, so I then asked him what was inside of it. More rooms? A huge chandelier? A spiral staircase leading to an upper deck, perhaps?
Tony: “Nothing. It’s beautiful on the outside, hollow on the inside. Just like the woman he fell in love with.”
Now I’m thinking to myself that this is really going that extra mile, but Gwynn was clearly a unique character and, it turns out, a bit of a recluse. Still, this is Estes Park, real-estate prices are at a premium. So I ask Tony if anything was ever put inside of it in recent years, or if there were any pending plans to make use of that interior tower space somehow. “No way,” Tony tells me. “We’re all way too superstitious for that. Gwynn didn’t just own the theater, he worked it, and had a room built right behind the screen where he lived and slept. He was also discovered dead in that room, and we still feel his presence in the theater.”
It was 1963 when Ralph Gwynn died of a heart-attack in the room he had constructed behind the silver screen. His last words: “Oh, God, let it rain!”
Apparently, ghost investigators have already checked out the Historic Park Theater and run it for EVP’s (Electronic Voice Phenomena) and obtained various spooky audio clips.
The theater has a myspace page that lists it as a “Female, 96-years-old.” And, guys, don’t let her phalic “Tower of Love” scare you off, she’s listed as “single” and a “Taurus.”
For more information about the Historic Park Theatre, you can click on the links below to see short documentaries by SDI Entertainment:
Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.
Actors Alfred Hitchcock Bela Lugosi Bette Davis Blu-Ray Boris Karloff Buster Keaton Cary Grant Charlie Chaplin Citizen Kane Comedy Dracula DVD Elizabeth Taylor Film Film Noir FilmStruck Frankenstein Fritz Lang Hammer Films Hammer Horror Horror horror films Horror Movies Humphrey Bogart James Bond James Cagney Joan Crawford John Ford John Huston John Wayne Joseph Losey MGM Movie movies Night of the Living Dead Orson Welles Peter Lorre Psycho Roger Corman Screwball Comedy Steve McQueen The Exorcist Warner Archive Westerns