The Haunted Majestic Theatre
Driving into the city of Dallas, its stunning skyline immediately catches the eye. Towering glass high-rises, a spinning spherical restaurant, and a thousand tiny lights illuminate the night sky and form the city’s definitive outline. As its sprawling skyline suggests, Dallas is a thriving modern metropolis, as well as one of the largest cities in Texas. Along with its renowned business and finance sector, the city offers a flourishing art and culture scene, highlights of which include the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art in downtown Dallas.
But for its great number of contemporary skyscrapers and modern mansions, a surprising amount of history remains buried beneath. Among these, the Majestic Theatre in Downtown Dallas remains one of the oldest and most significant to the city’s past, and according to many, the most haunted. Think you’re brave enough to venture inside the haunted Majestic Theatre? Read on to find out!
History and Background
With a history stretching back a hundred years, the Majestic Theatre certainly lives up to its name. Its appearance as well is no short of majestic, constructed in a striking Renaissance Revival architectural style and illuminated by enough light to rival the Dallas skyline itself.
In the late 1910s, millionaire entertainment mogul Karl Hoblitzelle sought out the services of world-renowned architect and designer John Eberson, who specialized in creating breathtaking, atmospheric interiors. The theatre’s grand auditorium features a ceiling mimicking the night sky, complete with drifting clouds and mechanically controlled shimmering stars. The massive stage was flanked by towering Grecian columns before an orchestral pit housing live musicians. True to Eberson’s esteemed reputation, the finished design delivered an experience nearly matching the wonders of the stage.
The theatre’s lobby was equally magnificent, featuring black-and-white marble floors and a pair of marble staircases. To get to the theatre’s twin balconies, patrons could take an ornate cage-style elevator. Other defining features included crystal chandeliers, huge brass mirrors for guests to admire themselves in, and an enormous marble fountain.
Eberson’s and Hoblitzelle’s creation was completed in late 1920 for Interstate Amusement Company, a popular chain of vaudeville houses. And at a reported cost of $2 million, the Majestic theatre was to be its flagship.
On April 11th of 1921, the Majestic opened to the public. At the time of its unveiling, the theatre was the largest and grandest of all the theatres along Dallas’s Theatre Row, and remains the last one standing to this day. During its brief but remarkable stint as a vaudeville house, the theatre boasted an impressive array of acts, including legendary escape artist Harry Houdini, comedian Bob Hope, and iconic actress, singer, and sex symbol Mae West.
As the decade drew on, vaudeville was slowly phased out by the ever-growing film industry. Investors quickly caught on and in 1922, the silver screen arrived at the Majestic. Throughout the next several decades, the theatre enjoyed a renaissance of glamor, hosting major film premieres attended by Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, and John Wayne. Continuing the tradition of live performances, the theatre also featured big band performances directed by bandleaders Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.
By 1932, the theatre had turned its attention exclusively to film. The screenings showed a particular bias toward macho stars like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, lending it the reputation as a “man’s house,” while the nearby Palace Theatre catered more to female audiences. But by the 1970s, audiences both male and female had stopped coming, leaving the once majestic theatre in a state of crisis. In an ironic twist of fate, the theatre closed its curtains on its final “man’s house” feature, the James Bond film Live and Let Die.
Shortly after closing, the abandoned theatre served as a filming location for Brian De Palma’s aptly named Phantom of Paradise. Unbeknownst to the film crew, they likely shared space with more than just fabricated phantoms.
Thankfully, this wasn’t the end for the Majestic. In 1976, the Hoblitzelle Foundation handed over the reins to the City of Dallas, and restoration efforts soon began. Everything from the Grecian columns to the decorative urns were repainted, while 23K gold leaf was added to the theatre’s extensive ornamentations. The seating arrangement also received a considerable update, reducing the number of seats from 2,400 to 1,570 in order to make room for a new and improved orchestra pit. Lastly, the stage was given an updated, more durable floor suited for dance performances, as the Majestic had once again set its sights on live performances.
In 1977, the theatre became the first building in Dallas to make it on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1983, its doors had finally reopened. This came on the heels of a second exciting announcement: the theatre had received a Texas Historical Commission marker, a recognition which ensured its historic importance twofold.
Since its grand reopening in January of 1983, the theatre has hosted thousands of live performances and hundreds of thousands of excited fans. Today, it regularly shows musical productions, plays, pageants, dances, and concerts, and remains the premier destination for live performances in the city, just as it was a hundred years ago.
Related: The Majestic turns 100, and an eye to the future
If stunning live performances and equally stunning interiors aren’t enough to draw you inside the Majestic, perhaps rumors of the undead will do the trick. According to reports, the theatre remains among the most haunted in the city!
By far the most infamous ghost to wander the halls of the Majestic is that of its former owner, Karl Hoblitzelle. After building the theatre in the early 1920s, Hoblitzelle lived out the rest of his days in luxury. At the time of his death in 1967, he was worth a reported $17 million. Despite this, it seems as though Hoblitelle is unable to rest peacefully and leave his favorite business venture alone, making frequent quality checks from beyond the grave.
One former employee claims he shared office space with the late theatre mogul during his tenure there. He reports that one of his responsibilities each night was to lock the door in his office leading to the theatre. One morning, he arrived at work to find the door wide open, though he was positive he had locked it the night before. According to his story, a strange, unseasonable chill also permeated the room. He felt a little creeped out, but at the time assumed he must have just made a mistake.
However, as the pattern persisted, he wasn’t so sure. He arrived the next day to find the door open once again, as well as the next, and the next. Not wanting to get in trouble for neglecting his duties, he explained the situation to his manager. He laughed and told him that it was only Karl, who had a habit of using the door to check up on things inside the theatre. After learning this the employee began to adjust to his new officemate and even said a quick goodnight to him before leaving.
Related: The haunting of Millermore Mansion
Karl’s midnight forays into the theatre are far from the only paranormal activity reported at the Majestic. Another young woman who worked backstage for a time details a similar incident. According to her report, she was working late readying stage props for a show when she felt the temperature suddenly drop. She felt confused and a little creeped out by the sudden shift, but continued working, not wanting to get home any later than she was already sure to.
Leaving the props on stage, the young employee ducked backstage for a moment to grab something. When she returned, the prop was missing. The woman looked everywhere, but the prop never turned up. She reported the missing item to her boss the next day, who shook his head and sighed. Must have been Karl, he muttered. Apparently, whenever certain props or costumes weren’t to his liking, Karl had a habit of hiding them, forcing the theatre to find replacements up to his standards.
Over the years, Karl’s mischievous ghost has been the scapegoat for weird smells, countless missing items, and a light hanging above the balcony illuminating on its own. Some staff members believe whenever this light turns on, Karl wishes that particular seat to be reserved for him at the theatre’s next show, a request which is always obliged.
Today, the Majestic Theatre remains one of Dallas’s brightest hidden gems, a stunning historical landmark, and the perfect place to catch a live show. No longer strictly a “man’s house,” the Majestic offers something for everyone, although one man in particular seems to enjoy it so much he never leaves. So if you’re in the mood to catch a show, why not drop in? You might even end up seated next to a ghost!