National Theatre - Washington, DC
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Marine Biologist
N 38° 53.776 W 077° 01.835
18S E 323903 N 4307225
Quick Description: The National Theatre in Washington, DC, is a venue for a wide variety of live stage productions. It is also reported to be haunted by the friendly ghost of actor John McCullough who was reputedly shot and killed by a fellow performer.
Location: District of Columbia, United States
Date Posted: 12/18/2011 7:34:30 PM
Waymark Code: WMDB9N
Published By: Groundspeak Charter Member GEO*Trailblazer 1
Views: 6

Long Description:

"On Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, three blocks from The White House, stands the National Theatre, "The Theatre of Presidents." This historic playhouse has seen Pennsylvania Avenue grow from the muddy main street of a fledgling capital, to the ceremonial avenue of a great world power. Festive inaugural parades and raucous demonstration marches pass on the Avenue in front of the building. Inside, drama and merriment reign.

In the year the theatre opened, President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt... the last time that has happened ... and he came to the National Theatre. That same year the Liberty Bell cracked, P.T. Barnum organized his first circus, and the National Theatre opened its doors.

The National has operated longer than any other major touring house in the United States. Subsequent to its opening on December 7, 1835, the building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt on the same site five times during the 1800's. Part of the original foundation can still be seen in the basement of the present structure, which was rebuilt in the 1920's, and given a major renovation which was completed in 1984.

The history of this theatre is a panorama of American theatre: a Who's Who of the stars of the past, the present, and, undoubtedly, the future.

Virtually every great stage performer of the past century has appeared here.

One star of the first season was Junius Brutus Booth, whose three sons, including the infamous John Wilkes Booth, all played at the National.

The first performance in the theatre was "Man of the World," in 1835. When the theatre reopened its doors in 1850, after a disastrous fire, the featured performer was Miss Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale."; The first attraction in 1952 when the National returned to stage performances after a short period as a movie house was Call Me Madam, starring, of course, Ethel Merman.

Among the other celebrated stars of the theatre who have appeared here are: Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, Joan Rivers, Carol Channing, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Sarah Bernhardt, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn. Playwright John Guare was an assistant manager here. Shirley MacLaine was an usher and her brother, Warren Beatty, was the stage doorman at one time.

For almost a century the National has been haunted by the friendly ghost of actor John McCullough, reputedly shot and killed by a fellow performer. The two men argued while washing clothes in the Tiber Creek, which then flowed through the basement backstage. A rusty pistol, perhaps the murder weapon, was unearthed under the stage in 1982, near where McCullough's remains are rumored to lie in the earth beneath the stage. According to legend, his spirit roams the theatre on the eve of opening nights, and was once seated in the audience."

-- Source


"EVERY RESPECTABLE THEATRE has a venerable ghost, and the National Theatre in Washington, DC is no exception.

The shade of Actor John Edward McCullough, a popular American thespian of the 1800's, is said to roam the premises of the theatre in the dark of night.

No longer thirsting for an audience's applause, the once famed star performer has taken on the lonely role of ghostly custodian and spectral overseer, checking to be sure that all is in readiness for the next performance.

THIS STORY BEGINS not only backstage, but under the stage, where, in the 1800's, the Tiber Creek flowed in an open raceway beneath the stage floor. That channel was not enclosed in a storm sewer until the 1950's. The clear running water (which could be heard in the auditorium above only during the quietest of scenes and after the heaviest of downpours) provided the acting company with a perfect place to wash out their costumes and clothes.

According to time-hallowed legend, John McCullough, a classical actor with a stentorian Shakespearean voice, fell to arguing with another actor of less repute, over their competing attentions to an alluring actress in the touring company with which they were all then playing at the National. In other versions of the story, the two actors begin fighting over a coveted stage role. Who knows just how arguments begin and where they will end?

In any event, declamation led to shouting, and shouting led to worse: SHOTS RANG OUT!

. . . . and John McCullough fell dead beneath the stage upon which he had previously so often trod to thunderous acclaim. Whether motivated by an attempt to avoid a public scandal, by the absence of grieving relatives at hand to provide a suitable burying plot and conduct a proper funeral, or by a scheme to get rid of the incriminating evidence of the murder, we are told that McCullough's remains were consigned by lantern-light to a grave dug hastily in the dingy, dirt-floored cellar beneath the stage. Some of this earth still remains there in the National Theatre in the 20th century, among the rocky foundations of the building, but most of the basement has been long since cemented over -- and perhaps John McCullough and his fate have been paved over as well.

McCullough Portrait Inverted jpg (4k)SOON AFTER HIS DEATH, strange sightings of McCullough's restless spirit began. On the opening night of a new show, the silent ghost was reportedly glimpsed in various parts of the house, checking the props, scanning the scenery -- roaming abroad to make certain that all was in order before the curtain rose. Some reports have the apparition garbed as Hamlet, the first role he ever played in Washington. Others claimed to have seen the phantom attired for his most famous role, the ill-fated Roman centurion, Virginius.

One startled performer, who had known the deceased personally, told of seeing McCullough seated calmly in the audience, right up close to the gas footlights in an orchestra chair! As the 19th century came to its close, doormen, night watchmen and others from time to time reported their unnerving encounters with the ghost in backstage hallways, on staircases, in dressing rooms, and on the empty Washington stage he so dearly loved.

THE WASHINGTON POST, Sunday, October 4, 1896, reported as fact, the eerie experience of Frederic Bond, a well-known comedy actor, and close friend of John McCullough. Mr. Bond was sitting late one night at the prompter's table which had been placed at the front of the stage for a rehearsal earlier that day. Going over his cues in the flickering gaslight, he heard a disturbing noise. Looking into the wings and then out into the darkened auditorium, he saw no one. Thinking he had misheard, he returned to his memorization. But again he heard the frightening noise. Peering into the shadowy gloom once more, he wondered if the watchman, or another actor, had crossed behind the stage draperies, or if someone was playing a trick on him.

SUDDENLY THE HAIR ROSE on the back of Frederic Bond's neck as he felt the mysterious presence of some invisible being hovering near him. He was about to cry out when he saw a weird but human-looking apparition which glided across the stage, stopping a little distance in front of him. Recognizing the ghostly visage, Bond called out: "John McCullough! John!!" Whereupon the figure turned away from him, walked gravely toward the wings, and then suddenly disappeared.

Immediately, a second transparent figure materialized, which Bond recognized as the recently-deceased Eddie Specht. Specht had been an eager young property-boy who idolized McCullough, and who, when the theatre was empty, would often practice at imitating one of McCullough's roles on the bare stage. Eddie's ghost now followed McCullough's spirit quietly to the wings and at the same spot, vanished as had McCullough. On other occasions, we are told, the specter of Eddie, the young, would-be actor, has been seen still following his stage hero -- one spooky presence gliding silently after the other.

GETTING WIND OF THIS MURKY AFFAIR in the 1930's, the Washington constabulary rose to the challenge -- albeit nearly 50 years after the fact -- and proposed to dig up the earthen floor, exhume the corpse, solve the crime, and give McCullough a decent grave in a proper cemetery. But the people of the theatre are a sentimental (and superstitious?) lot and a close-knit clan. They rose up noisily against any scheme to disturb the quiet sleep of their brother actor who, they reasoned common-sensibly, was resting peacefully backstage right where he would want most to be.

McCullough sightings, while beyond the proof of science, were reported well into the 20th century.

TIME HAS SCATTERED THE EVIDENCE and the witnesses -- if there were any besides the person who fired the fatal shots -- but the rumor that an unknown actor was murdered and buried backstage persists. Whether the man killed was truly John McCullough is, however, questionable: There is evidence that the unfortunate McCullough contracted an embarrassing "social disease" which affected his brain. This rendered him increasingly ineffective as he trod the stage in bizarre performances which had him forgetting his lines and confusing his blocking. He apparently appeared for the last time in Washington in 1884, was confined for a time in an asylum, and died mercifully the following year in Philadelphia, where he is (also) reportedly buried.

LEGEND OR LEGACY? Just when cynical scientific post-modern sensibilities would debunk and deconstruct this lurid tale of backstage murder and the walking dead, new evidence emerged! In the renovation of the theatre prior to its grand refurbishment of 1984, a rusty pistol, circa 1850, turned up in the dirt beneath the stage, and was turned over by the theatre's Manager to the Smithsonian Institution. Thus interest in the story of the ill-fated John McCullough revived. . . . To be Continued . . . . .?

This article is based on several published reports, as well as information from Matthew Miller, a great-great-great - nephew of Mr. McCullough, who contacted the National in 2007."

-- Source

Public access?:
The exterior can be viewed 24/7/365.

Visting hours:
During performances.

Website about the location and/or story: [Web Link]

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