Twin City Opera House, McConnelsville OH
In the mid-1800s Morgan County was flourishing. By 1850 the population had grown to nearly 30,000. (Today it is less than 15,000.) Present day ghost towns like Santoy and Rosseau still bustled with activity. Several railroad lines crisscrossed the county. River boats moved freight, commodities, and people along the Muskingum. Showboats made regular visits to the banks of the river. McConnelsville was a vibrant county seat, and along with neighboring Malta, housed dozens of flourishing businesses. Mills, factories, hotels, restaurants, and retailers of every description provided ready employment and the chance for an urbane lifestyle. Morgan County had a desire for leisure pursuits, and for more cultured forms of entertainment.
For ten years the burned district lay in ruin, until 1889 when the town council finally acquired lots 31 and 32 on the northwest corner of the public square. They immediately recommended proceedings to condemn enough the “burned district” to construct a town hall. The property was purchased for $4000. In reporting on the story, the republican editor of the McConnelsville Herald declared that the property was only worth half that amount.
In 1889, the town council initiated a series of transactions through which they ultimately acquired lots 31 and 32 on the northwest corner of the public square. They immediately recommended proceedings to condemn enough the “burned district” to construct a town hall. The property was purchased for $4000. In reporting on the story, the republican editor of the McConnelsville Herald declared that the property was only worth half that amount.
The council employed H. C. Lindsay, an architect fromZanesville to prepare plans for the new Town Hall and Opera House. The building was to be three stories high, and cost about $16,000. The Town Hall would have a tower that would rise 108 feet above the sidewalks of McConnelsville. The third floor would feature a grand ballroom running the complete 63 foot width of the building.
Ground was broken for the project on Monday, October 20, 1889.
The second floor would house the offices for the town government. The original plans for the Opera House tower included a clock. But as the project began to run over budget, that plan had to be abandoned. And for one last time, partisan politics entered the project. The town council had requested funding from the state legislature to complete the town hall. According to newspaper accounts, a republican contingent rushed to the statehouse and convinced the assembly that the democrat council was squandering money on the building. No more funds were approved for the McConnelsville Town Hall, and no clock was ever installed.
The formal opening was held Saturday, May 28, 1892. The opening was to be a grand affair. The program for the evening was the Arion Opera Company’s performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” The cast, crew and orchestra numbered nearly one-hundred. All of the eight-hundred seats that were then available in the auditorium were sold.
The Opera House was one of the first buildings in the county to be lit by the electric light. And so its grand opening was to be even more significant and spectacular. But fate held an ironic twist. The local generating plant failed. The theater was plunged into darkness, and it took a great deal of last minute effort to secure enough lamps to illuminate the hall. Before that was accomplished however, many visitors had turned and headed back to their homes.
So, the opening was not as grand as hoped. The newspapers reported that although the crowd was small, they were treated to a spectacular performance. Since the electricity was deemed unreliable, it was decided to then complete the installation of the gas and oil fixtures, which had been called for in the original plans. Gas footlights were installed on the stage. A gas chandelier was hung in the dome, and could be lit through small ports that were cut into the dome’s perimeter.
Also under the stage is the dramatic evidence of a potentially disastrous fire that occurred in the early 1900s. The ash pit for the coal furnace sat directly beneath the stage. The furnace had been cleaned and re-stoked for a play, so the pit was filled with still hot ash as the performance began. While the play was in progress, the heat from the ashes ignited the joists supporting the stage. The curtain was dropped and the orchestra in the pit began to play.
The fire brigade coming in through the stage door, extinguished the blaze, but not before a large hole was burned through the stage floor. The local stories are that the performance continued on half of the stage, and the Opera House narrowly avoided a tragedy.
The Opera House Theater’s auditorium has been dedicated “Birch Hall,” in honor and memory ofMacDonald Birch, Master Magician. Birch was a Morgan County native and frequently entertained his hometown friends and relatives at the Opera House, when he was not traveling the globe and entertaining before “the crowned heads” of the world.
And, what would a one-hundred-twenty-year old theater be without its resident spirits? At the Opera House, stories have persisted for over four decades about its apparitions. And for the past several years, groups of paranormal investigators have spent countless nights in the Opera House, attempting to capture definitive evidence that something or someone from the Opera House’s past is still keeping an eye on it.
The Twin City Opera House still has plenty of mysteries left to unravel. Perhaps you will encounter Everett Miller the usher there for 30 years who still watches over the opera house and has been contacted and seen numerous times during investigations. Quite possibly you will run into 10 year old Elizabeth peeking from the catwalk or hear her giggling. Then there is Red Wine Robert who enjoys interacting with paranormal investigators by answering questions through EMF devices and he has also been heard on EVP’s stating that “I’ve got Red Wine”. Perhaps the spirit of John Leezer who was fatally stabbed in the ballroom in the early 1900’s will make an appearance. For those looking for a darker encounter, the Dark Shadow Masses that lurk deep in the basement near the blocked off tunnels that once ran under the town. These Black Masses have been observed by dozens of people and will occasionally growl or drastically drop the temperature for those who get too near. One Black Mass was captured on 2 different DVR cameras on June 6th, 2009. Over 300 EVP’s have been captured from the Opera House. Every part of this historic building is paranormally active and has been titled one of the most haunted buildings in Ohio.