Some say an otherworldly spirit haunts a Mississippi theater

Published 4:06 pm Saturday, October 30, 2021

The supernatural seem to come to life (or unlife) during the month of October; but for the Lyric Theatre in downtown Tupelo, the spooky season lasts year-round.

“This next year will be my 30th year at TCT. Almost from the first, I heard about Antoine the ghost,” said Tom Booth, the Lyric’s manager.

Booth has no idea who first spoke the the name “Antoine” or how the legend of this otherworldly presence began, but he knows there’s no recorded history identifying anyone named Antoine associated with the theater.

Whoever the Lyric spirit may be, it is known for its childish antics — hiding keys, singing short tunes, and generally just messing with folks inside the theater.

Although there is no evidence of an Antoine in the Lyric’s history, there is some speculation about the ghost’s origin story.

THE ORIGIN OF THE LYRIC SPIRIT

One theory posits that the spirit which haunts the Lyric was a victim of the 1936 F5 tornado that killed hundreds of people in and around Tupelo. The Lyric was used as a makeshift hospital for the living and the dead, and bodies were stored in a small basement underneath the stage until they could be claimed.

Another story suggests the Lyric spirit could have been a caretaker at the theater. Built in 1912 as the Comus, the Lyric’s past life involved live, vaudeville shows. At the time, a caretaker’s job would have been to stoke the furnace and maintain the building. It’s possible the caretaker even lived in their own private quarters beneath the theater stage.

After explaining these two possibilities, Booth paused to say that the mystery behind the Lyric spirit still gives him cold chills.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

Booth has had several personal experiences with the Lyric spirit. The most recent encounter occurred on an afternoon when he and a box office manager heard a loud bang, almost like the slamming of an old, solid wood door. They both searched the building but found no culprit. To this day, Booth has no idea what could have caused the sound.

Booth admitted that most unexplained noises don’t prompt him to even get up from his desk anymore. He’s quick to attribute a creak or thump to the nature of the 110-year-old building. However, he has become accustomed to occasional ghostly encounters, comparing the Lyric spirit to Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Although the spirit is generally amicable, Booth did recall two instances where he felt like the spirit was disturbed by the living.

The most chilling of these events followed a murder mystery-themed program at the theater. It was a Saturday evening around 10 or 10:30 p.m., and Booth was the last to leave.

After his departure, Booth remembered that some flower arrangements were left and would likely be thrown away. He turned back around to retrieve them.

As soon as he stepped through the theater doors, he heard laughing and singing. Booth, believing it was someone with keys to the building, brushed it off as a prank.

He continued upstairs and eventually made it all the way through the theater, exiting through the backstage door. He looked for a nearby vehicle to verify that another person was in the building, but there was no car in sight.

He quickly locked the doors and left. Booth emphasized that there was no way he didn’t hear the laughter and singing

DO YOU BELIEVE?

As Booth put it — he believes, but he also doesn’t, that a ghostly presence haunts the Lyric. As a Christian, Booth said he believes there are angels and demons, a Heaven and a Hell.

He doesn’t know where Antoine, or whoever the spirit may be, fits into his beliefs.

After Booth recounted his run-ins with the spirit, he made his way through the theater, traveling across the front lobby and up the staircase to the balcony to the costume and prop room, filled with the remnants of productions past.

Booth said that although many people have felt the presence of something strange in these two rooms, most of his own experiences took place in the newer part of the building, constructed only 30 years ago.

He trekked down to the stage, noting the original brick structure in the back, and opened a hidden door to the small basement. It’s here where legend says the bodies from the 1936 tornado were stored. It’s easy to imagine victims of the tornado stacked in the somber space.

Of course, any feeling of unease can be attributed to the lore that surrounds the Lyric and the expectation to witness something paranormal, but there’s still that visceral wave of anticipation that arises, alluding to something unexplainable.

With more than a century of history, the Lyric has seen moments of happiness, pain, laughter, and tears in the many shows and movies that have premiered there. These cinematic memories have burned themselves into the walls to create a living entertainment scrapbook.

One thing is for certain — the tragedies that have occurred at the Lyric didn’t just happen in stage productions.