The Damned Story: As with many old theaters across the state, the Capitol Theater in downtown Willimantic has had its share of dramas, both on and off the main stage. And although many theaters talk of having “ghosts” in the sense of memories of past productions, there are those who believe that this theater literally is home to otherworldy spirits.
The Capitol Theater was completed in January 1926, and according to the Willimantic’s Mill Museum’s website, when it opened, the ornate theater offered over 1,200 seats, brass light fixtures, a large balcony and promenade, private seating boxes, smoking rooms (for ladies and gents) and a marble staircase. Audiences were entertained by both movies and live vaudeville acts on the 80-foot-wide stage for a few years before vaudeville faded and the facility switched over to just showing movies.
Hundreds of films were shown here over nearly four decades before the curtain came down in October 1973. The building then sat empty for nearly 30 years, falling into serious disrepair. In 2002, a $17 million renovation was begun to return it to its former splendor, and two years later, it re-opened its doors as a regional arts magnet high school, Arts at the Capitol Theater (ACT), and home to the Capitol Theater Arts Academy (CTAA). The gorgeous art deco-themed facility now has multiple stages, classrooms, galleries and studios as well as other theater-related spaces.
As for hauntings, there are two stories that related to the theater. The first one dates back to the 1920s, and in it, an actress involved in a love triangle was killed in the balcony by a misguided bullet fired by one of her actor lovers that was intended for her other actor lover. The second tale is that during a live performance involving a sword fight, the scene went horribly awry and one actor accidentally stabbed another, who subsequently died from his wounds. (Every actor wants a dramatic death scene, right?)
As it turns out, there is no record of any murders or stabbings, accidental or otherwise, having occurred in the Capitol Theater. The only known tragedy was when a woman fell from the balcony and died a few days later in a local hospital. (A few performers also may have figuratively "died" on stage during bad performances, too!) In 1924, there was a Willimantic love triangle that ended in murder, but apparently that involved a mother and daughter who owned a dress shop next door to the theater; the husband/father was killed shortly after the affairs came to light, although it was never determined if he was murdered by the wife, the daughter or the lover. It’s certainly possible that over the years, this story morphed into the one about the shooting in the theater balcony, although it never occurred on the premises.
Over the years, various paranormal phenomena have been reported here, including ghostly entities being seen in the balcony and dressing rooms. Others have claimed to have heard disembodied voices, footsteps and a baby’s cry in various spots throughout the building. Photos involving purported spirits have also been taken here.
Our Damned Experience: Although we think it’s a capital idea, we’ve never tread the boards at the Capitol Theater.
If You Go: The Capitol is now the regional arts magnet high school known as ACT: Arts at the Capitol Theater. It is located at 896 Main Street in Willimantic, and although is not open to the public, per se, offers a regular schedule of theater events available to all throughout the year. The theater is also available to rent for special occasions.