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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

A Ghostly Show Goes on at the Tampa Theater

The following excerpt is a guest post from Kathleen Walls, an award-winning Florida travel journalist, and author. This story comes from "Finding Florida's Phantoms."

Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay.

Perhaps the pirates who left their legends in Tampa Bay were drawn by the same things that today draw millions of tourists to this area — fun, sun, sand, and surf. Of course, since the eighteenth century, Tampa has added lots of drawing cards to its deck. Attractions, restaurants, shopping, and countless other amenities designed to make a place an irresistible vacation destination has all added to Tampa Bay’s appeal.

One other thing draws more curious visitors, Tampa’s haunted heritage. From health fanatics to actors, from businessmen to art students, Tampa has a fascinating stable of otherworldly residents.

Perhaps the best-known story concerns the Tampa Theater. Its history and architecture alone merit a visit but there is more lurking in its dark recesses.

The theater was built by architect John Eberson in 1926 and has been a Tampa landmark ever since. The elaborate movie theater attracts over 150,000 people annually and is on the National Historic Registry. As you sit in the massive theater awaiting the lowering of the lights for a performance, you are surrounded by the atmosphere of a Mediterranean garden. After the lights go down, the starlit sky sparkles above. It was the masterpiece of its day when it opened. It even had air conditioning, which drew many people just for that in summer.

In a different twist on the “Phantom of The Opera,” Tampa Theater is rumored to be haunted by the friendly ghost of Foster Finley. Foster was the theatre’s projectionist for 25 years until his death in the late 1960s. He would not leave the place where he had spent most of his adult life and is often glimpsed by visitors and employees alike.

He always came to work dressed in a suit, tie, and hat and then changed in the dressing room. His nickname was “Fink.”

The new projectionist who replaced him did not last long. According to Tara Schroeder, our guide, the poor man would hear the door open and close and no one would be there. At that time, the projectionist needed to switch from one projector to another one as the reels wound down. The toggle switch controlling this would be flipped before he could reach for it. The unnerved projectionist decided two projectionists in the small room was one too many, especially if the other one was dead. He quit.

Many of the theater employees heard keys rattling. On two occasions, two different employees who were opening the theater unlocked the door and entered, then heard keys rattling at the level above the concession stand. They heard a key being put into the door up there and said, “Good morning.” They then went up to see who was there only to find themselves all alone in the theater.

A group of St. Petersburg Ghost investigators came to the theater. They brought all the latest equipment and one that is somewhat controversial, dousing rods. They tried to rule out any natural causes, for instance, any wiring behind walls when the detectors went off. In some cases, the detectors would go off indicating energy at that spot. They would leave it and go back later and, if no energy was detected, rule out wires since they would always be present.

Tara relates, “At one place, I watched the meter go off and the temperature gauge dropped way down. Since it was so dramatic, they got out the dowsing rods. These were used to ask questions. If they crossed, it indicated a ‘yes.’ They asked a few questions and nothing happened. I decided I would have some fun so I asked, ‘Can I ask some questions?’ I asked about several incidents like, ‘Were you here when the keys jingled?’ I asked, ‘Were you employed here?’ The rods crossed to indicate ‘Yes.’ I went through the decades to determine the time frame. When I asked, ‘Were you employed here in the 50’s?’ it indicated ‘Yes.’”

Was Fink letting Tara know he was there and active?

Want more? Kathleen Walls' books are available on Amazon and from her website. Walls also produces the American Roads and Global Highways blog.

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