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Theatre Ghost Light Superstitions

Definition: An exposed incandescent light bulb, surrounded by a wire cage and mounted on a portable stand. This light is most often placed somewhere on center stage.

 

"A bare bulb atop a rudimentary pole, it stands at center stage, lit by the last person to leave the theatre each night and extinguished by the first person to arrive in the morning. Though stark in statute and artless in form, the ghost light fulfills many functions.some practical, some supernatural."
--Jim Dougherty

No one knows for sure the origin of ghost lights but they have been used in theatres for centuries. A ghost light is a light that is left on in an unoccupied theatre. Without this light a theatre would be in complete darkness. The typical modern ghost light consists of an exposed incandescent light bulb, surrounded by a wire cage and mounted on a portable stand. This light is most often placed somewhere on center stage.

This dim glowing nightlight is left on in theatres for first and foremost a practical reason. A completely dark stage is a dangerous place, hazards like falling into an orchestra pit, tripping on set pieces or props pose a real threat to theatre workers but one superstition competes with these practical reasons. A prevailing superstition is that most theatres are haunted and the ghost light is kept on to appease ghosts.

Before electricity was invented theatre ghost lights were gas lamps. Each theatre had its own gas generator. Leaving a flame burning overnight was very important-this active flame would prevent pressure from building up in the lines, which could cause an explosion. Several hundred theatres in the 1800's burned down for this reason so the invention of the electrical light bulb was literally a godsend.

Considering this history a belief arose that a ghost light should be left burning in order to keep theatre ghosts happy.

This superstition continued after the invention of electricity. One theatre myth states that leaving a ghost light on overnight is protection from otherwise restless or resentful ghosts who would create havoc if they realized no one was in the theatre. Another superstition or belief is that if a ghost light is not left on bad luck will befall whatever production is being performed.

Not all theatre ghost superstitions cast ghosts in a negative light. It is often believed these ghosts were former actors and that a ghost light gives these spirits the opportunity to perform on stage, which keeps them happy-- it is also stated that this is the reason theatres close one day a week.

As stated above one superstition that surrounds ghost lights is that a "dark" stage creates sadness or bad luck. Because a dark stage often denotes no show is running due to a lack of funding, or even worse an unsuccessful production closed. Not wanting to upset any ghosts that might be around some theatre workers keep this light on.

Collections:

Haunted Theaters

 

Related Categories:

| Akron Civic Theater | MacBeth | Theater Superstition - Bad Luck to Whistle | Theater Superstition - Graveyard Gift | Theater Superstition - The Blues | Theater Superstition - Unlucky Rule of Three | Theater Supersition - Peacock Feathers | Theater Superstition - Mirror Image | Theater Superstitions - Hauntings | Theater Superstitions - Wishing Good Luck |

Resources:

  external linkTheatre "Ghost Light" Superstitions Virginia Lamkin

 

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