By: Molly Gullett
As work proceeds on the Southwest Ohio Folklore Archives, there are a few papers that are certainly appropriate at this time of year. In November, 2002, student Mathew Z. Keller submitted his contribution to the archive with an account of UC’s Wilson Auditorium. Superstition and mystery are as linked with theatre as performance itself and there are many superstitions associated with theatre. Of course, there is “break a leg” instead of “good luck,” and the ominous effects of saying Macbeth backstage. Perhaps less known is the superstition to never whistle anywhere in a theatre because it signifies that a play will be ending soon. Another ritual is to leave a ghost light on in the belief that it would convince spirits of the theatre that they had not been forgotten. Like most, UC’s theatres are also riddled with superstitions and legends which comprise their lore.
Wilson Auditorium, which now is used for storage, was built in 1931 with support from Amanda Wilson, the widow of Judge Obed Wilson for whom it is named. Situated between DAAP and McMicken, Wilson Auditorium is notable for its Art Deco architecture and ornamental reliefs of playwrights such as Shakespeare and Moliere, and the four muses of Theatre, Music, Poetry, and Literature. However, the auditorium has not been used as a theatre since before the 1980s when its rooms were occupied as offices for the Drama Program at CCM. The combination of theatre lore and an expansive, yet barely occupied, building seem to coalesce to shroud Wilson Auditorium in legend.
In Wilson, there are typical accounts of old pipes clanking, doors slamming, and even the building’s skylight mysteriously shattering on one occasion. Such occurrences are generally attributed to the building’s age and maintenance. Yet some accounts of faculty who had offices in the building give a more unsettling view of the place. One faculty member recalled using the restroom while in the building alone as the showers turned on without explanation. Another instance occurred in which static was said to be humming out of old unplugged speakers, and another in which a woman could be heard singing soprano in a dressing room, but was never found.
Whether Wilson Auditorium is haunted, unsettling, or just a vacant old building depends on one’s own superstitious belief. But what transcends opinion is the idea of a theatre as a place of heightened and palpable emotion. And so, where that emotion and energy go as the audience clears and the lights turn off, is unknown.
From the work of Mathew Z. Kessler, November 20, 2002.