If you’ve ever stepped foot in The Polk Theatre (which FYI, is a total Lakelander right of passage) chances are you were simultaneously taking a ghost tour + didn’t even know it.
Maybe you’re already familiar with some of the tales of the building’s past – such Elvis’s infamous visits or the story of how the theatre came about. But DYK The historic + cutting edge Polk Theatre holds a spookier side involving a few ghosts known to frequent its’ halls?
Recently we pulled back the curtain on information about who the ghosts are by taking an extra haunted tour + recording a podcast with our friends at Florida Men on Florida Man at the very site. And a very special thanks to The Polk Theatre, as this was only the second time in 10 years staff have given this in-depth of a tour.
We uncovered some crazy surprises like rooms even the staff won’t enter + the names of the ghouls that haunt the theatre.
🎧 Join us on the adventure by taking a listen to the full episode here.
A brief history of The Polk Theatre
We could talk all day about the magnificent architecture work that is The Polk Theatre, but for now, here are a few fast facts. It was built during the golden age (1928, to be exact).
- The theatre began thriving in its early years and on opening day, the matinee sold out within an hour of the box office’s opening.
- During the ’60s and ’70s, the theatre faced the possibility of shutting down, but in 1982, it was purchased through borrowed money and a state grant, saved by Lakelanders who didn’t want to see the theatre go.
- Fact: In its early years, the air conditioning system used so much power that it caused the lights to dim all across town when turned on.
- Have you ever looked up when inside? According to the story, the light fixtures in the sky are the originals from the 1920s, and no one is still really sure why they blink.
Meet the ghosts
According to legend, Lee Greg, John E. Melton, and an unnamed actress are the most well-known ghosts that haunt The Polk Theatre.
Lee Greg | A dedicated Polk Theatre employee in the 1930s + 1940s. Lee was so dedicated to the theatre, he would come in on his days off just to pull the curtain. According to legend, when Elvis visited Lakeland + did a stunt where he tipped the mic, Lee supposedly yelled at Elvis to not mess up the equipment. Our theory on why Lee supposedly haunts the theatre: To him, The Polk Theatre is beloved and like a second home, so maybe that’s why he’s protecting it?
John E. Melton | Lakeland businessman (whose developments include Cleveland Heights Golf Course) who planned the Polk Theatre. Unfortunately, during the building process, it was difficult to borrow large sums of money for new construction in post-boom Lakeland + John was forced to sell the uncompleted theatre portion of his building. Our theory on why John supposedly haunts the theatre: He feels as though his work at The Polk remains unfinished.
The Unnamed Actress | A performer that was addicted to opium – a depressant drug that slows down the brain + body. The actress lost her career and had a mental breakdown in the basement and died from an overdose. Not much is known on the actress, though its thought her energy is still attached to the place. Our theory on why she supposedly haunts the theatre: She continues stage life from the shadows of the night.
Strange occurrences that happen at the Polk Theatre
A few examples of haunting behavior that patrons and employees have experienced.
- During childrens’ shows, you can sometimes see shadows in the dark.
- The pipe organ will sometimes play itself.
- You can sometimes hear a person singing.
- There’s a strange feeling some get in the stairways.
- Going through the hallways upstairs is very unnerving.
- Things have been seen floating around.
- Keys have sometimes disappeared.
A few personal accounts from the Polk Theatre.
- The theatre’s first house manager (who used to be a music teacher) was singing to herself + heard a “shush” in her ear.
- One person who worked at the theatre said they once heard someone say “hello” directly into their ear.
- A patron caught on camera an outline of what appears to be an apparition on someone’s back in the theatre.
Why are theatres “historically haunted?”
The long/short of it: #TheatreLife is very superstitious.
- According to some spiritual experts, there are blurred lines between reality + fantasy, as actors are known to go on somewhat of a spiritual journey of exploration with their characters.
- The superstitions of the stage (saying “Break a leg,” the number 13, whistling backstage, etc.) can draw ghosts in.
- Next to mausoleums and castles, no edifices are the site of more paranormal activity than theaters due to drama, superstition, and ego associated with stagecraft.