Is there any truth to the unwritten law that any business built on consecrated grounds is bound to fail? There was one establishment that violated this belief more than any other which were theaters. These are stories where misfortune haunted these establishments.
St. Louis Globe Democrat 1876
Hope Chapel opposite Washington Place (on Broadway between Fourth Street and
Astor Place) was converted from a church.
"Here the ill-fated Henri Drayton (a well-known opera singer died from a stroke at age 49), and his wife gave their parlor opera entertainment, here the Holmans, Elise Holt, Lina Edwin and others met with financial disaster, until finally the building was burned to the ground, incurring a heavy loss upon all concerned".
A block further up is another church converted to theatrical purposes. What was originally the Church of the Messiah, with the Rev. Dr. Osgood as pastor was transformed by A. T. Stewart into a theater, buxom Lucy Rushton being the opening star. Here too, came the Worrell Sisters. Daly first produced the "Streets of New York" at his house. Poor Mark Smith and Lewis Baker ran it as a burlesque theater. Lady Don was at one time a star here. It has been variety and concert hall, and to the present time it has been a source of pecuniary disaster to many who have undertaken its management.
The story repeats itself where theaters built on hallowed ground seemed destined to fail. Coincidence? The Brooklyn Theater became an example of how virulent that curse could be. On the evening of December 5, 1876 a fire broke out. when a gas light ignited scenery behind the stage. Over a 1,000 people were in attendance, and 278 died that night, even though reports said the correct number was over 300. A common grave was dug at Greenwood Cemetery for 103 unidentified victims.
Many of those who lost their lives were seated in the highest tier which offered the cheapest seats. Only one stairway offered a way of escape and it quickly became jammed with desperate people trying to escape.
The history of the Brooklyn Theater is fraught with special interest at this time; the more so, because facts have been developed during the past week which, although they have not found their way into print, are invested with peculiar significance. The Brooklyn career of the late Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Conway was one, that up to the time of their occupancy of the doomed house, was peculiarly brilliant and successful. At their old house, the Park Theater, they gave a series of legitimate entertainments that did a good deal to keep the steady Brooklynites in their own city at night, to patronize home amusements, and so successful were they that they amassed nearly $80,000 by their venture.
It seemed that many could not forget that the Brooklyn Theater was built on the site of a church and its adjacent graveyard. Before long stories circulated that it was haunted. If it was shut up tight at night, as soon as the lights were extinguished, scenery on the stage would flap in a strong wind with no earthly source. Those passing the theater in the night would hear strange noises and shadowy figures flitted in and out of the doorway. The Conway's living quarters were in the highest floor, and once darkness fell Mrs. Conway refused to enter the theater. Her fear that something supernatural walked the halls must have made her life very unhappy.
The crowning blow to her success came about two years after the first occupancy of the theater, when one night her husband fell on the stage in a fit of mortal sickness, and two weeks later died. On his deathbed he expressed the belief, it is said, that had he left the cursed and haunted Brooklyn Theater alone he might have lived to a good old age, for he was a man with every indication of stalwart health and longevity. The death of her husband was a great blow to Mrs. Conway's sensitive nature, but she was a bold and persevering woman and struggled bravely on to make the Brooklyn Theater a success. having secured the services of John P. Smith as her business manager. Her efforts were however unavailing. Things went from bad to worse, and finally just two years after her husband's death, Mrs. Conway died in her private apartments after the theater.
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