Mysterious America

Springer Opera House’s Restless Spirits

The Springer Opera House, at 103 E 10th Street in downtown Columbus, a few blocks from the Chattahoochee River, is Georgia’s oldest and most famous theater. It’s unassuming exterior conceals the elegance within. Patrons love attending its world-class plays and musicals, but some see more than they bargained for, as Springer is also believed to be home to several ghosts.

Francis Joseph Springer, a German immigrant and prosperous grocer from the Alsace region of France, opened the Springer Opera House on February 21, 1871. During construction, a worker named John Prince died when a scaffold fell and struck his head. A second balcony, hotel rooms, restaurants, and office space were added in 1900. It was a jewel of the Georgia stage for decades, until the growing popularity of motion pictures compelled it to transition to a movie theater.

Hard times hit downtown Columbus in the 1950s, and Springer closed in 1958. It stood vacant for five years until a determined group of citizens saved it from the wrecking ball. The Springer Opera House once again opened its doors for live performances in 1965 and has continued to operate ever since. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter named it State Theatre of Georgia in 1971.

Another series of renovations in 1998 restored the second and third floors, which had remained abandoned for over thirty years. Today, it is the oldest operating theater in Georgia and is a National Historic Landmark. The Springer’s age, its period of abandonment, and by virtue of being a theater alone, has of course led to stories of it being haunted.

Its most prominent ghost is said to be Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, the actor who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Edwin performed Hamlet there in the 1870s. He was well-known for his portrayal of Prince Hamlet in that Shakespearean play, and according to legend, his ghost will remain at Springer Opera House until Hamlet is performed there again.

Others believe a young girl (Louisa May, by some accounts) was trampled by a horse in the foyer when the building served as Springer’s grocery store and her blood stains the tile to this day. Eyewitnesses claim the girl’s ghost likes to play in the dressing room and her laughter has been heard.

According to Diane Herpel, a Springer tour guide, doors leading to the third floor balconies will seemingly open on their own. Misplaced costumes, flickering lights, and lifelike apparitions have also been attributed to the ghosts. In this theater, it seems something from the past still lingers.

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