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Piper Opera House
Haunted Dwelling — Piper Opera House
1 North B Street
Virginia City, Nevada 89440
Web Link * (775) 847-0433
Piper's Opera House can be found on the corner of North B Street and Union Street.
Laura Bush has described the Piper's Opera House, as being "An American Treasure and a National Icon".
Tom and I visited the historic Piper Opera House in 2009, and we were very pleased to see this 120 year old theatre and 140 year old brick front part are in fine shape, showing the efforts of decades of restoration and renovation! It was once again being used for theatrical performances, for social and musical events, and is the home of a Virginia City high school acting class, who meet and practice their craft in the auditorium, amidst the great inspiring atmosphere of this grand old dame, built in 1885 by venue promoter and arts enthusiast, John Piper!
Upon entering the building, we see the lovely tile entryway, and the staircase which goes up to the second floor. To the left of the entryway, the rebuilding of the saloon is underway, which plans to open soon. To the right of the entryway is another section, probably offices.
The auditorium, or the barn, which is attached to this first building, is a large, rectangular room, with high ceilings, and a floor mounted on springs, made complete with a suspended horseshoe-shaped balcony. Honored guests have sat and enjoyed the show in the two-story box seats, found on either side of the stage. Famous or well-known people of wealth who used to sit in these box seats, had their own private stairway.
During its many years of being a cultural arts venue, many touring companies of American and English actors have performed here. People have enjoyed the full range of theatrical arts, including drama productions, musicals, Shakespeare plays, laughed at comedians, popular chanteuses and minstrels, finding entertainment to boast the morale and spirit throughout the decades. Many thespians, creative artists, and musicians performed on this stage, since 1885, entertaining theatre enthusiasts from all walks of life; ordinary folks to the well-to-do, like mine mogul, John Mackay. The audiences were lifted up and away from everyday worries and troubles, as they escaped for a time into the world of theatrical arts entertainment.
Many well-known actors, performers, musical groups and orchestras found their way to this theater, as it was a favored venue, thanks to the skilled promotional efforts from its owner, John Piper, who handed this business down to his family members. Such folks as the Booth family, Houdini, WC Fields, and John Phillip Souza, to name just a few, made the trek to Virginia City, just to perform in The Piper Opera House, offering welcomed relief from the hard life often experienced in this mining town, Virginia City.
One of the advantages of this theatre staying in the Piper family is that most of the original interior furnishings and stage equipment remain intact, presenting a historical aura, like the visitor/guest has stepped back in time. The stage now has a lovely hand-painted backdrop, and lovely curtains, nice seats, and a more finished look, more pleasing to the eye, for both the living and its unseen residents.
One wonders how this grand theatre got its start in this dusty, mining town. Its founder and promoter, John Piper came to the thriving mining town of Virginia City in 1860. John got involved in several businesses, including a brick business office on B and Union Street and a theatre on D Street, which he renamed Piper Opera House.
In the brick office building, he opened a saloon, as well as having his office there. The saloon must have been his bread and butter business, funding his interest in the arts. John Piper turned out to be a great promoter of the cultural and theatrical arts, a business he truly loved. This original Piper Opera House was a huge success, widely supported and enthusiastically embraced by the people of Virginia City, and others from around the United States as well.
A huge, momentary bump in the road of his success was the great fire of 1875, which toasted most of Virginia City. Though his first Piper Opera House was burned to a crisp on D street, his brick saloon on N B and Union Street survived. He rebuilt his new theatre right behind his brick office building and saloon. The brick front building was divided into three sections. Far left was the saloon, the middle section acted as the entry hall, and the room on the right was his business office. Piper Opera House and Saloon once again opened in 1878, much to the joy of its fans. It was a truly glorious effort, the most grand theatre of the three opera houses associated with John Piper.
Unfortunately, this theatre also burned down, just 5 years later; though once again the brick building survived. John Piper was momentarily discouraged, and didn't plan to rebuild it again, because the mines were playing out, and he could see the writing on the wall. However the people of Virginia City and his family convinced him otherwise, to "get back up on the horse". So, using wood from old mines, and collecting the unburned wood from his second destroyed Piper Opera House, John Piper once again rebuilt the barn-like auditorium, right behind the brick saloon and office.
The third effort was the charm! Performances and events continued until 1924, when the mines were in their last days. Not many people were left to financially justify such a large fine arts venue, even though people from all over the United States and dignitaries had come to enjoy its shows in the past. The Piper Opera House finally closed. Luckily it was very well built, and it managed somehow to survive the years of neglect. Finally, in the late 1960s, John Piper's great granddaughter, Louise Driggs, took an interest in this now huge, creaky fixer-upper opportunity, and began to slowly stabilize the structure.
However, it wasn't until the 1990s that serious money began to flow into the restoration effort In 1997, Piper's Opera House Programs, Inc. a non-profit corporation, bought this property from Louis, and have been using funds gathered from government and corporate grants, and memberships in this historical preservation group, to make great progress in giving this grand old dame a much needed restoration face lift, and a very certain future.
Sometime during the restoration years, when this structure was stable enough, the Piper Opera House once again opened, offering plays, and a place for community events and concerts.
Around 2002, an excavation of the area of the structure that once had been a bar, revealed many interesting artifacts of the time. Pieces of glasses, bowls, etc. were stored in the basement.
Piper's Opera House Programs, Inc. have found ways to continue to put the Piper Opera House to work. Besides having productions, rental revenue, and a soon to be opened bar saloon, they have a contract with the school district for use of the auditorium (drama classes) and perhaps for other school functions in the future, like concerts and graduation exercises.
There were three stages of restoration and renovation. The first accomplishments were basic needs of the building: a new roof, siding, structural reinforcement, sprinkler system, fire alarms, a new heating system and ADA compliant restrooms.
The second stage covered more structural reinforcement, such as the addition of a drainage system, the reinforcement of the front facade and the restoration of the windows and doors.
The 3rd stage has restored/renovated the Entry Foyer, and a new Piper's Saloon is being built. We saw the bar area being constructed on the day we visited. There is a little eating area that is operational. John Piper's Office area will be the last to be done.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS:
Paranormal activity in the auditorium seemed to start sometime during the restoration process, and still occurs today. On Sept. 23rd, 2003, a group of paranormal investigators and crew, including film maker/author/editor Bryon Byrd , producer Victoria Monroe, came together with a licensed psychic medium, Vicki Gay, a pair of mother-daughter psychics Bernise and JoAnn , and a psychic pair of Virginia City residents, a sensitive Brittany and her clairvoyant mother Maureen Hepsew, to investigate the Piper Opera House.
This resulted in a DVD, entitled "Ghosts of Piper's", a Victoria Monroe and Loose Canon Production. Loose Canon Production made a TV series, known as Spooky Places, long before shows like "Ghost Hunters" were made.
The DVD is a good one, in that it takes the viewer along on the investigation, shows/offers personal experiences of the participants, along with some hard evidence of the spiritpeople who reside here. It is a reality-type DVD, shot during the middle years of the restoration effort. The Piper Opera House was in more rustic condition then, quite different than what Tom and I saw in 2009 as visitors.
Who are the spiritpeople in this structure?
The entities here are connected somehow to this building, or the land upon which it stands.
Many of the Entities who enjoyed the performances when they are alive, still are patrons of the theatre, though in spirit form. This is the case in other stories of haunted theatres on our web site, hauntedhouses.com.
(Capitol Theatre * Rivoli Theatre * Harvard Exit Theatre * Music Hall)
Some entities, while alive, took refuge in the building's basement and attic, according to psychic mediums who investigated with Victoria Monroe and Loose Cannon productions. In other stories found on this web site, Entities hang around a location that in life was the only place they had to stay, or forced to stay, because of their circumstances, or because of their own choices.
(Wood County Infirmary * Alcatraz Prison Museum * Strawberry Hill Mansion)
Perhaps we can theorize other reasons that entities not yet identified here, choose to stay in the building, if we look at other haunted theatres, that can be found on hauntedhouses.com
As far as we know, there are no town legends about murders, or deaths in the fires connected to this Opera House itself.
Accidents seem to be a common cause of hauntings in theatres that have spirit people. (Rialto Theatre * Landers Theatre * Palace Theatre in NY * KiMo Theatre)
Perhaps some performers or wanna-be performers yearn for one more performance on stage, or loved to perform here so much in life that they want to spend their afterlife here.
(Capitol Theatre (Flint) * Pantages Theatre * Fitzgerald Theatre * The Washington Opera House)
Past Employees/owners of theatres sometime are not willing to leave a job that they love, and go to the other side.
(Warner Pacific Theatre * Tampa Theatre * The Grand Opera)
Over the years, many witnesses have experienced and seen various kinds of entities; perhaps orbs, cold spots, apparitions, mists or the uncanny feeling of an unseen presence.
Sensitives have felt anxiety while being pulled toward the stage in the auditorium. Others have heard a voice, singing.
There have been odd events reported by witnesses in the Opera House.
The DVD, entitled Ghosts of Piper's, a Victoria Monroe and Loose Canon Production is a very good one! With permission from Bryon Byrd, I will give you a thumb-nail sketch of their results. To learn of the details and see the actual riveting investigation, visit their web-page and buy this fine DVD!
Entities found on all levels of the The Piper Opera House are very protective of what they consider their special space in the building, though they warm up a little, when reassured by mediums.
A male entity, in a gray suit, and top hat, wearing a handlebar mustache:
When alive, he used to buy the presidium box seats just left of the stage, on the orchestra level. Around 30 years ago, his grouchy form was first seen, sitting in the middle chair, with probably his two family members on either side of him.
Psychic medium Vicki Gay communicated with this spirit, and the results of this encounter are filmed, shown on the DVD.
A young, 20-something female entity, wearing a blue evening dress: She usually appears in the Presidium box seats, located on the right side of the stage, on the second level, beside the balcony. She loves musicals, and children's plays and performances.
On film, Vicki Gay stands in this second-level box seat, explaining what she currently feels then, and recalls what had happened earlier when she and one of the other psychics first visited this box seat, when the energy wasn't very welcoming. This experience explains her rule about using the buddy system. If one medium is overtaken by a spirit, another medium is there to help the situation.
The Balcony Area —
Unseen entities in the balcony —
A row of seats that were up against the center back wall, were still claimed by the entities of the people who had owned them, and still apparently do! Film catches Vicki Gay's observations, reactions experiences, and insights as to why they are so possessive, and the character of one of the entities found there.
Some of the psychics in this group heard children giggling and playing in the balcony section.
The Attic —
Performers have reported seeing a male entity, standing on the attic ladder, watching them perform.
The DVD shows Vicki Gay's investigation of the attic, her discoveries of three frightened entities, and why they were there.
The Basement —
Unseen Entities —
Psychic mediums on the DVD felt the energy of entities who don't want the living in their space. The mediums share their experiences there, who these entities were in life, and what the entities told them on the DVD.
A big "YES INDEED" is in order. The investigators recorded some good EVPs, and filmed a lot of orbs, especially in the basement. Other paranormal investigation groups have also had experiences.