Ghosts at the Ellie

October 30, 2020 | By Suzanne Whitney | OC Stories
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A ghost light illuminates the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Photo: Denver Arts & Venues

Whenever a theater goes dark, there is always one single bulb left burning. This is called the ghost light. While its accepted function is to prevent any unwary visitors from tumbling headfirst into the orchestra pit, it didn’t come by its name just because of its ghostly glow. Some performers and stagehands believe the ghost light chases away unwanted spirits, while others believe just the opposite.

Opera houses and theaters can be chilling places when left empty and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House is no different. This Halloween season we wonder if while we’re away, the ghosts are at play.

Over the years, there have been two ghosts haunting the halls of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Cherity Koepke, Opera Colorado’s Director of Education & Community Engagement, is the current keeper of each ghastly tale. Just after starting her work with Opera Colorado in 2011, she had the opportunity to take a tour and get to know the Ellie. She immediately fell in love with the beauty and history of the place, but as she entered the orchestra pit a supernatural chill settled in. She mentioned this feeling of unease to her tour guide, Dan. That is when she learned she wasn’t the only one to feel a presence lurking in the depths of the Ellie.

A Tiger Stalks the Stage

Photo: Smithsonian / Marion Doss

The Ellie Caulkins Opera House was originally opened in 1908 as the Denver Municipal Auditorium Theatre. In those early days, the circus performed in the auditorium when it came to town. As in any circus, there were many fantastical acts, including one featuring a tiger. One night, this tiger decided to make a bid for its freedom and escaped. The members of the circus and the authorities began a hunt to recapture the beast, but to no avail. Their search came to a dead end at the river. Some say the tiger escaped, some say it drowned, but whatever the fate of its physical body, its spirit remained in the shadows of the auditorium.

If you are alone in the opera house late at night, don’t be surprised if you hear a growl stalking you in the dark. Don’t linger long, you might just find yourself facing a ghostly tiger hungry for its freedom.

Dressed to Kill

While Denver likes to think of itself as a very civilized town these days, we can’t forget that it began feeling more like the wild west. Unsurprisingly, there were many duels that took place during that time. There was one that even took place right outside the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at 14th and Curtis. The story goes, a servant and his employer fell in love with the same woman. When the wealthy young man discovered he was courting the same woman as his servant, he challenged him to a duel.

Photo: history.com

Both men arrived dressed to the nines with top hats, as was the suitable attire for a duel. On the count of ten both men fired, but only the servant landed his shot. The wealthy young man died of his wounds following the duel.

These days you often see folks dressed to impress for performances at the Ellie, but watch out for a man in a top hat mingling with other patrons. You might wonder if he is in period costume, maybe a performer, but if you ask him a question, he will silently turn and walk away. Lost in the crowd, mourning a love not to be.

2 Comments to “Ghosts at the Ellie”

  1. The article never mentions that the Denver Municipal Auditorium had a large pipe organ, long since removed. Would that pipe organ add to the eerie feeling like in Phantom of the Opera?

  2. I remember the auditorium and the beautiful pipe organ the high schools used to have their graduations in the auditorium marching in to the music of the pipe organ and yes I definitely believe that there are ghosts there When we had one of the galas on stage many years ago I felt that presence but ghosts are nothing new to me because there is a ghost a bent over old lady I have named her Rosie because I think she is my grandma’s spirit living at my house she keeps moving things around she plays with the light switches she opens AND CLOSES doors at times she screams but n young he saw her and asked his grandma (my aunt) “Who is that cute old lady who just came out of the bathroom?” and speaking of ghosts in opera houses ther are several ghosts that still “haunt” the Tabor Opera house in Leadville.

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