Friday, May 01, 2009

Jefferson Theater...For The Living and the Dead...?

I never met them nor did I ever see them although I did feel them. At least I sensed their being or sensed their having been. Are you as confused as I may be? Read on…

In 1952 when I was employed as an usher at the Jefferson Theater in downtown Beaumont, I was ushered into a wonderland of days gone by. So vivid and so plentiful are my memories of that grand old vaudeville/road show opera house that I do not know where to begin. So I’ll start at the beginning of my employment with that establishment.

The first thing my manager showed me was the dressing room area. These rooms were located on the second floor backstage. This is where I went to change from my street clothes to my usher’s uniform.

In my dressing room, mirrors behind makeup counters lined the walls. There were light sockets surrounding the mirrors. The bulbs were missing but one easily could see how the room must have looked back in the 1920s and 1930s when things were in full swing. Road shows and vaudeville acts performed regularly at the Jefferson. By the way, The Jefferson got its name from Beaumont’s being the Jefferson County Seat.

Old wooden straight-back chairs still lined the makeup counter. Many times I sat in one of those chairs and looked at myself in the mirror. I sensed the presence of those performers who in the past sat in that same chair looking in that same mirror. The feeling was uncanny. Never before had I experienced such sensations as making contact with those generations who preceded me in that room.

I mentioned this to other ushers. They too had experienced the same sensations. Some even went as far as to say they believed the spirits of the old vaudeville performers still frequented those dressing rooms. I cannot dispute their opinions. I only know what I felt.

One day I needed a coat hanger to hang up my street shirt while working my shift. I could not find one. Just as I turned away from the closet to drape my shirt across one of the chairs, a coat hanger hit the floor behind me and bounded my way. I picked up the hanger and said, “thank you” not knowing for sure if I was speaking to anyone or not. If there are spirits in that dressing area, they seem friendly and willing to help out.

Thus springs a question, “Are those dressing rooms in the Jefferson Theater haunted?” Certainly I am not one to suggest anything bordering on the supernatural.

But wait. Here’s more. There was an old marquee mounted on the front of the building. In fact it’s still there. The marquee was composed of three sections. The front main section faced Fannin Street. Then there were two smaller side sections. One of these faced Orleans Street and the other faced Pearl Street.

One of my assignments was to change out that marquee every time the movie changed. One movie ran from Friday through Monday. Another one ran from Tuesday through Thursday. This meant that I changed the marquee on Monday and Thursday nights of each week.

Dragging out that 16-foot step ladder was an experience in itself. Every time I climbed that rickety old ladder and inserted those old letters into those old marquee slots, I sensed the spirits of those who in years gone by had climbed that same ladder and handled those same old letters. Once again, the feelings were uncanny.

Spirits or no spirits, working at the Jefferson was an experience that I treasure. Yes, I never met them nor did I ever see them.

But I surely enjoyed working with them.

Winston Hamby


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