Glamour and Murder at Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam Theatre

When I first moved to New York City after graduating from The Boston Conservatory with a degree in musical theater performance (at the age of 41!), I got whatever job I could and was fortunate to end up as a Broadway usher at The New Amsterdam Theatre.   The architecture awed me, and little did I know that I had stepped into one of the most actively haunted theaters in the city.  I will share the New Am’s (as we ushers referred to it) history and ghosts over two blog posts.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Let me begin at the theater’s rebirth at the hands of Disney.  Built in 1903 and located on the famous 42nd Street in Times Square, the New Amsterdam appeared in shambles when the Disney Theatrical Corporation (a division of Walt Disney) leased the building in 1993.  They found holes in the roof, mushrooms growing in the orchestra pit, and nesting birds.

BCA New York

BCA New York

BCA New York

BCA New York

With the guidance of Building Conservation Associates, Inc., which specializes in Heritage Conservation, Disney spent a reported 34 million dollars to restore the theater to its original glory.

BCA New York

BCA New York

Walking through the marble lobby, theatergoers today experience the same grandeur that their predecessors did at the end of the gilded age.  The Art Nouveau details, like those shown below, make the New Amsterdam the crown jewel of all the Broadway theaters in the city.

BCA New York

BCA New York

BCA New York

BCA New York

BCA New York

BCA New York

In addition to this rich architectural legacy, Disney also became caretaker to at least one ghost.  A few months prior to the theater’s opening on April 2nd, 1997 the first dramatic paranormal event occurred. On a cold January morning, a telephone woke Dana Amendola, the house manager for the theater at the time, from a deep sleep at 2 a.m.  The theater’s security guard on duty asked Dana to come at once.  Fearing a catastrophe, Dana raced to the theater and found the guard pacing outside the stage door. It took much coaxing to get the anxious man to reenter the building.  Once inside, the guard explained that when he did his usual rounds and came to the stage, he felt something behind him.  Glancing over his shoulder, he saw a beautiful woman in the glow of the stage’s ghost light.  She wore a beaded gown and headdress with a green sash and in her hand was a blue bottle.  As he started to address her, she walked past him, heading for the 41st Street stage door.  She turned back to him, blew him a kiss, and continued through the wall, and the shaken guard ran out the door.  Some weeks later after Dana had collected historical pictures to mount around theater, he invited the guard to his office.  Laying the photos out, Amendola asked him if anyone looked familiar, and the guard pointed at the photo below of Olive Thomas.

Olive Thomas - Photo hanging in the New Am lobby

Olive Thomas – Photo hanging in the New Am lobby

In my next blog post, I’ll share Thomas’s connection to the theater and when she first haunted the theater.

2 thoughts on “Glamour and Murder at Ziegfeld’s New Amsterdam Theatre

  1. Elise, WHAT A CLIFF HANGER… I am looking (as always) to the next part with the Olive Thomas story!

    Best, Marguerite

    ________________________________

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