Cincinnati Music Hall

Music Hall, completed in 1878, is Cincinnati's premier classical music performance hall. It serves as the home for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, May Festival Chorus, and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. In January, 1975, it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The building was designed from the start with a dual purpose - to house musical activities in its central auditorium and industrial exhibitions in its side wings. It is located at 1241 Elm Street in Cincinnati, Ohio across from historic Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, just minutes from the center of the downtown area. Music Hall was built over a pauper's cemetery, which has helped fuel its reputation as one of the most haunted places in America.

Venues

The main hall, called the Springer Auditorium in honor of founding patron Reuben Springer, has 3,516 seats and ranks acoustically as one of the finest performance venues in the world. It serves as home for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Opera and the May Festival Chorus. It is one of the largest permanent concert halls in the U.S, third only to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the central auditorium, the facility includes:

  • Music Hall Ballroom - accommodating up to 1,300 people, this room is the second largest meeting space in the city, encompassing nearly 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2). It is frequently used for large receptions, exhibitions, fashion shows, class reunions and breakfast, lunch and dinner gatherings. In October 1998, a $1.8 million renovation of the Ballroom was completed. In July 2007 organ rebuilder Ronald F. Wehmeier of Cincinnati announced the Mighty Wurlitzer theater organ that once graced the old Albee Theater in Cincinnati will be restored and installed in Music Hall’s Ballroom far a New Year’s Eve 2009 debut.
  • Corbett Tower - a setting for a wide variety of events, ranging from weddings and receptions to grand dinners and parties. It has seating for up to 300, as well as a stage, controlled sound and light systems, dance floor, kitchen, and bar facilities. Corbett Tower is located on the third floor near the front side of the building.
  • Critic's Club - A dining club that seats 50, located in the basement level of the north exposition wing.
History
Graveyard

On September 13, 1818 the City of Cincinnati purchased a lot of land on the west side of Elm Street, and just north of 12th Street, from Jesse Embree for $3,200. On January 22, 1821 the Ohio State Legislature passed an act that established "a Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum for the state of Ohio." Thus Ohio's first insane asylum was erected in Cincinnati on 4 acres (16,000 m2) of land bounded by the Miami and Erie Canal. The Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum of Ohio was the parent institution for the Orphan Asylum, the City Infirmary, the Cincinnati Hospital, and Longview Asylum. Cincinnati Hospital, the main facility, was located along the canal at 12th and Plum Streets, which is now 12th and Central Parkway.

Around 1832 a cholera outbreak in Cincinnati killed 832 people, resulting in a large number of orphans. So to house the orphans the "Cincinnati Orphan Asylum" was built near the corner of 12th and Elm Streets. The Orphan Asylum was a four story building, 64 feet (20 m) by 54 feet (16 m), which stood for 30 years. In 1837 the Orphan Asylum became known as "the Pest House" after the hospital began using it to isolate people with infectious diseases, and the ground around the building became used as a Potter's Field. Here the hospital buried suicides, strangers, and the indigent and homeless of Cincinnati. Instead of using coffins the person was bundled up and dropped into the ground. At this time the land was still considered on the outskirts of the city.

For the next 20 years the land was used as a "pauper's cemetery" until 1857 when the neighborhood became too central of a location for such uses. Serious complaints from abutting property owners forced the "Pest House" to be relocated outside of the city limits. On January 29, 1859 the property was converted into a park which was known as Elm Street Park. The land and buildings were used for exposition purposes until 1876 when it was turned over to the Music Hall Association. Music Hall would be built on the original location of the "Pest House," and hence the Orphan Asylum. Since the graves of the poor were not marked by tomb stones Music Hall was simply built over top of the graves.

While digging a new elevator shaft in 1988 human bones were exhumed. On the first day workers discovered 88 pounds of bones, and on the following day 119 pounds of bones. There were a total of 19 skulls, at least 60 femurs, and while most of the remains were of adults there were also children.

Choir festivals and expositions

Cincinnati's first industrial exposition, which was in 1869, was a great success so the city wanted to have a much larger exposition the following year. At about the same time German musicians had plans to erect "a great temporary building opposite Washington Park" for the North American Saengerbund, which was to be hosted in Cincinnati during the summer of 1870. An agreement was reached so that the building would be shared by the two groups. Depending on its use, the building was sometimes called Exposition Hall or Saengerfest Hall.

Exposition Hall was a huge wooden structure that was 250 feet (76 m) long, 100 feet (30 m) wide, and 80 feet (24 m) tall. Additionally, there were three other temporary buildings attached to it for a total floor space of 108,748 square feet—more than that of the 1853 World's Fair in New York City. The roof of the building was made of tin. According to legend, a thunderstorm rolled in during a 1875 May Festival performance. Rain on the tin roof grew so loud that the chorus was drowned out and the performance had to be stopped. In the audience during that performance was Reuben Springer, a wealthy Cincinnatian, who afterwards decided Cincinnati needed a more permanent structure.

Construction

Springer, influenced by the beneficial results the industrial expositions and musical festivals had on the city, wrote a letter in May 1875 to John Shillito, offering to donate $125,000 under two conditions. The first that the lot be free from taxation, and the second that $125,000 be raised by other citizens. When only $106,000 was raised Springer donated an additional $20,000. From the outset there was conflict between the musical and industrial interests, so Springer offered an additional $50,000 if $100,000 could be raised. This additional sum of money would be used for the construction of buildings around the hall for the purpose of holding industrial expositions. The total cost of Music Hall was $300,962.78 with the exposition wings an additional $146,331.51.

During excavation for Music Hall's foundation there were a lack of police presence as bones were exhumed. Journalist Lafcadio Hearn complained, "The crowds gather thickly about the excavation, and watch each new discovery with ghoulish interest. Bone after bone as soon as thrown out is turned over with a scientific application of kicks; ragamuffins brandish femora with disgusting exultation; dirty fingers are poked into empty eye sockets; jaw-bones are experimentally hammered with heavy canes; ribs crack in pitiful remonstrance to reckless feet; and tobacco juice is carelessly squirted among the decaying skulls. ... When driven away from one spot they return to another; and by night there come medical students to steal the poor skulls."

According to Hearn, the bones were not treated respectfully by the workers either. He noted, "bones were simply packed into a barrel and stowed away in a convenient part of the building. ... Skulls and thigh bones and vertebrae had been hopelessly jumbled up in that barrel, so that no one save a most expert articulator could have sorted them out properly." The excavated remains were transferred to Spring Grove Cemetery.

Completion

The first performance took place on May 14, 1878. An estimated 6,000 saw the opera "Alceste" by Christoph Willibald Gluck performed, as well as Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony. The 1880 Democratic National Convention was hosted at Music Hall. The Cincinnati Riots of 1884, one of the most destructive riots in American history, began at a protest meeting at Music Hall. The protest got out of hand and 10,000 Cincinnatians marched on the courthouse, outraged over what they believed was a lax and corrupt legal system. A total of 56 people died in the riots.

Paranormal

Various employees of Music Hall have described experiencing strange events in the facility, while others say they've never experienced anything at all. In the 2005 documentary Music Hall: Cincinnati Finds Its Voice, Patricia K. Beggs, the CEO of the Cincinnati Opera, acknowledged, "Ghosts? Um, yes. Indeed, there are Music Hall ghosts."Erich Kunzel, late conductor for the Cincinnati Pops, once stated, "Sometimes when I was arranging, getting things together, I've worked here all night long. So I've met these people. They're not in the offices, but when you go out into the house they're there, they're upstairs. ... If you think I'm crazy just come here sometime at three o'clock in the morning. They're very friendly."

Ghosts were first reported before Music Hall was built, after the ground was first excavated for an Exposition Hall elevator. An 1876 newspaper reported, "It does not appear that the ghosts troubled anybody until after a large number of the yellow bones for which they hold a certain spectral affection, had been dug up in making way for the erection of an elevator in Exposition Hall. ... From that hour shadowy people wandered restlessly through the creaking halls by night, hiding in dark corners, stealing behind pillars, and creating queer crepitating noises under the dim roof. The night watchman in charge of the building was greatly annoyed by these mysterious sounds. Whithersoever he went within the edifice by night, the sound of stealthy footsteps followed him; when he stopped they ceased, when he moved again they also followed,—timid feet, invisible, intangible, tireless; and the loose plank that uttered a hollow groan under the watchman's foot, never failed to respond with a gentler moan to the ghostly tread behind. There were strange knockings, too, at all hours of the night—knockings seemingly for admission. But when the door was unbarred and opened, none stood without in the night shadow, nor did the snow in the winter midnights show the print of feet. Sometimes sounds of mocking laughter broke the silence; sometimes strange whispers, faint and thin as whispers falling on the drowsy ears of dying men in the sick rooms; sometimes loud echoes, as of heavy bodies falling in the darkness from the roof to the hollow flooring above the ancient place of graves. Yet no one who ran, lantern in hand, to the place of these inexplicable sounds ever discovered their origin. Dogs brought into the building whined to be let out, and followed their masters with ever sign of abject terror—eye balls wildly protruding, and ears laid back."

The 1876 article described another alleged incident, "One morning, a certain exhibitor beheld a lady standing before his booth—a lady so strange of aspect that he involuntarily regarded her with peculiar curiosity. She seemed tall and fair and young, clad in a pale dress of fashion long-forgotten, and wearing her hair flowing loose, uncovered by hat or bonnet. He approached the white figure, prompted by a desire to catch a glimpse of the features bent over the case, but ready to mask this purpose by politely placing his knowledge of the wares at the stranger's service. But as he stepped forward, the figure became diaphanous, faint, serial, finally invisible, and a chill as of December winds passed over him."

On President's Day of 2003 a box office worker who was alone at Music Hall described several unusual events. He was isolated in the box office, and could not see into the lobby but he had heard strange noises all day. He heard music stands, which were in the lobby, being knocked over, but when he checked the stands were still upright. A button to alert him that a customer was at his window was rung several times, but no one was there. (It had snowed the night before but there were no footprints in the snow outside the window.) A while later he heard what sounded like the crystal chandelier in the lobby crashing to the floor and shattering. When he investigated the chandelier was still hanging from the ceiling and all seemed well. He heard the sound of the glass doors in the lobby, which lead to the staircases, opening and closing all day long, but he was the only person in the building. Finally, when he could not put it off any longer, he walked down to the rest room by the Critic's Club. As he neared he heard "what sounded like, a party going on inside the Critic's Club. Glasses tinkling, muffled voices, laughter, sounded like a string quartet, except the Critic's Club was locked and the lights were out. I rattled the door and the sound stopped."

Another box office worker also reported having his button buzzed, but no one there. Afterwards he felt a tug on his clothing, although when he turned around he saw an apparition of a boy in nineteenth century clothing. A nightwatchman described hearing footsteps following him on a nearby hardwood floor, but he was walking on carpet and not making any sound. Roger Krebs, a member of the maintenance crew, has heard a piano playing on several occasions only to find the hall empty, seen closed doors suddenly open, and witnessed a floor buffer mysteriously turning itself on and off in the ballroom. Kitty Love, who had worked at Music Hall for twenty-one years acknowledged, "I hear them when I'm on duty alone at night. Footsteps, doors slamming, and music playing, and I know I was the only one in the building."

Other alleged sightings include ghosts in vintage clothing in the ballroom late at night, an extra, unknown "cast member" appearing during an operatic production, unusual looking figures appearing among the audience, the untraceable sound of a music box playing near an elevator, and a small boy asking about a man in the audience of Springer Auditorium when only himself and his father were present.

Neither Marie Gallagher, who has worked there for twenty-five years, nor Ed Vignale, facilities engineer, have experienced anything unusual at Music Hall. Viganle noted that some strange sounds could be attributed to Music Hall's acoustical ability to project sounds.

Music Hall was selected as one of The Travel Channel's Most Terrifying Places in America.

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