Graveyard Shift Paranormal Society investigates Jefferson Theatre

photo by Kevin King

Is there life after death? This question has sparked debate for millennia — the fascination with spirits can be traced to the Cro-Magnon and Neolithic periods. And tracing human culture back to the cradle of civilization, one finds mention of spirits or ghosts in ancient inscriptions, papyrus scrolls and even tomb paintings.

The Egyptians believed in the continued existence of the soul and spirit after death, with the ability to assist or harm the living, and even scripted a text called The Book of Coming Forth by Day, better known as The Book of the Dead, which consists of a number of magic spells intended to assist a dead person’s journey through underworld and into the afterlife.

L.W. King and H.R. Hall write in their book, History of Egypt, Chaldea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria in the Light of Recent Discovery, that the idea of total death was unthinkable to the Egyptians. The ghost would live on in the tomb to which the body was consigned in a subterranean world where the spirits still lived and could communicate with each other.

More than 5,000 years later, humans remain fascinated with the paranormal, and advances in technology have only fueled the desire to answer age-old questions. With new tools to assist paranormal investigators — digital cameras to capture images of spectral activity, digital voice recorders to collect electronic voice phenomena, instruments for measuring electromagnetic fields, infrared cameras and motion sensors to detect heat signatures and night vision devices to aid vision in total darkness — humans are entering places they would normally never have entered, seeking answers.

Paranormal investigation is not consigned solely to academia or even Hollywood. Ghost fever is running rampart locally with Graveyard Shift Paranormal Society (GSP), a team of everyday people like founder Brett Wright — a Westlake, La., delivery driver — searching for haunted hot spots right here in Southeast Texas. The group investigates houses and historic locations for free and doesn’t profit from the hobby.

Investigations have brought Wright and friends to places all over Texas and Louisiana, one of the most recent being Friday, July 18, at the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont.

According to The Jefferson Theatre: The Design and Construction of Beaumont’s Movie Palace, the theatre was constructed in 1927 by the Jefferson Amusement Company as an “atmospheric theater drawing its motifs from the romantic and rich periods of centuries past.” According to Lamar Archives and Special Collections archivist Penny Clark, a premiere of It’s A Wonderful Life in 1946 was held at the Jefferson Theatre with star James Stewart and director Frank Capra in attendance. In the late 1950s, the theatre showed William Castle’s thriller film Macabre. A certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London was given to each customer in case he/she should die of fright during the film. The promotional gimmick made Castle famous.

The Beaumont Journal hauntingly described the Jefferson Theatre in a 1927 article.

“Designed of old Spanish architecture, romantic memories of a majestic aristocracy flit with the rays of a thousand colored lights, from bowered grill to balcony, fading in shadowy recesses of stippled walls,” the article reads. “Hand painted ornamentations bedeck the quarters of every floor. Staircases of inlaid marble lead with stately grandeur to the mezzanines. Costly carpets line polished floors. Magnificent chandeliers illuminate the corridors. Towering pillars support the balconies. Brocaded velvets adorn woodwork. Sculptured statues beautify the auditorium. Marble fountains lend charm to promenades.”

Nearly a century later, the beauty of the million-dollar movie house might have faded somewhat, but the voices of those who frequented the theatre’s halls still remain, according to Wright, who claims to be a psychic medium and has investigated the theatre six times.

Wright said that workers for the city of Beaumont — who asked not to be named — have claimed to see ghostly shadows in the theatre, and a former prop mistress heard voices. A former co-worker of Wright who worked with his father at the Jefferson Theatre told him that they heard voices and saw shadows on the third floor.

After investigating the theatre several times, Wright discovered through EVPs and the use of trigger objects — items sometimes used during a paranormal investigation to attempt to draw out an entity, such as a toy or stuffed animal for a child or something that might hold sentimental value to an adult — that there is a ghost named Paul who hangs out in the Jefferson Room.

“We’ve caught his voice more than once or twice,” Wright said. “Not a very friendly person. He did not like women at all. We would use a trigger object such as an old newspaper and say, ‘Do you see the article here?’ and that’s when we would hear noises and whispering.”

There is a second entity named George, whose presence could be felt on stage, Wright said.

“He will throw things to get our attention,” he said. “We saw a roll of duct tape roll across the floor on stage.”

A third entity named Linda was discovered in the conference room.

“There was a picture hanging up of Lou Rawls,” Wright said. “We said his name and we heard a female voice answer back. I said, ‘My name is Brett. What is your name?’ And she said, ‘Linda.’ I asked her if she would like to chat with us, and she said, ‘Yes.’ I asked if she would like me to pull out a chair for her, and she said, ‘Yes.’ While we were talking, I saw a shadow go by on the wall. I asked Linda, ‘Is there someone else with us, and she said, ‘Yes.’ I asked what is their name, and she said, ‘Beau.’”

The activity in the upstairs conference room of the theatre by an entity named Beau increased.

“This mist moves to the edge of the table. I asked it, ‘If you are Beau, I want you to let me know you are here … I want you to move the table.’”

Wright said the table moved and the group heard noises of someone dragging their feet along the floor.

The conference room wasn’t the only place Wright said the team saw shadows.

“We see shadows passing in the dressing room,” Wright said, explaining that the entrance to the room is through the orchestra pit and located directly underneath the stage.

It is not uncommon for the elevator to open up by itself without anyone touching the button, Wright added.

Wright classified the Jefferson Theatre haunting as both residual, meaning apparitions involved are not spirits but “recordings” of the event, and intelligent, where spiritual entities are aware of the living world and interact with or respond to it.

“It is nothing bad. They are just making their presence known,” he said.

The group did, however, hear something unsettling under the stage.

“We heard an old man laughing,” Wright said. “We have come in contact with another spirit on the third floor in the door that goes underneath the seating. We aren’t sure whether he is good or bad because when we opened the door, we heard, ‘Get out!’ and then we heard something growling at us.”

Beaumont resident Jennifer Ellis and Sour Lake resident Jill Goodeaux were each afforded an opportunity to explore the dark corridors of the Jefferson Theatre after purchasing a chance to investigate its halls alongside GSP investigators at a fundraiser for the Anayat House.

Ellis’ grandfather Jimmy Doleman Sr. played the piano and organ for 38 years at the theatre starting in 1958, and has since passed away. Ellis attempted to make contact with her grandfather several times throughout the night and although a skeptic and investigating for the first time, she said she was convinced by what she heard, specifically in the dressing room under the stage.

“I actually think I got to communicate with him and heard some responses,” she said. “Everyone in the room heard the responses as well. It was very neat.

“There were about three or four ghosts we made contact with. We heard a majority of the activity in the dressing room below the stage. There was a ghost on the third floor that seemed to not want us in the room. We heard footsteps out in the hall. I felt like (Beau) was actually in the room with us at one point.”

The investigation made an impact on Goodeaux as well, so much so that she asked the team to investigate her house. The team agreed to do so for no charge.

“It was very eye-opening for me,” Goodeaux said of her experience investigating Jefferson Theatre. “I wanted to learn more. It really made me interested in learning more about paranormal activity. I definitely believe there is something there.”

Goodeaux said ever since she and her husband moved into her home in Sour Lake a year ago, her toddler has been unable to sleep at night and the family has heard noises, which the family wrote off as the house settling.

“She wouldn’t go down by herself. If she did finally go down … she would wake up,” Goodeaux said, adding that she also felt like something was watching her.

When she explained the dilemma to random people at the grocery store or other places she might stop off for errands, they would tell her to bless her house or put crosses above the doors.

“I just brushed them off,” she said. “I am skeptical.”

The couple that the Goodeauxs bought the house from had a daughter that slept in the same room as their daughter slept and also would have problems sleeping at night.

“She never slept in her room and that’s where our daughter’s room is,” Goodeaux said. “She would sleep with her parents.”

Goodeaux added that when she moved into the house, the family cat wouldn’t leave from underneath her bed’s comforter for a month.

“We had the carpet replaced. We had Stanley Steamer come out, so I am pretty sure any smell from another animal would have been gone. It wasn’t just the cat smelling something. He wouldn’t come out. We had to bring his food and litter box into the bedroom. We had to force him out to use it, and when he did he would run back. I feel like he felt something.”

Finally Goodeaux heeded an employee’s advice and the advice of an employee of her husband and hung crosses above the doors in the house.

“As soon as I hung crosses, my daughter slept alone in her room all night and went down willingly,” she said.

Goodeaux isn’t convinced that whatever presence she felt in her house is gone, however, and invited GSP to investigate.

“I don’t feel like it’s any kind of presence that’s bad, per se, because — knock on wood —nothing bad has happened to us, but I don’t want to chance it,” she said. “I don’t want it there.”

Goodeaux said Wright told her that if GSP does find a spirit in her house, they would banish it. GSP plans to investigate her house Friday, Aug. 8.

For more information search Graveyard Shift Paranormal Society on Facebook.

If you would like GSP to investigate your house or would like to attend an investigation, e-mail Wright at graveyardshiftparanormalsociety [at] aol [dot] com.