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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Hippodrome State Theater hosts a ghost tour of its 110-year-old building

It was 1915.

An exhausted and worried Lucinda Boyle had just arrived at the federal courthouse from Enid, Oklahoma, after receiving a letter her son Clement had written, which said he’d go on trial for a murder he didn’t commit.

Boyle burst through the front doors, worn from the thousands of miles she’d traveled, only to be told by a postal worker that she was too late… her son had already been convicted and hanged on the gallows.  

She raced up three flights of stairs, and into the district court’s offices. In her desperate search for answers about her son, she banged on all office doors and cried out for help. She was driven mad with grief, and collapsed on the floor of the women’s bathroom.

Over 100 years later, some can still hear her whimpering in what is now The Hippodrome State Theatre.

“Many believe she’s still here,” Matthew Lindsay, a Hippodrome acting company member, said.

Lindsay and the theater’s production manager, Bob Robins, led a tour on Sunday called “Boos and Brews” to give locals a peek into the building’s architectural and haunted history.

All 21 attendees listened intently to the stories the structure contains.

The Hippodrome, located at 25 S.E. Second Place, was not always a theater. Construction began in 1909, and the building originally served as a post office and federal courthouse from 1911 to 1963, Robins said.  

“The United States Government somehow deemed Gainesville to be a town that would usher the growth of North Central Florida and Southern Georgia,” Robins said. “And they named it Federal Court District C.”

The main stage, where patrons watch the plays, once served as a federal courtroom, he said.

While the building has evolved over time, the ghosts still lingers in its crevices.

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Some attendees rode the 110-year-old elevator up to the third floor, where Robins and Lindsay began to tell some ghost stories.  

Lindsay said the costume designer, Stephanie Parks, was burning the midnight oil in the costume shop one night when she heard an ominous sound from down the hallway.

“At one point, she swore to me that she heard some sound that, well, sounded like a woman’s voice,” Lindsay said. “She came out into the dark hallway and saw nothing… when without warning, this door slammed shut when it was halfway open.”

Lindsay then led the group to the third-floor lobby, where he recounted a story from the late 1980s about an intern who said she heard a woman sobbing in the bathroom, but saw no one there.

The woman is believed to be Lucinda Boyle.

After 35 years of working at the theater, Robins said he wears headphones or talks to himself when he locks up at night because he can’t stand the quiet.

“Doors closing, cold breezes, I’ve witnessed it all,” Robins said. “And I’m a pretty hardcore science guy.”

Many areas of the theater, such as the third-floor women’s bathroom and the basement bathroom stalls, became the settings for ghost stories that still give Robins and Lindsay chills.

Robins and Lindsay recounted a story from an actor who swore he heard a voice crying “Let me out!” from the basement bathroom stalls, which served as holding cells for convicts before they were hanged.

Julia Sander, a 31-year-old local, said she’s been a patron at the Hippodrome for 25 years, and participated in its ghost tour several years ago.

“The whole concept that this used to be a courthouse where people were sentenced to die, and the fact that people act here, just ups the creepy factor,” Sander said.

She said she wanted to see a different perspective and learn more about its history.

“I’ve always loved this building,” Sander said. “I always thought it was beautiful and wanted to experience the lore and history of it.”

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