Back in 1977, Whitey lay down and died in the Music Box Theatre. He’s still there. | Film Issue | Chicago Reader

Back in 1977, Whitey lay down and died in the Music Box Theatre. He’s still there. 

Encounters with Chicago’s movie ghost

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ANNA GRACE NOLIN
  • Anna Grace Nolin

The Music Box Theatre was built in 1929 and it feels the way many older, well-preserved buildings feel: beautiful, a little mysterious, and deeply, deeply haunted. It's the exact sort of place one would expect to see a ghost.

On a busy night, it's easy to be distracted by other things—the glowing red neon light from the marquee, the smell of the popcorn machine. But being there alone, late at night, that's a different story. And it was on one of those nights not too long ago (OK, 2009) that Lindsey Jacobs saw Whitey, the ghost of the Music Box.

Whitey was a manager at the Music Box for 30 or 40 years, and died in 1977. As with many ghost stories, the details are vague. There was a rumor that Whitey had died in the theater: he lay down for a nap on one of the benches and never woke up. The bench is still there, in the theater lounge, though Jacobs says that it has since been reupholstered.

Jacobs, now a technical manager for the film side of the company, was a projectionist when she first came to the theater ten years ago. "The Music Box is just super creepy in general, and it's especially creepy when you're one of the last people there," she says. "And as the projectionist, you're shutting down every night."

Back then, the theater still showed movies on 35 mm film. This meant that Jacobs was responsible for changing over one reel of film to the next in both booths. The process is fairly straightforward: "You watch the little window for that cigarette burn," she explains, "and then you have to [switch] the audio and the picture at the same time. So you go down [to the projection booth] a few minutes early, and you just sit, and stare, and wait."

One night Jacobs was in the downstairs booth in Theater 2 waiting for the changeover. The room was small and she knew she was alone, but she felt like someone was watching her. "Finally I was like, 'I know I have at least 30 seconds, I can [check].'" She turned around, and there was a man standing there, staring at her.

He wasn't exactly transparent, but he wasn't a tangible human being, either. He was kind of like the ghosts on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World, she explains: tall with a solemn face, wearing an old suit. He didn't say anything to her, and she didn't say anything to him.

But then it was time for the changeover. "[I] turn around, do my changeover, turn back around, and there's nothing there," she says. "And I stood in the booth for a few minutes and I was like, 'What the fuck just happened?'"

Years later, another Music Box employee showed Jacobs a picture of Whitey from his managerial days. She'd never seen a picture of him before, but she recognized him immediately. "This is the best part," she says. "Dude was wearing that suit. It was the same suit!"

That night in the projection booth was the only time Jacobs saw Whitey and the only time she has ever seen a ghost. But she's not the only one who has felt Whitey's presence at the theater. Manager Ernestina "Ernie" Garcia says she's felt someone standing behind her several times, and even heard a voice calling her name in the lobby after hours. But she is quick to say that Whitey isn't scary. "I like to say he keeps an eye out," she says.

And Jacobs agrees. She thinks Whitey was checking up on her that night, "making sure I was making that changeover, making sure the masking was correct. I mean, I made the changeover, it was perfect. So he was doing his job there."  v

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