Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater has been a favorite evenue to thousands of wayward kids and concert-goers for decades. Apparently ghosts don’t mind all that noise.
After Tom Gaffey became general manager in 1983, he says he sensed a spirit lurking among its four walls. And while not every touring band or Rocky Horror Picture Show entourage has had a ghost sighting, the stories keep mounting.
“When I was a kid, there were stories about people seeing blue lights, and some had seen a little kid walking the building,” says Gaffey. Something used to walk across the stage, and the sounds of footsteps have been heard near and around the stage for quite some time, he says.
The stories have been investigated by psychics, paranormal investigators and various ghostbusters.
“There was a really clear one caught by some ghost hunters from Penngrove, and they got multiple responses up in the projection booth caught on audio tape,” says Gaffey.
He adds that “when Amy Bruni from [the Syfy Channel’s] Ghost Hunters and her crew came, they got some responses down in the basement. They experienced a lot of EVP [electronic voice phenomenon] and received various sound hits from different places throughout the building.
“We’ve probably had five or six psychics in the building that all claimed they heard and felt some really strong energy,” Gaffey says. “As far back as 1986, a psychic came here, and then wanted to come back again decades later to help cleanse the building of ghosts. Oddly enough, the emails I sent back in response to him were all stuck in the draft folder when I know they sent. That was weird.”
The Phoenix seems to be home to several different spirits. A little boy has been seen in random places. There is supposedly a larger character, dubbed Big Chris, who is believed to be a cousin of one of Gaffey’s friends, as well as an older man who apparently roams the attic. There have also been reports of a woman who haunted a bathroom, but she’s been quiet as of late.
Chomphard guitarist Lance Brown relates a story of his band practicing at the theater one night and noticing that “the light down in the boiler room kept flickering on and off. We could see it because there was a hole between the stage and boiler room, which is below downstairs. We went down and turned the light off, and then when we got back upstairs it was on.”
On another occasion, Brown and his band were practicing late at night and saw someone watching from the projection booth. He thought it was a friend of his. “We took a break and went up to say hello,” Brown says. “There was no one there.”
Former Conspiracy drummer Dimitri Katzoff has a ghost story too.
“I remember at one of our rehearsals there was a blue figure glowing behind our bass player. Also, I remember when I went upstairs to use the restroom while I was the only one in there, one of the stall doors slammed shut—I ran the hell out of there so fast!”
Of course, it’s possible that some of these shenanigans can be attributed to folks who’ve wandered into the building. However, the constant moving of pieces of furniture can’t be accounted for, says Gaffey.
“It’s when you are in quiet moments when you notice things are moved out of place,” he says. “The basement is the place where so many things have been shuffled around that now we have a lock on the door, and stuff is still out of place when we open it.”
Things even got physical once, he says.
“We had [local ska band the Conspiracy] practicing late at the venue one night. One of their members used the bathroom and got visible scratches on himself. That was rather freaky,” Gaffey says.
“He went into the little WC that used to be on stage right and came out with a giant unexplained abrasion on one whole size of his ribcage,” confirms band mate Josh Staples. “None of us went in there after that.”
Like the music fans who pass through the Phoenix Theater’s doors, ghosts are treated just the same, says Gaffey.
“It’s kind of a check-in and check-out spot. The ghosts simply go there to hang out until they figure out their next move.”
He takes a hands-off approach to the apparitions.
“If there are really ghosts, it’s not my job to tell them they can
or can’t stay. As long as they
don’t hurt anyone, they are free to roam.”