Opera House Fire Leaves Ghosts Behind?
Men, women and children crowded into the third floor of the Weyant Opera House on a brisk spring evening on May 17, 1886.
The local Westerville residents were excited to see the traveling theatrical performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The play had been a national sensation since P.T. Barnum staged it in 1853 in New York City.
The church-going folks of the town were not in the same frame of mind about theatrical performances. They considered them sinful and warned of dire consequences for those in attendance. That warning came true on that cool evening.
A four-foot stage sat along the western wall of the opera house’s large top floor. Theatre goers ascended a long set of stairs and entered through a narrow doorway in the rear of the room.
Coal-fired oil lamps lit the stage to the delight of the children who lined the front row. The buzz in the room was audible. Traveling actors who performed world-renowned plays rarely came to towns as small as Westerville. The disagreement between the church-goers and play-goers showed its importance.
The play began to a rapt audience. But the mood would soon change to terror. The actor playing Augustine St. Clare, a bombastic role in the production, came on stage carrying an umbrella. As he wildly swung it during his performance, he inadvertently knocked over one of the coal-oil lamps. The oil spilled and a fire erupted on the stage raging over the heads of the children in the front row. Pandemonium ensued.
Luther Clouse, a janitor for the opera house, sprung into action. He rushed the stage and grabbed the burning lamp. He turned and ran toward an open window in the rear of the room near the stairs. Unfortunately, the crowd was out of control as they rushed past Clouse.
The narrow doorway quickly clogged with people attempting to flee. Women and children were knocked to the floor. The surging crowd knocked Clouse over and the burning coal lamp fell upon the prone women and children.
Many were severely burned and three young children, Berkie Knox, Bertha Scofield and Edward Evans, and a young woman, Mrs. Osaac Hoffman, were killed in the blaze. One young patron was thrown over the crowd and down the long stairway. She suffered no burns but had many broken bones and lost all of her teeth in the fall.
The Weyant Opera House is now the Bag of Nails Restaurant. Many of the employees who have worked there or are working there believe the ghosts of the children still haunt the third floor.
Many of them have heard the sounds of chairs moving quickly and small feet running toward the third-floor door. Others hear the sounds of young girls playing. The young girl voices call out their names.
Staff members have called the Westerville Police Department to investigate noises and doors being found opened when they had been closed. Nothing is ever found.
Some employees simply refuse to go up to the third floor alone at night.
“It is so creepy at night. If you left a light on upstairs you don’t go up to turn it off because it is so scary,” says one long-time bartender.