The Damned Story: In the heart of Bridgeport stands an abandoned 13-acre building complex that includes the Poli Palace, the Majestic Theater and the Savoy Hotel, each of which were once glorious edifices and now are empty and crumbling structures, home to rats, vagrants and ... ghosts?
The Loew's Poli Theater was built by theater impresario Sylvester Poli as a vaudeville house, and opened for business on Sept. 4, 1922. Designed by Thomas W. Lamb in the Beaux Arts style, it featured vaulted ceilings, gilded hand-carved moldings, seating for over 3,600 and a giant Hall theater organ. When it was erected, it was the largest theater in the state of Connecticut and hosted a string of renowned entertainers, including Mae West in 1927. Eventually renamed the Loew's Palace Theater, it hosted live shows, concerts and events for decades before it officially closed in 1975 (after a brief stint as an adult movie house), and has been shuttered for almost 40 years. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, along with the Majestic Theater.
The Majestic Theater, which has seating for 2,200, was also designed by Lamb, although it's slightly smaller and bit less ornate. Still, it's an impressive structure, very much in the style of the 1920s -- lots of gold and red, crystal chandeliers, gilded moldings, high arching ceilings and detailed craftsmanship. It also opened in 1922 and served as a movie theater for years. It was closed in 1971.
The Savoy Hotel was in between the two theaters and offered 109 rooms on five floors. Like the Poli and Majestic, they don't build 'em like that any more -- 10-foot ceilings, cement floors and plaster walls. The bathrooms, some of which were shared between guest rooms, featured pedestal sinks and claw-foot tubs. At one time, the rooms only were $1.50 each!
So what happened at these places that make people think they could be haunted? Maybe the oldest haunting "excuse" in the book -- the buildings could actually be built on an ancient Indian burial ground! When the buildings were first built, native American artifacts were found, and since the Golden Hill Paugussets had a settlement nearby, it's been speculated that the construction may have disturbed old graves.
Others speculate it could be gangster Dutch Schultz, who bootlegged alcohol in Bridgeport during Prohibition, and possibly did other "work" out of the Savoy hotel: Two people were murdered in the second-floor lobby during that time. Crossed gangsters seeking revenge?
Over the decades, the abandoned buildings have also seen their fair share of other crimes and unfortunate events, any of which could leave behind "negative energies."
In addition to many orb photos taken here, eyewitnesses claimed to have seen shadow figures moving around the theater. Numerous EVPs have also been recorded here.
Our Damned Experience: With our friend Bridgeport police sergeant James Myers of 826 Paranormal and his partner Martin Vincze of the East Coast Paranormal Police, we visited the Poli, Majestic and Savoy in August 2010.
Let's just say this right up front: Even though scheduling conflicts required us to visit during the day, this is still one of the creepiest places we've ever been to, haunted or not. Each of these buildings were obviously architectural gems in their heyday, and now that they have been allowed to fall into ruin, a sense of sadness and loss sort of permeates throughout.
We started off in the Poli, which Jim refers to as, "My baby." As a Bridgeport police officers, he and Martin have been in this building many, many times, searching for vagrants or trespassers, and know their way around well, which is important considering that even in the middle of the day, the place is very dark and dangerous -- there are a few lights that the police have set up, but many of these have been vandalized, especially on the upper floors, which are almost in complete darkness.
Broken glass and plaster is strewn all around, and many walls feature exposed wires and pipes. Curtains hang in tatters, rugs are filthy, moldings are shattered and more than once, Jim and Martin caution to not step in certain places so no one falls through the floor. The air is thick with dust, which swirls around in the flashlight's beam like snow in a flurry. Despite all the decay, the former opulence is clearly apparent at every turn.
We went through the enormous lobby and then up to the second floor -- there was lots of garbage and other signs that trespassers frequent the place. We explored the impressive upper lobby and side wings, as well as the main hall. If the place wasn't creepy enough already, on the main stage was a single old-style baby carriage.
Again, it was pretty dark everywhere -- we were only able to get good, clear images when we placed the camera down and took extended exposure pictures or when we used a flash. Jim used his point-and-shoot camera to try and capture orb images; we had a conventional SLR and weren't able to capture any orbs. We also didn't see or hear anything paranormal here.
Jim and Martin both talked about previous experiences in the building -- in addition to the multiple orb photos he's taken here, Jim has repeatedly seen "dark shadows" move down staircases and through walls and has heard odd noises, including the muffled hum of a crowd.
We went back down past the stage (careful not to step on it as it would've given way with our weight) by the (Rosemary's?) baby carriage, then through the backstage area and dressing rooms before going over to the adjoining Majestic Theater.
The Majestic wasn't nearly as impressive as the Poli, either in terms of former grandeur or current creepiness. We crossed the creaky stage behind the fire curtain at our own peril, went around the curtain (which Jim and Martin estimate cost over $1 million, and is clearly a work of art) and then head out into the audience area. The seats are gone, and in their place are staging and props from the nearby Downtown Cabaret Theatre. Between the main hall and the lobby is an enormous original Tiffany window, but it is boarded up for its own protection.
We ascended up into the projection room where the original projectors are still sitting -- they're rusted and defaced, but it's crazy that someone left what probably was at one point expensive equipment behind. Then again, after seeing the inside of these buildings, it's amazing that these once-lavish places were left to simply rot.
From the top floor of the Majestic, we crossed the roof and went into the Savoy Hotel. More of the same in that seemingly every room and hallway was in complete shambles -- peeling paint, shattered windows, missing doors and tons of pigeon crap. (Side note: Nothing will make you jump out of your skin like a pigeon flapping out of a darkened window in an abandoned hallway.)
We carefully went through rooms and the various floors, moving from shadowy corners and halls into brighter light. The place really looked like it could be the set for a horror movie -- we almost expected to see the twins from The Shining around every corner. Finding the "Sick Children" room and a wall with the hand prints of young children did nothing to dispel this, even if they look like they were added more recently.
Martin pointed out the room where on another visit, while doing EVP work, he asked any spirits there to announce their presence. When they played back the audio, he says you can clearly hear the voice of a young girl saying, "Hellooo!" to their request. (Goosebumps, right?)
We didn't hear any voices, even when we went through the hotel's second-floor lobby where the aforementioned murders occurred. Nor did we see or photograph anything unusual during our entire visit. Still, a pretty cool place to visit under the right circumstances.
Again, a big thanks to Jim and Martin of 826 Paranormal and ECPP for taking us out with them.
If You Go: The Poli, Majestic and Savoy complex is located at 1325 Main Street in Bridgeport. It is boarded up and off limits to the public, with no trespassing allowed.
Of course, that hasn't stopped vandals, vagrants and amateur ghost hunters from breaking in. Just be aware that if you do try to visit without any sort of official permission, you are doing so illegally and will be arrested if caught on the property.
In the past, 826 Paranormal has offered tours of the complex, although there are no current plans to do so.
Notes about photos: As mentioned earlier, most of the complex is shuttered, so it's very dark and shadowy, even in the middle of the day. I took lots of images either with a flash or by an extended exposure, so it looks like the place is much brighter than it really is. Most times, when I looked through the viewfinder, it was pitch black, so that explains why Jim and Martin often look a little surprised in pictures -- we are all in the dark and then POP! my flash goes off. (There are more pics in the second gallery.)
You can also see these pics with captions on our Damned Connecticut Facebook page.