Ghosts at Kiggins: Excerpt from an Oct. 24, 1999 story in The Columbian
By BRETT OPPEGAARD, Columbian staff writer

Gary Hubbard says he never believed in ghosts; then he started working at the Kiggins Theater.

Photo by Steven Lane

Photo by Steven Lane

Hubbard, who has managed the historic single screen since early 1997, says he and his staff have had numerous encounters with the supernatural during the last two years, and he’s convinced the downtown Vancouver structure has at least one, but maybe more, spirits roaming around.

“At first, I just thought it was the sounds of an old building,” Hubbard said. “Then there were just too many weird things happening around here that there was no explanation for. … I’m not nuts. We have thought of everything to try to figure out what’s happening.”

While remodeling the theater before it reopened in May 1997, Hubbard received a prescient query from a Hudson’s Bay High School student on a field trip through the 1936 building. This young girl, the first through the door that day, immediately blurted out a question about the ghosts of the theater. Hubbard laughed and said he didn’t know what she was talking about. He added that he hadn’t seen nor expected anything unusual.

About six months later, though, Hubbard wasn’t laughing about ghosts anymore. Hubbard, who lives in Canby, Ore., spends about three-quarters of his work nights at the theater. Because he is up so late, he usually sleeps in his office, then drives home in the morning.

Through a concrete wall

In November 1997, he was in his second-floor office late when he heard footsteps over his head in the building’s attic. He went out in the hall to listen to where the footsteps were going. At first, he thought he was following the footsteps. Then, he realized they were following him. Hubbard walked back and forth in the hall. The footsteps mirrored his movement. He then walked toward the projection booth. The footsteps continued up the hall with him. When he walked into the projector booth area, and the footsteps above him followed through the concrete wall separating the areas in the attic, Hubbard was dumbfounded. Later, the lights in the locked projector booth began flickering on and off.

At first, Hubbard said he didn’t say a word to anyone about the unusual events.

“I thought I was losing my marbles,” he said. But soon his staff began telling him similar spooky stories, which made him more comfortable about sharing his odd encounters.

Hubbard also began wondering about an incident in June 1997 when he had fired an employee for messing up the projector booth. On that day, Hubbard set up and locked the booth and went about other business to get ready for the night’s crowd. When he returned to the booth, the switches on the sound system were all turned off, the projector was adjusted improperly and the film was wound into a big rat’s nest on the reel. He immediately blamed the employee and fired him. Yet thinking about it months later, Hubbard realized the boy had been out of the building getting lunch at the time.

During his years at the theater, Hubbard said, he has heard people talking, doors opening and closing, and footsteps going up and down the stairs when he knows the doors are locked and no one else is in the building. He and his staff also report having occasional sightings of ghostly audience members.

Audience apparitions

Usually during the last show of the night, Hubbard and his employees will sit in the back row of the theater to keep an eye on the crowd. When someone leaves a seat to go to the concessions stand, Hubbard or a staffer gets up and meets him or her at the counter. As often as three or four times in a night, Hubbard said, they have seen a shadowy figure in the dark leave its seat and head up the aisle for the exit. But when the person gets to the top of the aisle and heads around the corner, the customer disappears.

Also, Hubbard and his staff occasionally will see a couple sitting in one of the far rows long after the movie has ended. As they make their way toward the couple to ask them to leave, they will vanish. Hubbard said he can see that the man wears a hat, and the woman wears her hair up, but the rest of the particulars are fuzzy.

“They are just a shadow of people,” he said. “It’s not somebody I can say has a mustache or a certain kind of clothes. They are just far enough away, and it’s just dark enough that I can’t make out the details.”

Hubbard often finds light bulbs unscrewed in nearly impossible-to-reach places. He’s been hit with a flying bottle cap when no one else was in the theater. He’s found the papers on his desk all scattered about and his belongings all messed up.

Bettyan Howard, who managed Kiggins Theater for 31 years before Hubbard, said she never has heard of a ghost there or seen anything unusual.

“I was down there many a day and many a night, and I don’t remember anything like that,” she said. “I think he’s just got a vivid imagination.”

Hubbard said, “It’s possible that there’s an explanation for all this, and it’s just been easier to pin it on the ghost. … But that’s the only explanation I have for it.”

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