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A Ghost Named Vinny

Minnesota, USA
May 1999

I am relaying these events exactly as they were told to me by the individuals who experienced them. I will change their names to protect the innocent.

In St. Paul Minnesota, where I'm from, there is an old, art deco movie theater that must have been built in the 1920s. It stands today, and is still in use, on the corners of Grand Avenue and Fairview, thus it is named The Grandview. I vaguely remember hearing stories while in high school about the ghost at the Grandview. I may have even been told about the red plastic lion incident and the fact that the ghost's name was Vinny. But, I will tell you, all of these memories came flooding back last Sunday when I met Jed at Sweeny's (a bar in St. Paul).

Jed and my friend Noel had been sipping Honey Weis with lemons since seven PM when I met up with them at Sweeny's. We chatted about random things, like the fabulous weather we've been having, and enjoyed ourselves before the stone fireplace in Sweeny's deck. One of my favorite questions to ask someone I have just met is whether they have had any personal experiences with ghosts. Jed said he had and began to tell me these stories.

When they were in high school Jed and Noel worked at the Grandview. Jed said the least favorite part of the evening for Grandview workers was closing time. Many tasks had to be completed once the audience left the theater. Some of the tasks were: setting the projection room to rights, turning off all power to the speakers and projection equipment, and turning off all of the lights before leaving for the night. Jed began his tale by explaining the history of the Grandview ghost.

The Grandview, which is now divided into an upstairs and downstairs theater, used to be one large theater with balcony seating. What is now the upstairs projection room was the original projection room. The original projectionist was a man by the name of Vinny. Jed said that in the early days of moving pictures, the film was made of a material that was highly flammable. One night during an evening screening of a movie, the film caught on fire. Theater protocol required Vinny to lock himself into the projection room, for the protection of the audience, and extinguish the fire. You can probably imagine that the inevitable happened: Vinny, failing to extinguish the fire, was burned alive in the projection room. Ever since then his ghost has haunted the theater. This is the story I heard in high school. I had never been given actual encounters to back up such an urban legend. Jed had plenty of stories.

Jed said that one night he was to close for the night the upstairs projection room. He set to work, feeling cautious given the history of that room, and locked tight all of the various openings of the projector. He stepped to the left of the projector to straighten out some canisters. As he did this he heard "click, click, click, click" as all four parts of the projector unlocked themselves and snapped open. The hair on Jed's arms stood straight up and he bolted from the room.

Jed said that his manager, Nancy, was closing the projection room one night with a friend of hers by her side. After finishing her work which included cutting the power to the projector, speakers, etc, she called, "Good-night, Grandview!" As Nancy and her friend turned to leave the projection room they heard, "Good-night, Nancy!" come from the theater speakers. The theater contained no Public Address system of any kind, and it was impossible for them to be functioning as the power had been cut. Nancy and her friend dashed from the room.

Another night Nancy was focusing the projector before the first show of the day. In order to do this, one must look into the camera, turn a knob, then look through the projectionist's window through the theater at the screen. In the tiny projectionist's window were always three things in the same place: lens paper, a flashlight and cotton swabs. Nancy began to focus the projector by first looking into the camera then looking through the window at the theater's screen. She noticed that it was not properly focused so she turned back to the camera, fiddled with the knob, then went to look through the window when --- she noticed a red plastic lion standing in the window sill. It was the sort of Lion that one could get from the Como Zoo. For those of you who don't know what I mean, when I was a child there were machines that accepted a few coins and then would press for you, as you watched and waited, little plastic animals. I wonder why they aren't still used by zoo's? Anyway... there was suddenly a red plastic lion in the window. Freaked out, Nancy focused the projector and took the lion with her back down to her office. The lion sat on Nancy's desk for one day then disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

Jed and Noel heard the story of Nancy's plastic lion. They were down in the basement one Saturday night, sweeping the floor they knew well. In fact, just weeks before they had re-arranged and cleaned the entire basement, so they were aware of all that was down there. Jed held the broom while Noel smoked a cigarette and watched him work. The dust pan they used was one of those old, metal ones that stand up by themselves with the handle in the air. Jed stopped sweeping for a minute to look over at Noel to make a point during their conversation. When he looked back at the dust pan there, among the dirt, was a red plastic lion! They each handled it and set it on a shelf. It was not to be found the next day and hasn't been seen since to their knowledge.

The last story Jed told me of the Grandview ghost has to do with a little carousing on behalf of the workers. Late one night Jed, Noel and Brigid (Jed's soon-to-be girlfriend) were hanging out in the lounge just outside of the women's lavatory. They were joking and swapping stories about Vinny, whom they had begun to call by name. It was late, about two in the morning, when they decided they would leave. The only task before them was to shut off the lights in the theater...everyone's least favorite task. Noel said he would wait in the lobby as Brigid and Jed walked over to an excluded corner of the downstairs theater where the main circuit breakers were, along with the theater's one pay telephone. Excited from their evening conversation, and feeling brave, Jed decided to talk to Vinny and ask him to show himself. "Clack" went the first circuit breaker as Jed extinguished the lights in the upstairs theater, "C'mon Vinny," Jed said aloud, "show yourself." "Clack" was the sound of the second breaker as the main theater lights were extinguished. "Don't be a chicken," Jed said. Brigid was beginning to get nervous. All that was left was the third circuit breaker that would leave Jed and Brigid in total darkness, the most difficult switch to flip. "Okay, Vinny," Jed said, "I'm going to count from ten before I switch this off. I want you to do something." Jed began the countdown and when he said "ten" several things happened at once. The lights went out completely before he could flip the switch, the pay telephone that could not accept incoming calls began to ring, and Brigid clasped both of her arms in a death grip around Jed's waist. Jed wheeled around, picked up the phone to silence. "I've gotta go!" he yelled into the phone, hung it up and dashed out of the theater with Brigid still connected to his waist.

"We called the theater about an hour later," Jed recalled, "there was no answer."

Minnesota, USA
00:00 / 01:04
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