Originally Published July 25th 2011, 8:24 AM
Photo Source: Jessica Beebe
It was christly hot inside the Grand Theater as Lee Busby and Gary Dumais worked on framing for the 12’ stage thrust. The extension was part of the renovations being made to the old movie house for its new grand opening as a concert and play hall. Lee and Gary were forced by the county to volunteer their construction services, and they were miserable about it.
“Jeezum Crow, must be a goddamn hunnred twenny in here!” Lee spit on the pile of sawdust rising under his sawhorse. The workers weren’t supposed to smoke inside the theater, but Lee lit up a Marlboro anyway and sat on the current edge of the stage. He turned to Gary and snorted. “You believe this shit? Bein’ forced ta build a stage so’s a buncha…” He paused and raised a limp wrist for effect. “’Aaaahhhhtists’ can put on a buncha plays?!? Geez, if I’d’a known we’d end up doing this I woulda fuckin’ paid for them beers!”
Lee and Gary shared a good laugh as they passed the smoke back and forth. The soup would be back soon, so they had to make it a quick drag. The grand reopening was scheduled for August 8, 1975, with a performance by Noel Paul Stookey, and that was only two weeks away. Tensions were running high all around, so the soup was being a real ball buster.
Lee had a transistor on the stage set to Bangor, which carried the Red Sox Yankees game: Ned Martin and Jim Woods in the booth, Rudy May pitching for the Yanks and Louis “El Tiante” Tiant for the Sox. The game was played at Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being renovated, and the Yanks were up 3-2 in the 5th.
Gary, half listening to the ballgame, took a look around at the rows of deteriorating seats being replaced by the rows of new seats, the fresh paint covering the faded grandeur, the new wiring and facilities going in, and felt kind of proud to be a part of it. Ellsworth was his home town, and
the Grand was an institution. He hated seeing the old place fall into hard times. Not that he was glad to be sweating his bag off sawing 2 x 4s in the swampy heat, but if fixing up the old theater was the price of shoplifting, he was secretly glad.
Jim Rice singled with two out in the sixth, but Fred Lynn struck out to end the inning. Lee snapped off the radio. “Fuckin’ Sox, gonna blow it again this year, just you wait and see.”
He stomped the butt out on the carpet, whiffed the air and started in on another 2 x 4 so the dust would cover up the smoke a bit. Gary sat a while longer, looking around and soaking in the history.
“Y’know why this place was built?” Gary asked Lee. “Cause some nut-case dishwasher burned the whole town down, that’s why.” Lee, who was raised closer to Augusta than Bangor and not so much up on the local lore, looked over at Gary with a look of shock and bemusement. “Reeaaally?” he said. This was a story he could dig.
“Yep,” Gary continued. “Guy was a dishwasher heard a coupla locals talking about how to fix up a few buildings downtown. Then he heard a coupla voices in his head tellin’ him to burn the whole goddamn town down. That’s how the Great Fire of ’33 started. Lost 130 buildings, and all of downtown.” Gary was proud to share a bit of local lore, and amused to see Lee getting into the tale.
“So all of Ellsworth burnt down to fuckin’ nothing, and it’s the Depression, see, so the lumber and fishing and farming industries were already dust and the town was just…POW, nothing left,” Gary went on. “They rebuilt everything, built up a new downtown and the park on the river, and
then the Grand opened up in ’37. They showed all the big movies here, then in the ‘50s they actually had a boxing ring in here. Ya believe that?”
Lee listened, appreciative of Gary’s knowledge and passion. “And now here we are, puttin’ the old dump back togethah,” he said, holding his palm up for a smack. “Y’know, I heard a bunch of stories ‘bout the place being haunted, too. Like someone killed themselves during a movie, ‘an one’a the boxers was killed for not taking a dive…shit like that. Wonder if it’s all true?”
The rumors had swirled around the Grand as long as it had been open, and nobody was really sure what was what. “Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of stuff, too,” Gary agreed. “Who knows? I heard someone blew their brains out during ‘Beach Blanket Bingo’, an’ I’ve heard that it was someone hung themselves off’a balcony during ‘Gone with the Wind.’ I wouldn’t be surprised ‘bout that boxer; it was some rough back then. Real blood bucket stuff. I keep meaning to go to the library and do some researchin’, but you know how it is with them stories; be hard to find out anything for sure.”
Lee and Gary got back to work, both their heads full of suicides and murders and ghosts. Just before quitting time, Gary left the theater to get some nails, leaving Lee alone at the edge of the new stage. While gathering his tools, he looked up at the balcony to his right and saw a man jump, his plummet stopped by the noose tied to the balcony railing, his legs kicking in sudden death. Lee screamed, falling backward onto the stage, as Gary returned and ran down the aisle to his friend. Lee was white as a sheet and pointing a shaking hand at the balcony. “He jumped! He’s dead! Oh, Jesus!”
Gary looked up to the balcony: nothing there. He looked back at Lee, who was almost hyperventilating with fear. “What? Who jumped where? Ain’t nobody up there.”
“THERE! He hung himself from the balcony! Don’ you see the body swinging?!?” Lee was frantic now, pulling at Gary’s shirt and yanking him toward the balcony. “We’ve gotta cut him down!”
Gary was afraid now, the seed of doubt planted. “Lee, there ain’t no body up there, or anywhere ‘round heah. You sit and I’ll go up and prove it.” He left Lee and ran up the stairs to the balcony, came down to the railing and, relieved at finding nothing, yelled down “See, Lee? Ain’t nothin’ here!”
Gary was standing right where the body was hanging. “HE’S RIGHT THERE!!! CUT HIM DOWN!!!!” Lee screamed in blood-curdling terror. There was nothing left to do now. Gary walked down from the balcony, to the pay phone in the lobby and called for an ambulance.
Lee Busby did not return to the job site the next day, and the ghosts of the Grand had made another believer…