Rich Najuch and Joel Froomkin have owned the New Huntington Theatre and Supper Club, 528 N. Jefferson St, Huntington, since 2007. Little did they know when they purchased the vacant building, just up the block from Nic's Kitchen in downtown Huntington, there was someone already living there.
It was 2008, after their first Christmas show, when they had an inkling things were not as they seemed. They noticed most of the photos that they'd had a professional photographer shoot of the show turned up with a white circle floating in them. One of the cast members said they were “orbs,” something commonly seen when spirits were around. The two men laughed off the idea, believing they were reflections in the lens from the overhead lights. There were numerous overhead lights that could cause a reflection on the lens.
But things continued to happen. One day Najuch was alone in the theater, in the basement under the kitchen when the floorboards above him began to creak and he could hear the kitchen cabinets opening and closing. Assuming it was the cook come early to work he didn't think much of it. But when he returned to the kitchen there was no one there and all the kitchen cabinets were standing wide open. A search of the building turned up no one. All the exits were locked, so it wasn't a matter of someone wandering in off the street.
Najuch said odd things continued to happen: items would go missing, not unusual in a large building undergoing a major renovation, but they would reappear in places that were beyond explanation. Like a pair of shoes needed for a performance that came up missing only to have them reappear in the exact center of a bed in their apartment. Najuch and Froomkin live in the apartment that the projectionist once occupied in the old building.
“There was no explaining away that one,” Najuch said.
Then there was his master set of Keys. He had keys to the building and the keys for the house that the actors live in on a massive ring. It vanished. Again they searched and searched only to have the keys turn up four months later on the keyboard of computer in their office, while the theater was empty and they were in Indianapolis.
The eeriest encounter with the ghost was the night they were putting on a show and Froomkin, who was standing in front of the audience talking, was interrupted when a man walked right across the stage in front of him and then paused at one side and looked at him. Froomkin, thinking he was a server asked him what he wanted, but the man, silhouetted by the stage lights, just stared at him. Froomkin looked at the audience and found everyone giving him a blank stare. They couldn't see the man. Froomkin looked back over at the man, but he was gone. When Froomkin asked the servers about it after the show they told him they saw no one.
Najuch said they are not the only people who have encountered the ghost. Shortly after they moved into the theater they went on a monthlong trip to New York City. While they were gone they asked a friend to stay in their apartment so someone would be around at night to keep an eye on things. The first night their “theater sitter" stayed, he arrived after work and took a shower. Then he walked into the kitchen and found all the doors on the kitchen cabinets standing open. He searched the building and found nothing. He called Najuch and Froomkin in New York and asked them why they hadn't told him they had a ghost when they had asked him to watch the place. Unnerved by the occurrence their friend went to his own house to spend the night.
Probably the funniest encounter with the spirit was one Najuch's mother had. His parents have been helping with the renovations to the theater. One day his mother was working alone in the auditorium by straightening up from the ongoing work. She had bent over to reorganize something when she was goosed from behind. Assuming her husband had joined her at the theater and snuck up on her she stood up and whirled around to give him a playful swat. No one was there. No one was in the room.
Although they were sure they had a spirit it took them a couple of years before they could figure out the possible identity of their ghostly resident. One day Najuch was at an appliance store picking up a refrigerator for the actors house. When the clerk asked him if he owned the theater and Najuch said yes, the man told him he was never allowed to go to their when he was growing up. He told Najuch that his grandfather had been the overnight watchman there and he had died alone one night in the theater from a heart attack. His body had been found the following morning.
Najuch and Froomkin believe the watchman is the most likely explanation, but they don't really know. The theater was built around 1900 and had touring shows through it early in its history. It's possible someone else they don't know about could have died in the building.
Despite the ghostly visitations, renovations on the theater have continued. This September drywall was installed and the auditorium has been painted. Currently they are working on installing cloth panels on the ceiling, and they are hopeful if they can get approval from the building inspectors, they will have their Christmas show in the newly renovated space. Najuch said they plan on announcing a drive to raise money for new seats around the time of the show. He already has a donor committed to 100 of the 250 chairs they will need. Najuch said because they are a for-profit business they have had to do the renovations in multiple stages, as they made money through their shows.
“I always knew once we got the drywall up, things would progress more quickly,” Najuch said.
Currently the theater is doing a Halloween show, which is a reading done in the lobby by Froomkin, who now teaches theater at Manchester College. Najuch said they couldn't be happier with their decision to renovate the old theater.
“Lately we haven't seen much of the ghost. I think he knows we mean him no harm,” Najuch said.
For more information about show times and upcoming events, go to www.huntingtonsupperclub.com.