Location: Raven's Fair is a tiny rural village with less than three hundred people in its population. Left in financial ruin since Interstate 90 was built in the Forties, it rests on Highway 93 twenty-three miles east of Niagara Falls, New York. The Guigol Theater is located on an island at Lost Lake, a flooded quarry off Rural Route 13. Raven's Fair Cemetery is on the west side of town off Cemetery Street behind the town hall.
Description of Place: Built in 1923, the three-story Guignol Theater was built to replace the much older Harlequin Theater on Main Street to accompany much larger audiences and provide dressing rooms for performers of live shows. It was accessed by a bridge covered by lights, provided seats for nearly one thousand patrons who came to watch the vaudeville performers and included three large dressing room, five personal rooms, a concession area, a thousand seat auditorium decorated in red and gold with numerous wood sculptures and four public rest rooms. Unfortunately, since the Forties, the elaborate and highly favored locale has fallen into serious neglect and dilapidated ruin. Sections of the locale were nearly intact except for stages of ruin including but not limited to dust, cobwebs, vines growing through the front facade, weak floors and a flooded basement.
Ghostly Manifestations: Small towns have secrets, and several of their most potent secrets sometimes involve deserted locations with violent crimes that for some reason or another never reached public mainstream consciousness through the newspapers, radio or television. Written records date back to Ancient Sumeria, radio back to the Early Twentieth Century and television only back to the 1940s. While most crime buffs study and peruse the facts in the Jack The Ripper, Lizzie Borden or Angela Johnson cases for new insights into why human beings are willing to murder, maim and take the lives of strangers, even fewer people know about Mary Shaw, and even less are aware her ghost wanders the cemetery where she was buried with her collection of ventriloquist dummies.
"Marry Shaw was possibly one of the very first lady ventriloquists." Mortician Henry Walker was a young boy when she died in 1941. "She had a huge collection of dummies; I think about a hundred of them. She called them her children, and when she died in 1941, it was her dying wish that they be buried with her, and if you go out to Raven's Fair Cemetery, you will find her grave set off a little way from the main cemetery with all these small grave markers around her, each etched with a single name. Today, there's an eerie silence around the whole area, and at night, kids go up there to park and try and see her ghost."
Since her demise, people have reported seeing Mary haunting her gravesite. Shadows lurk around the cars that dare to park there, and late at night, the sounds of children are heard in the dark, but nothing is ever really seen. However, when she is not appearing around her grave, her ghost has been described lurking and haunting the abandoned Guignol Theater a short drive off Highway 93. She is described almost always the same way: a tall thin old woman with short white hair wearing a long dark dress often observed creeping slowly across the stage or standing beyond the seats in the upstairs balcony.
Several locals believe her ghost watches over the theater where she was caught after the abduction of eleven-year-old Michael Aiken. Mary was blamed for his disappearance after he embarrassed her during a show, and Michael's family are still among the few local inhabitants. On March 23, 1941, an angry group of men confronted Mary and attacked her trying to get her to confess, murdering her in the process. A rumor claims Mary wanted to be preserved and her face altered to match her dolls, but this is unconfirmed. All that is known is that after her funeral, the theater tried to continue without her as its main star, but guests, staff and talent continued to see her terrifying visage drifting through the place. She would float down halls, peer around doorways, lurk in shadows and stand on the catwalk over the stage and terrify those who saw her.
Over the years, employees have experienced several unusual occurrences that they blamed on Mary. All the fuses once blew out long after the power had been turned off. Mysterious balls of pulsating light floated through the air simply to disappear without explanation.
Henry continues: "One month, while the stage manager was in the main lobby one evening, he heard the upstairs office door open and close, followed by a loud scream and running. He leapt up and ran toward the stairs to find out what had happened and met one of the floor staff half way up. She was shaking and saying "I'm never going up there alone again." over and over. When she had calmed down, she told the manager that she felt like someone was in the hall with her. She turned to see a ghostly woman in a flowing dress hovering about two yards behind her.
"One night around 5PM while the manager was opening the theater as usual, he opened the doors to the lounge and noticed a fire burning in the fireplace. She was shocked because there was no one in the building, and all personnel had been instructed to never leave a fire lit without supervision. Then as he entered the lounge, he noticed movement to the left of the fireplace. His eyes were somehow drawn to a woman seated in one of the high backed wooden chairs next to a table and lamp. The lamp was on and he saw that the woman was wearing a long dark prairie-widow type dress and had her hair pulled up in an old-fashioned style that framed her face. The woman turned toward the theater manager, looked him straight in the eyes and faded away. He had known Mary Shaw, and he was convinced this was her. This was the only time he saw her apparition, or a fire mysteriously lit in the lobby.
"A previous theater manager also relayed to me a story told to him by a long time projectionist of the theater. He had never told this story before, but he apparently was sitting in the first floor projection booth showing a film. There was a stool that sat between the two projectors for when he had to make a change over between the machines. At this time he was off sitting in a more comfortable chair as the movie ran, when he noticed that the stool had begun to vibrate. As he continued to watch it seemed to be doing a little dance. It then stood on one leg and began to spin around; then it stopped and didn't move again.
In the Late Nineties, more than fifty years after the theater had closed down, there was an effort made to restore the theater and hopefully attract tourists to town. One afternoon, a contractor at the Guignol Theater with a town councilman was recording the damage and wear to the theater when he heard a small clicking sound behind him. He turned around and found an old tintype photograph dating from the 1920s of Mary when she was a young woman. Did Mary leave a photo of himself for them to prove she was still around? The two men became too scared to investigate further and quickly ran out of the building. The next day, the contractor showed the tintype of Mary to his employees and then placed the photograph on the light board off stage where it stayed for several weeks. One day the tintype photograph of Mary vanished just as quickly as it had appeared.
Several patrons and employees have witnessed Mary's shadow walking around the theater and one man even captured the image of Larry in a photograph while taking pictures of the balcony area. Other visitors to the theater feel unexplained chills and breezes, which come from nowhere.
Since her death, no one used or attempted to move into Mary's dressing room apartment over the back stage. Much of her wardrobe and personal belongings were left behind including the cases for her dolls and the wood carving equipment used to make them. In the weeks as the theater appeared to be nearing restoration, a painter wandering the building tried to explore Mary's dressing room and moments later came rushing out scared to death. Apparently, as he was looking over the things in her vanity table, he happened to look up and see her ghost reflected in the mirror and sitting in the chair watching him. Shortly thereafter, with all the ghost stories and feelings of ill ease on the site, the restoration stopped, reportedly because the funds ran out.
In 2007, a film crew brought six television celebrities to explore the location for a TV Series called "Celebrity Paranormal Project." It was supposed to be VH1's version of "Ghost Hunters" or "Scariest Places On Earth" with well-known actors. The cast included Gil Gerard, Sherman Helmsley, Adrianne Curry, Butch Patrick, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna, Erin Murphy and Sugar Ray Leonard. Paranormal researchers Ray Stantz and James Harvey were on stand-by in case anything happened on site. Although filmed for the first season of the TV Series, it was held over as the first episode of Season Two, but the actors were asked to enter the location and describe their experiences as they looked for certain objects placed inside by staff and even do certain tasks, such as wait in Mary's upstairs attic apartment for five minutes. After twenty minutes of shooting, no one thought anything was going to happen; as Acuna commented: "Old Mary must be working overtime at the cemetery." After he said that, all of the camera and lighting equipment shut down and the rest of the episode was filled with footage from the handheld cameras. Gil was later to comment the place felt "oppressive," and Erin lamented not getting see anything despite all hopes.
As footage was being edited for the episode, a cinematographer for VH1 commented that a dark figure with white hair could be seen three different times in the show hiding in the shadows.
The location burned down a few months later.
History: Ravens Fair was founded by French and Dutch trappers in 1832, and for several years was on the direct route to Niagara Falls until 1947 when the Interstate was established. One of the most popular tourist spots despite the Autumn Festival was the Guignol Theater. Built on the town budget in 1932, the theater was on the route of Vaudeville entertainers traveling into Canada for several years and featured stars like Hugo Catchem, Abbott and Costello, magician Ardor the Mysterious, Tricia Roddenberry, Alan Brady and Snitch and Snatch, but its main talent was local ventriloquist Mary Shaw who died in 1941. Without her, the theater closed its doors in 1942. Left to deteriorate under the elements, it was almost restored in 2006 before vandals burned it to the ground in 2007.
Identity of Ghosts: Mary Shaw was born November 23, 1868, the daughter of a Civil War widow. Sh spent much of her life raised by a foster family without brothers or sisters, but she spent much of her time creating and lending her voice to her own dolls. By her Twenties, she was making as much as $200 dollars a week on the Vaudeville circuit, and in her Forties, she was one of the headliners for the Guignol Theater at $500 a week. She was a guest of politicians, heads of state, members of high society and even approached romantically by celebrities of the time, but she never traveled very far from Ravens Fair for much of her life. Her personal life was devoted to her dolls, creating them, dressing them and developing their personalities.
Spry and cognitive into her Eighties, her act was part magic and part comedy. Her opening act frequently involved "Billy," one of her favorite characters, who would vanish in the auditorium and call out from where he was hiding, often under the seat of a young boy or girl. Parents were often enchanted by her, and kids loved to meet her. However, in October 1941, after Mary had been working non-stop in the local Autumn Festival almost twenty hours, she was heckled by eleven-year-old Michael Ashen. Most of the audience observed Mary was visibly shaken by his rude comments, but she mustered through and still enchanted the audience. However, when Michael vanished later that week, many believed Mary had had some part in his disappearance and confronted her in the theater where by act or design, she was later bludgeoned to death. No one was ever brought to brought to trial for her murder, and Michael was never found until September 2007 when his blacked bones were found on the grounds of the devastated theater.
Source/Comments: Dead Silence (2007) - The Harvard Exit Theater in Seattle Washington and the Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee, the Harvard Exit Theater in Seattle, Washington