Clarissa the Landmark Spirit

Marisa Barnard, Staff Writer

The year is 2008, Cathryn Lynn talks quietly with her friends as they explore the empty Landmark Theater. It is a nice and quiet day in May, it is perfect for exploring the empty building and tempting the supernatural.

Lynn was determined to find a ghost that day. She and her friends hurried up the stairs passing the grand Hindu mural and found themselves on the second-floor balcony. She looked around, the seats were empty, the balcony was dark, and she smiled to herself.

This was a prime location for a haunting. There was something in the air, a presence, a silence that couldn’t be ignored. Quickly she set up her cameras, turning them all to face different parts of the large empty space, then her team got to work.

The team leader put on a white dress and twirled around the room; she hoped to coax the spirit out of her hiding place. Cathryn stood behind her camera waiting, snapping pictures of her friend as she danced and twirled, the camera flash illuminating the empty room. This went on for a long time— dancing and snapping pictures with no sign of the supernatural.

Perhaps it was all for nothing; perhaps Cathryn and her team should have just headed home. It was obvious the spirits were not coming out tonight.

However, she reached out to take her camera off the tripod when she felt something cold. A cold presence that made her shiver and filled her nose with a strange lilac scent. Her friend paused her dancing, looked around… she felt it too. Cathryn snapped a picture, watched the flash, and gasped when she beheld the image she captured in the digital frame. For standing behind her friend was a woman in a long white dress with matted brown hair looking into the camera.

There is something very intriguing about the supernatural. As humans, we are enamored by the strange, and this is especially true during the month of October.

In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to dive into a local haunting that is present right here in the city of Syracuse. Whether you choose to believe it or not is strictly up to you, but know that a belief in ghosts is not a childish fear resurfacing. It is a belief in the afterlife.

In 1928, the Landmark Theater, then called the Loew’s State Theater, opened its doors to the general public. It was a beautiful place, with intricate golden patterns climbing the walls, paintings of grandeur decorating the empty spaces and dazzling golden ceilings with chandeliers pitched high above its spectators.

At the time, it was the home of movie premieres and the theater would fill each Friday night. Music, laughter, and the angelic sounds of the Wurlitzer organ filled the grand space each evening and gave the theater a warm glowing feeling. It filled the long halls, cavernous ceilings, and twisting staircases with life. At night, the theater would quiet and the building would become a sleeping giant, the silence echoing through the hallways and high ceilings until it could be felt in the air, a thick presence that clung to the skin.

Maybe Clarissa felt this silence as she walked the theater grounds. Perhaps she felt like she was underwater, wading through the silence, wading through the cold. The theater is a different place at night, a different place when you are alone, and Clarissa was very alone. It was loneliness that brought her to this place. She was an actress during the day, performing in some of the many plays that took place upon the stage.

It was 1930, a mere two years since the theater’s grand opening when the young actress took a walk alone.

It is always in tragedy that restless spirits are made. Clarissa is no exception. She was in love with a stagehand named Oscar. How they met is unclear, how their love grew is unknown. Maybe they snuck stolen moments when Clarissa was done with her shows, perhaps they hid in the shadows of the theater and talked about their dreams.

Whatever the case, their love was strong. Oscar was working with the lighting board one night during a show, he flipped a switch, and in a freak accident was electrocuted on stage.

Clarissa was there that day, watching as her lover burned from the inside out.

Perhaps she thought of him as she climbed the carpeted stairs up onto the high balcony and gazed down at the red seats below her. Her lonely walk came to a halt as she stared down at those red seats. In the dark, they probably appeared to be moving like a flowing river of blood, no one can truly know.

Then the young actress who smelled of lilac, who wore a white dress, stepped out into the balcony for her final performance. With a final breath in, she hurled herself from the balcony and fell quickly to her death.

There is some debate surrounding the exact details of Clarissa’s death. Ghost hunters who have explored the premises and claim to have captured the voice of Clarissa believe that she did not jump from the balcony but fell. She stood upon the balcony watching her lover’s execution, and in an attempt to help him, rushed to the edge of the balcony and accidentally hurled herself to the ground. However, the true details of her death are unclear.

Clarissa is forever a part of the Landmark Theater. She is the phantom walking across the balcony in her white dress. She is the cold brush of air tickling one’s skin in the warm theater. She is the whispering scent of lilac that floats into the lungs and lingers. She is the quiet voice in the corner of the room, saying softly, “I fell off.”

She is a part of the Landmark Theater, and perhaps someday you will find her there. Perhaps someday you will walk through the doors and feel a cold brush of air gently tickle your skin. Maybe you will believe it was a gust of wind, or maybe you will open your mind to see that it was her, the lonely spirit of the Landmark Theater.