The lobby of Augusta’s Colonial Theater was a busy place Saturday.

The 100-year-old building, which hasn’t been used as a theater since 1969, is getting more visitors than it has in decades.

The building is getting a sorely needed facelift as efforts continue to raise the more than $3 million to get it into good enough shape for the community events center its supporters envision.

The public is free to come in and look around on Saturdays until the end of the month, and among last Saturday’s visitors were members of Maine Ghost Hunters. The building is the latest historic capital area building to pique the group’s interest, which ends up being as good for organizations that care for the area’s historic buildings as it does for the ghost hunters.

David Hopkins, the spiritual team leader of the ghost hunting group, said the theater is intriguing and the hunters, who see their mission as much historical outreach as ghost hunting, is excited about the possibilities.

Over the past couple years, “a couple people have told me they felt a strange presence in there,” Hopkins said Wednesday.

The theater is a neighbor of his — Hopkins owns Merkaba Sol at 153 Water St. He said he’s never felt any vibe coming from the building himself, but does find the old theater intriguing.

Theaters, he said, are spaces that have a lot of emotion.

“It leaves an imprint,” he said. Years of theaters full of movie-goers feeling happiness, sadness, fear “all that energy is being thrown out there” and is part of what’s known as residual haunting.

The theater, which seated 1,100 in its heyday, is unique in that much of what makes it historic hasn’t been lost to the years. It hasn’t been used as a theater in more than four decades, but hasn’t been used for much else, either. It was used mostly for storage, and the original details, including woodwork, wall medallions, floor tiles, are still there.

The years haven’t been kind, though. Water seeping through the roof caused a lot of damage. Years of neglect show in the walls and floors. But its beauty still shines through. Where acoustic tile on the ceiling has been removed, the old tin ceiling is visible. Grime and water damage can’t mask the artistry that was once standard for such buildings.

A nonprofit group, Augusta Colonial Theater, is hoping to raise the money needed to bring it back, some of it through grants, but a lot of it through the community.

The Maine Ghost Hunters are happy to help.

Saturday, they’re hosting a ghost tour of the building, open to the hundreds of members of its meet-up group. The proceeds from the fee those who take the tour pay will go toward the theater restoration.

That tour comes a day after Friday night’s tour at Fort Western, right across the Kennebec River. The 1754 wooden fort has had a storied past, including doing time as a tenement before becoming the nonprofit historic site it is now.

The two tours will be repeated the following weekend.

On Halloween, the group is hosting a “large scale fundraising event” at the Governor Hill Mansion, on the corner of State and Green streets. Built in 1902, the granite and brick Colonial Revival house, complete with third-floor servants’ quarters, was home to Gov. John Hill before being sold to the Oblate order of priests in 1948, and after that to the Catholic Diocese of Portland. It’s now privately owned and used as an event center.

“Some really strange things have happened in that place,” Hopkins said. “Nothing bad,” he added.

The ghost tours are the public face of the group, which has five core members and has been around since 2008. While there are 610 meetup group members, according to its website, Hopkins said even membership to that group doesn’t come easily. The organization does background checks and makes sure those who join are as invested in the topic as the core members are.

Doing the public tours through the meet-up group helps keep track of who’s there and fees, Kat McKechnie, of Maine Ghost Hunters said Wednesday.

“If we ran just a public ghost hunt we could have people we’ve never met before, showing up, paying a fee, and participating,” she said in an email. Having people joint the group means “they know we know who they are and they can be contacted (or removed from our group) if we need to.

“It’s also our way of showing respect to these locations that allow us the privilege of ghost hunting at their historic places.”

Maine Ghost Hunters began as a scientific-based volunteer effort to help homeowners explain what may seem unexplainable, Hopkins said. Much of the weird stuff that goes on in homes is caused by electrical issues or other easily explained structural or technical issues.

“Our idea is to go in and debunk,” Hopkins said.

Tony Lewis and McKechnie lead the science end of things. Hopkins is brought in for things that can’t be explained with science.

The group’s spiritual journey has taken them to homes all over the state, New England and even California.

And they’ve seen some strange stuff.

One of the most powerful, Hopkins said, was a private home in Gardiner.

But there have been public ones, too. An investigation at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Nordica Auditorium brought some “really intriguing” results.

The Mill Agent’s House in North Vassalboro is so full of spiritual energy the group uses it for training.

But Hopkins also points out that while the attraction of ghost hunting is the thrill factor, “It’s really not all that thrilling.”

“You sit for hours and nothing happens, but then there’s that one moment when something does,” he said. “It’s a lot of work. A lot of hard work.”

The group stresses on its website that it has a deep, passionate interest in the history of Maine. That interest is paying off for the public subjects of the group’s investigations, like the Colonial Theater.

“It’s about historical outreach and bringing people in to these places,” Hopkins said.

“Ghost hunting is just the icing on the cake.”

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected] Twitter: mmilliken 47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.


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