Is Grandstreet Theatre Haunted?

Grandstreet Theatre

Once a Unitarian church, this theater is said to hold the spirit of a beloved Sunday school teacher

Ghostly Happenings at
Grandstreet Theatre

  • Strange mists have been seen moving through the building
  • Lights are known to flicker and go on and off without explanation
  • Electrical equipment is said to malfunction with no known cause
  • Disembodied whispers are sometimes reported
  • Black mists and figures have been seen on stage during performances
  • A stained-glass window is known to be rendered illegible without explanation

Grandstreet Theatre’s Holy History

Montana’s Grandstreet Theatre might not look like your average performance venue, and that’s because it isn’t. The building at 325 North Park Avenue in Helena has worn many hats in its time.

From the tell-tale cathedral roofing to the grand stained glass foyer window, the theater’s history as a church is as palpable as ever.

But, local lore says the Grandstreet Theatre’s connection to its past goes well beyond architecture and stained glass.

Some say ghosts from the church-era still linger through the aisles and dressing rooms of this respected theater.

Timeline of Grandstreet Theatre's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Grandstreet Theatre through the years

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First built by the Unitarian Church in 1901, the building was designed like few other churches before it. While maintaining a classic church appearance from the outside, the interior was developed with many different ideas in mind. It included a sloped floor and large stage in the sanctuary. Designers hoped to make the space a true, multi-use community center. With a place like that in town, it wasn’t long before someone with a vested interest in building better lives came to Helena and set their sights on the Unitarian Church.

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Clara Bicknell Hodgin came to Helena in 1903 and became a kindergarten and Sunday School teacher for the Unitarian Church. With a lively personality and a sunny smile that could light up a room, Clara soon gained a reputation as the favorite teacher. In a matter of months, her Sunday School attendance was reaching record levels. Clara never had any children of her own, and many who knew her said she treated every student like they were her children.

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Unfortunately, Clara Hodgin’s time at the church was brief. She contracted cancer and died in 1905, just two years into her work as a Unitarian teacher. In her honor, her students and coworkers commissioned a stained-glass pane for the church from Louis Comfort Tiffany. The pane included a panel featuring her name and the year of her death. The priceless piece of Tiffany glass was a well-known aspect of the church until the day it closed its doors.

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In 1933, an earthquake leveled the Helena Public Library, and the church offered their old building to the city as a replacement. The city renovated the church, removing the sloped floor and adding a mezzanine, before opening it up to the public as the new library. The city also removed the Tiffany glass pane. For the next 42 years, the old church served as the Helena Public Library until the library, like the church before it, needed more modern spaces.

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In 1975, Grand Street Theatre purchased the building from the city and quickly reopened it as the Grandstreet Theatre, reinstalling the Tiffany glass. A full restoration occurred in 1996 with grant assistance, and the theater remains in a meticulously reconstructed state still today. But, as theatergoers and performers come and go, many stories have developed of strange happenings in the Grandstreet. Now, some believe the ghosts of the theater’s religious past remain there.

Is Grandstreet Theatre Haunted?

Reports of hauntings around the Grandstreet began shortly after the Tiffany glass window was reinstalled, leading many to believe the strange activity is the work of Clara Bicknell Hodgin. Odd creaking noises and footsteps were reported. Along with that, tales soon followed that electrical equipment in the theater would turn on and off without any explanation.

As time went on, the electrical happenings diversified, with overhead lights throughout the building being known to flicker on and off. Some choose to associate this activity with the ‘electric’ and ‘energetic’ personality Clara Hodgin was known to have when she was alive.

Strange Sounds & Moving Mists

It wasn’t long before workers and visitors alike reported hearing disembodied voices and seeing strange moving mists drifting through corridors. In more recent years, activity has included figures and anomalies being seen during performances and events.

Some have reported odd black figures lingering in the back of the stage during performances, even though performers themselves never actually see them. Other times, speakers on stage have claimed to notice unexplainable black shadows lingering around their legs. Some supposed psychics have further claimed they see vivid, detailed specters of church goers meandering around the stage during performances.

Spirits in the Stained Glass?

While most other activity doesn’t necessarily lend itself to being the work of Clara Hodgin, one repetitive unexplained event led many to believe she was the theater’s resident ghost.

Along with the rise in activity corresponding with the return of the stained glass window, something strange would frequently happen with the window’s inscription.

There are odd moments when her name on the window becomes totally illegible. Many who have seen this phenomenon liken it to the font in the glass changing from Tiffany’s style to a child-like scrawl, as if one of Clara’s young students had tried to write her name across the glass. This regularly encountered activity is what many suggest is proof it is Clara Hodgin still coming to the church, attending shows, and appearing as an apparition to some visitors.

Grandstreet: Helena’s Haunted Theater

Though the Grandstreet Theatre’s busy production schedule doesn’t often allow for tours, ghost walks, or advertised investigations, the ghost stories of Clara Hodgin are well known, and you likely won’t have to search for long to find someone willing to share their story with you.

The theater has been the subject of paranormal books and articles in the past, and occasionally has hosted talks related to these features.

So, while the hauntings around the Grandstreet remain an open secret amongst Helena’s lovers of ghosts and lore, the unique paranormal occurrences at the Grandstreet Theatre will surely intrigue ghost hunters from across the United States.

If any paranormal investigator does come to the theater in search of ghosts, Clara Hodgin might just show them, and their equipment, her famously ‘electric’ personality.