Theaters are haunted, and The Capitol Theatre in Yakima, Washington is no exception. It’s haunted by the ghost of Shorty, a former stagehand who worked at the theater. Find out about him (and the theater itself) here.
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If you’ve been watching Only Murders In The Building this season, you know all older theaters are haunted. Or so the stories go.
But, it makes sense if you think about it.
Theater people have a lot of superstitions. You have to say “break a leg,” not “good luck.” You can’t wear green on stage. Peacock feathers are prohibited onstage. No whistling backstage. Always turn on the ghost light before leaving the theater.
Throwing in a ghost story isn’t a stretch.
So of course it makes sense that The Capitol Theatre (19 South Third Street) in downtown Yakima, Washington is haunted by a ghost named Shorty. And we’re here to tell you all about it. Because what’s October for if not ghost stories.
If you’re planning on visiting the Yakima Valley to look for Shorty, stay and check out the rest of the area too. Our Things To Do In Yakima, WA post will help you plan your day.
The Haunted Capitol Theatre In Yakima, WA: All about the ghost named Shorty
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Shorty has two origin stories.
The more commonly accepted story is that he was a stagehand back in the 1930s or 1940s who fell in love with an actress. His feelings weren’t reciprocated and unrequited love caused him to hang himself in the catwalks above the stage.
Another version of the Shorty story is that he was a homeless person who died in the fire that ransacked the theater in 1975.
The latter story is less interesting and all the folklore surrounding Shorty rests in his occupation as a stagehand. So, for the sake of the rest of this post, we’re going to put stock in the former story.
Capitol Theatre History
The Capitol Theatre in Yakima has a bit of a scandalous history. Okay, I’m sensationalizing it. But. Still. There was a family in town, the Mercy family, who (ironically) had no mercy when it came to the church.
It was a dream of Frederick Mercy Sr. to have a grand vaudeville theater in downtown Yakima, right on land where a church was. The church didn’t want to move. Mercy, who owned numerous movie theaters in Yakima already (you can read about them here) opened a movie theater next to the church. He became a bad neighbor, creating a loud nightly ruckus, until the church leaders caved in and gave him the property he wanted and moved.
Mercy then hired B. Marcus Priteca, the Scottish-born architect famous for designing 22 theaters for Pantages (including the haunted Pantages Theatre in Tacoma) and another 128 for other theater owners, to design the building. He also hired muralist Tony Heinsbergen, who had worked on multiple Pantages theatres are well, to paint the signature ceiling mural.
The theater, which officially opened as the Mercy Theatre in April 1920, was the largest theater in Washington State at the time. People would travel from all over to see the vaudeville acts. In the 1930’s, when interest in vaudeville declined, it changed into Mercy’s regular business: a movie theater. It operated that way until the early 1970s when the Mercy family decided it was time to sell.
Urged by its citizens, the town of Yakima decided to purchase and revitalize the building in 1975. The building said, “Oh yes you will” because very soon after the sale was completed, there was an electrical fire which decimated the theater’s interior.
Very little could be salvaged from the original theater. The seating was donated by the Daughter’s of the Republic. Some of Priteca’s original ornamentation was recreated using fiberglass molds. But that famous ceiling mural … it was gone.
My favorite part of this story, though, is Tony Heinsbergen was actually still alive and, along with his sons, painted a brand new ceiling mural for the theater. He passed away very soon after, so if there’s a silver lining to the fire, Tony coming out of retirement to paint with his sons is it.
Bob Hope (yes, the Bob Hope) opened the theater back up, performing to a sold out crowd. Since then, the theater has hosted big names like David Copperfield, Geena Davis, Naomi Judd, and more.
If you go downstairs in the theater, there’s a wall with autographs from famous performers, including one dated August 2 and 3, 1930.
The theater is still a working theater and is home to the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, the Yakima Town Hall Series, and Shorty.
Shorty The Ghost & His Antics
Back to Shorty McCall (or Shorty Michaud, as it’s probably spelled due to historic documents), the resident ghost at the theater.
As the story goes, he was one of the tech hands who worked the back of house. He originally had an office on the stage, where the former organ loft was. The door to his “office” would mysteriously close if someone left it open or would be open if someone closed and locked it. There would be paperwork missing that would be found in that room as well.
His office was sealed off, but the Shorty’s door remains, not attached to anything, but leaning in the spot where it originally hung.
Those are stories that came with the theater.
There are also stories on TikTok from people who played at the theater in high school and felt like they were being followed and heard voices in the dressing rooms and hallways.
But there are new stories.
Cat, who kindly gave us a private tour of the theater on her off time last year, told us about an incident that had just happened a month before we visited.
On a Sunday morning, at 5:08 am, the theater lights turned on by themselves. No one had entered the building, no one disabled the theater’s alarm. But somehow, someone turned the lights on. Of course, being a new theater, there are cameras and recording devices. So, the next day, they checked the videotapes. And nope. No one was caught on tape. And the light switch that would have turned the lights on could be seen … and it didn’t move. There was no practical reason it happened.
The only explanation? Shorty.
As we were on stage with Cat, mere feet from Shorty’s door, we started to hear voices. Shorty? No. But we did think so for a moment. Instead, it was Bryan and Andrew, two of Cat’s coworkers at the theater.
They heard our voices (we, also, were not Shorty) and decided to come upstairs to see what was going on since, like I said, the theater was closed to the public when we were there.
Bryan told us about his own personal Shorty incident.
He had a set of keys that opened doors in the theater. One day, they just stopped working. He would stick them in doors, but they wouldn’t unlock them. These were doors that had previously been used on these keys.
He swapped his keys with someone else and, wouldn’t you know, the keys worked just fine for their new owner.
Had to be Shorty.
More Haunted Places Around Yakima, WA:
The Capitol Theatre isn’t the only haunted place in Yakima, Washington. There are other local ghost haunting the Palm Springs of Washington (which yes, is Yakima’s slogan).
Mabton High School
A paranormal team actually went to investigate the former school and caught paranormal activity on video and posted it on YouTube. Click that link to see all the strange happenings they captured.
1214 W Chestnut Ave
The story of the school, which has since moved, is that a nun, Sister Sabiena, died at the school (either in an elevator or by jumping out a window). You can still see or hear her on the fourth floor. Also, in the girl’s bathroom, the toilets will flush and the faucets will turn on on their own.
We actually went to the Old Train Depot before the Capitol Theatre and, coincidentally, Larry, the museum’s treasurer was walking in to grab a paper and gave us a private tour. I asked him if it was haunted, and he said no, but it had been over 100 years old, so it’s possible.
Well, it turns out that there have been stories of strange noises like music playing and children laughing, faucets turning on and off, and more.
2811 Tieton Dr
There have been stories about voices heard by the morgue and ghost sightings as well.
214 E Yakima Ave.
Paranormal investigators have found a lady in white at the Yakima Sports Center, rumored to be a former owner.
It’s a sports bar now, but the upstairs of the building was once a hotel and then a brothel with some shady things happening (like stabbings and people dying). Chairs have moved on their own, glass has broken, and workers have had voices yell at them from across the bar.
More Ghost Stories:
If you want to check out more stories of spirits and things that go bump in the night, you’re in luck. Tacoma, which is within driving distance from Yakima, has a haunted location on almost every corner. Find out more in our A Comprehensive Guide To Haunted Places In Tacoma, WA.
We have a huge list of Haunted Hotels In South Carolina, including The Belmont Inn (a haunted hotel we stayed in and my mom was actually haunted in). We also have a list of all the Haunted Places In Abbeville, SC — a South Carolina town with lots of paranormal activity.
Have you been to the haunted Capitol Theatre in Yakima? Let us know about your experience in the comments.