Since Halloween is near, I’ve decided to look into the history of haunts at the Fullerton Union High School Auditorium, one of Southern California’s most famous destinations for paranormal researchers who have carried out numerous investigations in the building throughout the years. In fact, there are 3 conclusions shared by almost all the investigative groups: 1) The auditorium is definitely haunted; 2) It is a very active location with documented evidence in the form of equipment readings, EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and unusual photographs; 3) The spirit of Louis E. Plummer, a former Superintendent of Fullerton’s High School and Junior College District from 1919 to 1941 who was historically tied to the Ku Klux Klan, inhabits the building.
According to a 2002 booklet handed out during the Fullerton Museum’s Haunted Walking Tours, then-auditorium manager Evan Shirk said that numerous strange events and one apparition have taken place in this classic California Mediterranean building. Theater staff and volunteers have reported many encounters over the years with a spirit they call “Louie.” The story goes that in December 1999, as staff was setting up for a high school dance performance, a large mirrored “disco ball” began spinning on its own. This in itself wasn’t that exciting, but as the ball’s orbit grew wider and wider, became faster and faster, and started to spin wildly out of control, the staff backed away in fear and began calling, “Okay, Louie, cut it out now. We’re getting a little freaked out!” The ball stopped, and then started spinning again in the opposite direction.
Longtime auditorium manager Tony Gonzales has described many unexplained events to Aimee Aul, a former ghost guide for the Fullerton Museum’s Haunted Walking Tours. He has reported seeing an apparition in areas from the ground floor east portal to the balcony landing. He’s also experienced disembodied voices, an unexplained swinging chandelier and a consistent sense of being followed around by a child. However, the chandeliers in the auditorium can’t actually swing since they are bolted to the ceiling.
The landing on the west balcony staircase of the theater has the reputation of being the most haunted spot in the building. There was a common ritual that a lot of newly hired auditorium employees went through that involved being sent up to the balcony after closing to look for some forgotten program or flashlight. Almost always, the new staff member would come charging down the stairs panicked at the sensation of an eerie presence on the landing.
Back in 2001, psychic researchers caught some fascinating anomalies on film as they took photographs of the west stairway into the balcony landing. The pictures revealed a faint blurry outline of a gowned woman moving up the stairs. The figure bears a noteworthy resemblance to a figure depicted in the historic mural, “Pastoral California,” on the auditorium’s exterior west wall. The mural itself was painted by Charles Kassler in 1934 and depicts scenes from California’s mission and rancho days, including a depiction of Pio Pico and family seated in front of Mission San Juan Capistrano and being entertained by an elegantly attired Mexican dancer. According to an old Fullerton Museum Center pamphlet, “Oral history has it that the dancer is Laura Moya, a famous singer of the 19th century, and that Kassler used as his model the well-known 20th century California singer Luisa Espinel, who would later become the painter’s wife.” The haunting beauty of the painting and the stories of the spirit on the balcony landing have led some to believe that the two are somehow connected. A different group of psychic researchers who conducted an investigation of the auditorium in 2003 claimed to feel the presence of an “angry woman” at the spot on the landing where the picture was taken. Could the spirit be that of Laura Moya or Luisa Espinel? Or is it perhaps the spirit of a departed theater goer in an elegant dress, enjoying an evening of music as she did in life?
Aimee Aul, who has done some research into local paranormal investigations for the Museum Center’s Haunted Walking Tours, wrote via email, “Back in 2006, a group of paranormal researchers were in the balcony of the auditorium when 2 members of the group became aware of a scratching sound. They both looked toward the stage where the sound was coming from and saw a disembodied arm come reaching over the balcony railing! They both screamed and the investigation was promptly ended!”
Ms. Aul recalls ghostly encounters reported by other employees of the FUHS Auditorium as well. “I’m not sure what year it was, but a lighting crew member was adjusting lights in the catwalk when he felt someone enter his ‘personal bubble’ and walk past him. This staff member had been a paranormal skeptic and couldn’t explain what he had experienced as anything other than a ghost,” she wrote via email. “And one time, during an evening performance, one of the ushers reported a burning smell coming from the balcony. The light fixtures, original to the building, were melting! Tony quickly turned off the power to that area, and the melting stopped, but there was no way the small amount of heat generated by the lighting fixture could have damaged the fixtures so severely. There were no problems with the wiring. Staff even tried to replicate the event with blowtorches with no luck. This incident is especially interesting because Tony has been told that he is followed around the building by a spirit known as ‘the electrician,’ and also ‘the electrician’s daughter.’”
There have been other incidents with footsteps in the balcony area. According to an interview with Tony Gonzalez from the 2006 book, Fullerton Ghosts: History and Hauntings in Orange County, California, “In the southwest hallway leading from the main foyer to the foyer in the balcony, people have heard the sounds of footsteps walking along the hallway and up the stairs. Part of the area is stone and part is carpeted, which muffles people’s footsteps.” Gonzalez went on to explain that one time there was a man cleaning in this area, including the lighting fixtures in the upstairs foyer. The worker was wiping down the fixtures when all of sudden he heard footsteps running up the stairs. “He definitely heard heavy footsteps as if someone was running up the stairs, skipping every step,” Gonzalez said in the book interview. “It was a loud thump, then small steps and a loud thump. He thought someone was playing a trick on him, so he put his back up against the wall, and listened to the footsteps coming up the stairs. He listened and when it got to the top of the stairs, he jumped out, and made a scary sound, and nobody was there. So, he freaked out and ran downstairs.”
Ms. Aul didn’t know how far back the first reported haunting at the auditorium was, but she did mention that back in the 1970s, the high school auditorium had a reputation for being haunted. “Students and employees would feel creepy sensations on the balcony especially,” she said. “The story was that Louie and his wife were buried under the lobby, which is not true. They are in Loma Vista with everyone else.”
However, one of the scariest encounters to happen at the auditorium actually took place on the ground floor east portal to the balcony staircase. It was there that the Assistant House Manager at the time looked up after closing one night to see the floating head and shoulders of a balding man. The auditorium employee told the Fullerton Museum Center, “Maybe it’s someone else altogether. His name isn’t Louie and he’s hanging around till we get it right!”
The auditorium is one of the most active haunted places in the City, and those who have worked there seem to be well aware of the spirits.