Is the RFT Haunted?

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Is that a ghost at the Tivoli/RFT offices? - SCOODOG VIA FLICKR
  • Scoodog via Flickr
  • Is that a ghost at the Tivoli/RFT offices?

Way, way back in the day (well, the early 90s), before the Loop became a nice place again and the Riverfront Times was still by the river front, the Tivoli building housed a movie theater, three floors of dilapidated apartments and a group of young squatters. One of the squatters, now older and wiser and no longer squatting, reported that they were all terrified of a room on the third floor with bright red walls. It was known, naturally enough, as the Red Room, and people unlucky enough to get stuck there said they heard knocking and strange voices. One man kept a crowbar for protection. A psychic told the former squatter that the building was evil and that she should leave.

Eric Bequette, a member of the St. Louis Ghost Hunters (featured in an RFT story last spring), met the former squatter at a Labor Day barbecue, heard her story and decided that his group had found the perfect place to spend their Halloween night.

RFT management granted the Ghost Hunters permission to set up an investigation in the offices on the second and third floors and Joe Edwards gave the okay for them to explore the Tivoli Theatre downstairs. The only area off-limits was the Princeton Review offices on the fourth floor because they were due to renew their lease soon and Edwards didn't want to scare them away.

At 9 p.m. on Halloween night, Bequette and his fellow Ghost Hunters Lindsey Piech, Jen Leggett and Adam Gummersheimer and Laura Spangler, a loyal fan, arrived at the RFT offices. (Spangler had won a contest in which Ghost Hunter fans wrote essays explaining why they wanted to help with the Halloween investigation. She was a lock for the prize. Explained Bequette: "She was the only one who wasn't a weirdo.") They were armed with piles of ghost-hunting equipment: digital cameras, video recorders, digital recorders, DVRs, infrared thermometers, electromagnetic field detectors and several bags of junk food of both the sweet and savory varieties.

The St. Louis Ghost Hunters (l-r): Lindsey Piech, Adam Gummersheimer, Eric Bequette and Jen Leggett. - JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Jennifer Silverberg
  • The St. Louis Ghost Hunters (l-r): Lindsey Piech, Adam Gummersheimer, Eric Bequette and Jen Leggett.

Traditionally, All Hallows Eve is the night where the barriers between the human and supernatural worlds are at their thinnest. Between the Tivoli parking lot and the RFT office, the Ghost Hunters had a spooky encounter with a man with a pumpkin for a head who insisted upon having his picture taken with them.

Upstairs, all was quiet. The Ghost Hunters explored the offices, trying to determine the location of the fabled Red Room. Of course all the apartments are gone now, replaced by offices and cube farms, but several staffers who sit at the eastern end of the building claim to have heard phantom breathing and typing noises when they're working late and everyone else has gone home.

Piech systematically made her way down the hallway, but stopped when she got to art director Tom Carlson's office, which happens to be on the eastern end of the building. "Look!" she cried. "There's some red paint on the windowsill."

Could it really be that easy? Apparently so.

By eleven p.m., the Ghost Hunters had finished mounting the cameras in the offices, but they still had to set up in the Tivoli Theatre. It was going to be a very long night.

"I took tomorrow off," Leggett said.

"I have to get up and go to school," Gummersheimer complained, "and then to work and it's gonna be bad because I work at a pharmacy and it's the first of the month."

"Do you want some chocolate-covered candy corn?"

"Dude, that's gross."

Setup downstairs in the Tivoli proved to be more complicated. Two employees with creative facial hair (Halloween costumes, probably) gave the Ghost Hunters a guided tour of the facilities. Behind the movie screen were leftover props from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, old theatrical posters from the Tivoli's days as a vaudeville house and Joe Edwards' collection of antique radios. In the basement were lots of cobwebs and evidence that at least one death had occurred on the premises: a dessicated mouse. That was the most drama the Ghost Hunters would experience that night, though they stayed till 6 a.m. Piech, who, along with Spangler, spent most of the investigation on the RFT's third floor, said she saw a few things out of the corner of her eye, which disappeared when she tried to look at them straight on.

The instruments, however, saw much more action. In the area across from Carlson's office, the former Red Room, Piech reported that the electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors went wild, particularly in front of one file cabinet that didn't appear to contain any electronic equipment, which would have screwed with the machinery. ("I don't necessarily think it was paranormal," she said, "but seriously, a filing cabinet?")

Bequette and Gummersheimer saw a dramatic drop in temperature in a deserted corner of the second floor which apparently had nothing to do with the building's capricious heating and cooling system.

But the best thing that happened all night may have been behind the screen in the main auditorium at the Tivoli Theatre. It didn't become apparent until Bequette looked over the DVR recording, but then it was plain: "It's an orb!" he said. "It doesn't look like the dust that's in the rest of the video. It has color, a nucleus, some sort of tail and it is bouncing around and changing directions."

Three days after the investigation, a staffer working late reported hearing more phantom typing and breathing. The Ghost Hunters were puzzled; they themselves had had a pretty quiet night.

Perhaps, they concluded, they had been too ambitious, trying to investigate two sites simultaneously.

"I personally would like to come back and just investigate the RFT," said Bequette. "I think that if we had been able to concentrate just on that we might have had more luck getting evidence."

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