The leading character in the June 16 fundraiser show at the James McCabe Theater in Valrico was the structure itself, which had its birth in 1915 as the Valrico Civic Center and is believed by many community theater veterans to be haunted.
Are there ghosts at the James McCabe?
"I would say, at this point, we have accumluated enough evidence to say, 'Yes, there's something here,' " said Landon "L.T." Cochran, who founded the Plant City Paranormal Research team in 2007.
Plant City Paranormal Research and Fire and ICE Paranormal, in cooperation with United Paranormal International's Historic Preservation Society, were at the theater June 16 to investigate with handheld equipment.
The night followed previous investigations of the run-down building, on Sept. 11, 2011 and on Feb. 4.
The fundraiser investigation June 16 raised $800 for the James McCabe Theater Restoration Project. Notes about the fundraiser are featured on the event's Facebook page.
Skeptic or not, the night was an entertaining departure for the theater, which serves as the main venue for the Village Players of Valrico community theater troupe.
"I personally believe there is life after death and I encourage people to have an open mind and not rule it out, and I'm a skeptic with everybody else," said Lois Dunson Green, a community theater veteran, at the June 16 event.
At the James McCabe Theater, "I have never seen anything but I've been here alone and heard my name called, and a jingle that sounded like keys or coins or something in somebody's pocket," she added. "I turned around and nobody was there."
Keith Holmes, who helped create the set for the most recent Village Players production, "Avenue Q: The Musical!" also was in attendance June 16.
"I have no idea" if the theater is haunted, he said. "I've never had an experienc here. I'm not against the paranormal. If I see definitive proof, then yeah, I'm on board, but I'm not going to say there's ghosts here unless I see proof."
For the onlookers, the night's investigation involved a darkened theater with paranormal enthusiasts walking about with handheld recorders and cameras. They're findings will be compiled and added to a base of research from the two other investigations.
For Deborah Carpenter, a member of the board of directors for the Village Players, the night was a success no matter the results.
"I am incredibly humbled and honored by the fact these people came out and wanted to help us restore the building," she said.
At the event, Cochran took time to answer questions from Brandon Patch editor Linda Chion Kenney. The questions below are based on an interview at the event, in which Cochran addressed what believers and skeptics most likely would ask and want to know.
BRANDON PATCH: Are there ghosts at the James McCabe Theater?
- COCHRAN: There's definitley a male presence. We have gotten electric-voice phenomenon (EVP) captured on digital recorders. We have actually heard a little girl singing. We've heard humming. We've heard footsteps. We've heard the most demented laugh you could ever imagine.
BRANDON PATCH: How do you do your investigations?
- COCHRAN: We place our equipment, they remain static, which means stationary. We don't touch them, we don't move them. We turn them on and leave them running.
BRANDON PATCH: What do you say to skeptics?
- COCHRAN: Unless you experience it, you're never going to believe it. The hard-core skeptics, regardless what happens, they're never going to believe it.
BRANDON PATCH: Are you talking about ghosts or spirits? What exactly are you claiming to see or capture?
- COCHRAN: We believe there are two types of hauntings. One is a residual haunting. Basically it is just a spirit energy absorbed in the environment. It's not intelligent, it doesn't interact. The second is an intelligent one. They actually have the capability of interacting with people. You might call them, for lack of a better word, "lost souls." They're here for a reason. It may be good, or it may be bad.
BRANDON PATCH: All of this is based on . . .
- COCHRAN: It's all theory. Everything in this field is theory. Everybody's working to make this a scientific study.
BRANDON PATCH: And what would you say you have found evidence of at the James McCabe Theater?
- COCHRAN: The stuff in here is residual, which a lot of it is probably associated with the props and old articles in this building. And there is one individual, too, a male figure, which I believe is an intelligent haunting. We actually heard the word, "No." We asked if there was anybody here who would like to come out and we heard, "No."
BRANDON PATCH: What would you want people to take away from all of this.
- COCHRAN: Be open-minded enough to not block out the possibility that there's life after death, before moving on.
Background On The James McCabe Theater
- The James McCabe Theatre dates back to 1915 when the Valrico Improvement Association raised $3,500 to build the Valrico Civic Center.
- The building, a Hillsborough County Historic Landmark at 506 Fifth St. in Valrico, has been owned by the nonprofit Village Players of Valrico community theatre troupe since 1994 and has been the venue of thousands of community theater productions over the past 40 years. It was renamed the James McCabe Theatre following the sudden death of its namesake, a longtime Village Players director and board member.