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I have to abandon certain journalistic principles and tell this story in the first person since I am THE source. When I was young, kids made fun of me because my name "Cosper" resembled a popular cartoon character called "Casper the Friendly Ghost." Luckily, the cartoon eventually died and not many people have given me grief about it the past few decades. Yet recently I was confronted with a completely different ghost story, which triggered the ghost of Casper in my mind.
SacTV.com is my library of local video interviews in which I continue to learn about regional leaders and what they do for the community. I recently interviewed Jeff Kean, who is the Executive Director of the Woodland Opera House where live actors present well known plays. It's the key to Woodland's economy. The venue is owned by the State of California and features shows most of the year that include concerts and other live performances. The word "live" is very important in this story since it is distinguised from a "dead" performance, possibly by a ghost.
It turns out, the Woodland Opera House is the home of a decades-old legend about a ghost that lives there. Woodland locals have talked about this ghost for over a century. It's such a talked about legend in Woodland that Jeff is frequently contacted by paranormal investigators to learn more about this creepy tale. It all started with a tragedy in 1892 when a fire fighter named W.W. Porter was killed while trying to put out a fire that destroyed the entire block where the Opera House is located. Many people say his ghost never left the building. Even when the venue was closed to the public from 1913 to 1970, the ghost story was told by the locals.
The reason the story persists is that employees and patrons of the building have noted strange sounds over the years. Sometimes loud noises will occur out of nowhere when there appears to be no other humans around that could have made the noise. Jeff says that sometimes after a show he notices that the knobs on the venue's mixing board have been altered or the amplifiers have been turned on after they were turned off. Could this be a ghost or just a prank?
"I'm not a believer," Jeff cautions, "having never had any direct experiences myself other than my sound equipment, but I certainly don't discourage it." In other words, the folklore has become bigger than the ghost itself, so why kill it? Jeff has been interviewed by several media journalists about the ghost story, which continues to be part of Opera House's tradition.
In the interview I asked Jeff if the Opera House is ever used as a haunted house. That was when the story got really interesting for me, since I honestly don't really believe in ghosts, other than they make excellent metaphors in songs and literature. Jeff told me things are not the same when we were kids and there were haunted houses everywhere around Halloween. He said they've become dangerous in the eyes of certain people and that stakes have become too high to make them practical, even as a fun community project. That was the part I found creepy, more than the presence of a ghost. I remember as a kid thinking haunted houses were super fun and I always thought they were the best part of Halloween. I had lost track of Halloween over the years so I didn't realize that they had disappeared .. which is kind of its own ghost story about American pop culture.
I remember working on the air at KWOD in the 80s how every year a big thing was to promote a haunted house that was raising money for some cause. I guess that doesn't happen much anymore, which is a shame.
Although I do find the Woodland Opera House to be an interesting ghost story in the sense it attracts media attention, my favorite ghost stories are in songs. I don't necessarily mean "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker, Jr., which I think was overplayed back in the 80s when KWOD was top 40. I think the song "Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man" by Concrete Blonde is more of a timeless ghost song. There's also "Ghost Town" by the Specials and "The Ghost In You" by The Psychedelic Furs, all songs we played on KWOD in the 90s when the station was alternative. I also thought the Police album Ghost In the Machine was very artistic in its mix of innovative instrumentation and social commentary messages, especially the song "Spirits in the Material World." The term ghost in that sense was a metaphor for mentality lingering from the past that still affects society.
Sometimes I think of a ghost as someone I used to be, which at one time was a DJ on the radio, parties and roller rinks. When I recently visited Sunrise Rollerland I noticed that the DJ booth was empty as all the music was pre-programmed on a computer, just like today's radio industry. At one time the DJ had a lot to do with the entertainment but these days you have to look hard to find a place willing to pay a live human to provide this service. Some say that was then, this is now, but history proves that people generated better numbers then than machines do now. I believe we can learn from ghosts of the past, at least in the metaphorical sense. Even though ghosts are generally thought of as creepy, especially on Halloween, I prefer to be a friendly ghost who learns from history.