This essay examines midnight ghost shows (alternately known as “spook shows,” or “spookers”) and seeks to reinsert them into theatre history and to posit them as a cultural barometer of the time in which they were popular. Ghost shows were magic shows presented on the stages of America’s movie theatres throughout the first half of the twentieth century. A ghost show was usually part of a double-bill with a film, and each built to a special blackout sequence that would close the show. The earliest ghost shows used illusions borrowed from séances, such as table tipping and the production of apparitions, while later ones featured characters from popular horror films and bloody stage illusions such as decapitations and immolations. These productions represent how some enterprising magicians were able to create a trans-medial synergy between their staged magic shows and the emerging motion-picture industry, allowing them to not only survive, but to thrive in the changing entertainment milieu of early twentieth-century America. Ghost shows also stand as early examples of movie events that prefigured the phenomenon of midnight showings associated with cult films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.


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pp. 23-39
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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