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Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Nightmare on Commercial Street

“Judy“ spotted in a the background of a photo. // Courtesy of Mt. Baker Theatre
“Judy“ spotted in a the background of a photo.
// Courtesy of Mt. Baker Theatre

Bellingham in the 1920s would be unrecognizable to the modern eye. A boardwalk used to extend out over the bay, different from where parks stand today. Storefronts, saloons and dance halls lined the waterfront. The busy boardwalk was a central aspect of the lively community.

The Mount Baker Theatre stands where a boarding house used to. According to legend, one of the boarding house’s residents by the name of Judy still roams the halls, Executive Director Brad Burdick said.

Judy spent her days wandering the boardwalk, while her nights were reserved for the saloons. She was known for her singing and dancing, Burdick recalls. One fateful night, Judy returned to the boarding house, having fallen ill. Soon after she died in her room, where the theatre’s stage now stands.

“There were regular occurrences where projectionists would be up in the projection booth all by themselves,” Burdick said. “They would hear a female voice calling their name, or they would feel a really cold rush of air.”

Theatre employee Glenn Curtright is quite familiar with Judy.

“He went to go back downstairs and there were 10 usher vests lying on the stairs. They were not there when he went up.”

Cindi Pree

Curtright remembers an instance involving an information table that’s always in a particular place in the lobby.

“That night I was the last one out of the building, and the next morning I was the first one in. The table was moved and set in front of the door,” Curtright said.

Orbs (top left) found in photos are used to signal that a ghost or ghostly presence is nearby. // Courtesy of Mt. Baker Theatre
Orbs (top left) found in photos are used to signal that a ghost or ghostly presence is nearby. // Courtesy of Mt. Baker Theatre

The theater has a specific alarm system set in place. To enter the building, employees must enter a certain code. That code is recorded in the system and timestamped. There were no codes entered that night, Burdick said.

 

“No one knows how that table got moved,” Curtright said.

 

The boarding house was sold and torn down shortly after Judy’s death. The Mount Baker Theatre was constructed in its place, where it was primarily a movie house for its first 60 years.

The theater was built by Fox Film Corporation in 1927. The company constructed similar buildings all across the county. The theatres were usually built with four themes in mind: Art-Deco, Egyptian, Chinese and – the Mount Baker Theatre’s aesthetic – Spanish-Moorish. The goal for the theatres were to create a space for people to escape their daily, mundane lives, Burdick said.

The venue boasts individually hand-crafted faces throughout the designs covering the ceiling dome and sides of the stage. Over time, the feminine faces have been what theater staff have based their idea of Judy on.

“It’s usually the stagehands or the staff that have weird things [happen to them],” Burdick said.

Some employees stay skeptical of Judy’s presence, but others are still welcoming an experience.

Executive Assistant Cindi Pree hasn’t had any personal encounters. She attributes this to Judy notoriously preferring to haunt men. Pree did, however, recall an incident with one of the theater’s ushers.

Ushers typically arrive fairly early before events begin, when not many people are around. To retrieve his uniform, the usher walked up a narrow flight of stairs; the kind of stairs where you couldn’t mistake having to step over anything, Pree said.

“He went to go back downstairs and there were 10 usher vests lying on the stairs. They were not there when he went up,” Pree said.

Paranormal activity investigators have spent a lot of time at the Mount Baker Theatre. Every specialist that has studied the theatre always seems to find something a little different, Burdick said. Nothing found is ever violent or malicious, though. Things just seem to get moved out of place.

Associate Director of Development Kristin Costanza had her first and only ghostly experience during her orientation.

The lobby of the theater is designed with a Spanish-Moorish aesthetic. // Courtesy of Mt. Baker Theatre
The lobby of the theater is designed with a Spanish-Moorish aesthetic. // Courtesy of Mt. Baker Theatre

She was touring the facility with one other person when they reached a storage room. The room was full of miscellaneous items from reams of paper to concession snacks. There were blocks of soda in six-packs stacked perfectly, Costanza said.

The two look away for a second.

“We turn back and there’s one Pepsi out of the ring sitting on top of the stack,” Costanza said. “I can’t explain it other than it must have been Judy looking for something to drink.”

 

The paranormal activity investigators have captured picture proof in the form of energy orbs. Specs of light and blurs appear in pictures that weren’t there in the moment, Burdick said.

 

“I’ve never had an experience with a ghost,” Burdick said. “[But] there were times where it’s just really creepy. I’d feel a cold chill, and the hair would stand up on the back of my neck.”

With new encounters coming in frequently, this almost 90-year-old ghost story continues to garner attention whether you believe or not.

“I trust people when they talk about the stories they attribute to Judy,” Costanza said.

You can decide for yourself when the house lights go down.

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