The nearly 150-year-old Havre de Grace Opera House has a long history of reported paranormal encounters, but it was not certain if those spirits remained after the facility underwent a nearly $4 million renovation in 2017.
A number of human, and at least one animal, spirits still haunt the North Union Avenue building, though, at least according to a paranormal investigation conducted by Ryan Martinez and two of his colleagues with Argos Paranormal for their public-access show “The Witching Hour,” when they spent the night in the opera house last August.
“We did have some encounters with the paranormal there,” Martinez, a producer of the show, said Thursday.
Harford County residents can see the team’s experiences when the episode premieres at 10 p.m. Monday, July 6, on Harford Cable Network — Comcast channel 21, Verizon channel 31 and Armstrong channel 7 — and on the Argos Parnormal YouTube channel starting Tuesday. It will re-air on HCN every Monday in July at 10 p.m.
Rebecca Jessop, who has worked at the Cultural Center at the Opera House in Havre de Grace for the past several years, is familiar with Penelope, the friendly spirit known to frequent the building. Thus, she is eager to see the upcoming episode of “The Witching Hour.”
“She’s very friendly, not mean,” Jessop said of Penelope, noting members of the Tidewater Players and other theater companies have reported sensing the ghost’s presence.
Jessop is the executive director of the Havre de Grace Arts Collective, the nonprofit organization that manages and handles programming at the city-owned opera house. She has served as director since the opera house, which dates to 1871, reopened to the public in 2017 after the two-year renovation project.
The Argos Paranormal team visits historic structures around the nation to investigate reports of paranormal activity in those buildings. The Havre de Grace episode is the second episode of the show’s second season, according to Argos’ website.
“They said, at a certain time they got a lot of activity, but they didn’t reveal too much,” Jessop said of the team’s findings.
Martinez provided details Thursday about what he and his colleagues encountered, much of it around the main auditorium and changing rooms. Some of their encounters included a male ghost telling them twice to leave the changing room, voices of groups of spirits talking, all of the lights in the auditorium going out at one point, the hooting of an owl captured on a voice recorder — one teammate reported seeing, while the lights in the theater were on around 3 a.m., the silhouette of a young girl in a white dress in his peripheral vision.
“To actually see something in a well-lit environment, that’s pretty interesting,” Martinez said.
He noted that the girl could be Penelope, but none of the spirits he and the team overheard appeared to be willing to give their names.
“I don’t think any of the spirits were interested in communicating with us,” he said.
Martinez spent the next day exploring parts of the city and conducting interviews, and he met people who reported suspected paranormal encounters in their homes and local restaurants.
“It isn’t just the theater that known for its haunting, but the immediate buildings and the region itself,” he said.
Martinez, who is based in Northern Virginia, had not been to Havre de Grace before the paranormal investigation. He said it was “a very surreal experience” to go through the opera house, a place that has been the setting for so many local historic events.
“We think it’s a very special place,” Jessop said, noting the history of a building has served as city hall for Havre de Grace, as well as an activity and performing arts center.
“Think about all the people who have been in and out of there and have come and gone,” she said of the opera house and other historic buildings. “That’s what makes them special.”
The opera house has been closed to the public since mid-March in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, but the arts collective is still working to put on various programs in Havre de Grace — the organization also manages the downtown Arts and Entertainment District, the Arts by the Bay Gallery and the city’s Public Art Committee.
When the building can reopen depends on directives from the state and city, according to Jessop. More information about programming, such as weekly “Dinner and a Show” virtual concerts, is available on the opera house website.
“We’re still here; we’re still working hard,” Jessop said. “We hope to open as soon as we can.”
Martinez said the opera house, as well as a number of other haunted Harford locales, was recommended to him by Kelly Jara, executive director of Harford Cable Network. The managers of the opera house told him before the investigation that they weren’t sure if the facility would still be haunted following the renovations.
“I definitely think the theater is a place for discovering paranormal anomalies, despite all the renovations it has gone through,” he said.