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  • Writer's pictureDayna

The Haunting of The New Amsterdam

In my novel, A Light Left Behind, up and coming Broadway star Josslyn is prepping for a role at The New Amsterdam theater when she meets the ghost of silent film start Olive Thomas. While my novel is a work of fiction, according to theater legend, Olive Thomas has indeed been haunting The New Amsterdam since her death in 1920.

The events leading up to Olive's death remain shrouded in mystery -- was it an accident, suicide, or murder? But Olive herself continues to beguile. She died in Paris on what was supposed to be her second honeymoon with fellow actor, Jack Pickford, but for some reason, her spirit still wanders this theater.

The New Amsterdam is the oldest operating theater on Broadway and a New York City landmark. Its opening in 1913 was one of the most anticipated events of the day, beginning a magnificent chapter in the history of theater. The beautifully ornate interior of the theater was designed to host its inaugural production, A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 1913, Florenz Ziegfeld began presenting his legendary Ziegfeld Follies at the theater and it's there Olive's star began to rise. Olive was one of Ziegfeld's famous "Follies Girls" and eventually took part in the more risqué Midnight Frolic on the roof of the theater. A beautiful portrait of Olive adorns the theater lobby alongside other stars to grace the stage, and a few pieces of some of her costumes are encased in glass on the mezzanine level. A smaller portrait of Olive hangs just inside the stage door and actors are known to wish her a good day and good evening as part of theater legend. This simple greeting is said to keep Olive happy and from creating too much mischief.

The New Amsterdam was renovated in the early 1990's as part of the 42nd Street Development program, which set out to rejuvenate the theaters of Times Square, many of which had fallen into disrepair since The Great Depression. The New Amsterdam had fallen into complete disrepair after sitting empty for many years. The Walt Disney Company leased The New Amsterdam to house their planned theatrical productions, and began a full renovation. What was once one of the most spectacular theaters to grace the Great White Way was soon restored to its former glory. During renovations, Olive was spotted regularly. Once, a group of construction workers claimed that Olive walked across the stage, into a wall. Several of them resigned on the spot! Another story includes a group of Disney execs, sitting around discussing who the biggest star of the silent film era was. When one of them claimed it was Olive's sister-in-law, Mary Pickford, a stack of DVDs on the table near them flew into the air and crashed across the room. They'd apparently ticked Miss Olive off.

Those who have seen Olive in her ghostly form state that she wears a dress and carries a blue bottle in her hand. Is this a bottle containing the mercury bi-chloride that she ingested and caused her death? Some claim she mainly appears before men, ever the flirt. On a recent visit to the New Amsterdam, I asked several ushers about their experiences with Olive and all were excited to talk about her. The bartender even gave me a drink on the house when I told him why I was asking. Each of them was very familiar with Olive and a friendly usher named Cliff, who has worked at the theater for many years, said at times, she will knock on and rattle the handles of the doors where he's standing. He opens the door and no one is there. Other ushers said she often touches them on the back.

While it's unlikely that Olive's mystery will ever be solved, there is still a great deal of intrigue surrounding her death. My novel sets out to explore not so much her death, but the life of the woman behind what has been called the "First Hollywood Scandal."

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