A panoramic view of the BAM Harvey Theater as captured during our paranormal investigation. Photo by Anthony Long 2018.

Is BAM Harvey Theater Haunted?

BAM Harvey Cinema – Supplied by BAM

As a team of paranormal investigators, we were excited to be invited back to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) to investigate the historic BAM Harvey Theater. Afterall, the question “Is BAM Harvey Theater Haunted?” comes up often.

The theater, built in 1904, has a rich history of hosting both avant-garde performances and classical music. Its unique aesthetic, with its crumbling brick and peeling paint, adds to the timelessness of its theater-in-the-round seating area.

Recently, the theater was the venue for a modern retelling of Henry James’ classic horror novella, The Turn of the Screw. The story, published in 1898, is a classic Victorian ghost story that plays on the public’s fears of death, mortality, and the afterlife. In the story, a governess is hired to take care of two children on a vast estate and becomes convinced that the house is haunted.

The 1961 film The Innocents revisited the concept for a post-war audience, but Strange Window: The Turn of the Screw by The Builders Association is a modern retelling that uses technology to create a macabre atmosphere for a millennial audience. The performance reinforces that the allegedly haunted BAM Harvey Theater is at the fore-front of modern theater.

As paranormal investigators, we were excited to experience this modern take on a classic ghost story and to see how technology could enhance the eerie atmosphere of the theater. We were also intrigued by the idea of investigating any spirits that may be lingering in the theater, which has a rich history and unique aesthetic. We look forward to sharing our findings with you in the future.

To begin the paranormal investigation of BAM Harvey Theater Alex, our resident tarot expert led us in a prayer for protection from evil spirits using Psalm 91, a poem from the Hebrew Bible. The poem imparts a sense of confidence and safety in the protection provided by God and is often referred to as the “anti-demonic” psalm.

Psalm 91 is a poem from the Hebrew Bible that imparts a sense of confidence and safety in the protection provided by God. It is often referred to as the “anti-demonic” psalm and is recited as a prayer for protection from evil spirits.

Alex read aloud:

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust."
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
And under his wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
Ten thousand at your right hand,
But it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
And see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
The Most High, who is my refuge—
No evil shall be allowed to befall you,
No plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
To guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
The young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
And show him my salvation."

As Alex finished reciting Psalm 91, we noticed a change in the atmosphere of the room. The energy seemed to heighten, and we could sense a presence in the space. Some of us even felt a cold breeze on our skin. While the atmosphere was tense, we remained cautious and continued our investigation.

Jade, our psychic medium, was hesitant to revisit the BAM Harvey Theater grounds after sensing the spirit of a construction worker on our previous visit. However, during the investigation, she and another psychic identified two areas of spiritual significance. Jade sensed a spirit to the stage-right, while the guest psychic detected spiritual energy on the stage-left. This discovery added an element of intrigue to our investigation, and we were eager to explore these areas further.

Jade Rain Vega, BKPS Psychic points toward the location spiritual energy is felt.Jade Rain Vega, BKPS Psychic points toward the location spiritual energy is felt.

As we deliberated upon which path to take, we were informed of a crawl-space underneath us. Crawlspaces are often used in theaters for a variety of purposes. They can provide access to important mechanical and electrical systems, such as wiring, plumbing, and ventilation ducts. They can also be used to store equipment and props, and to provide space for performers to wait before and after their performances.

In some cases, crawlspaces may be used to create special effects, such as giving the appearance of a character emerging from underground. They’re mostly used at BAM Harvey Theater for storage, and moving around under the stage during performances.

The confined, eerie space sparked our curiosity, so we decided to make our way towards it.

As we investigated the stage-left area of BAM Harvey Theater, we discovered the ghost light. A ghost light is an electric light, typically near the stage, that is left on when the theater is unoccupied. While the ghost light provided energy, we did not detect any spiritual energy attached to it.

After examining the ghost light, the coven made their way to the stage-left balcony of BAM Harvey Theater for an impromptu visit. Here, we experienced an energetic exchange with a possible spirit who intelligently responded to our questions. The presence of this spirit added a layer of unease to our already eerie surroundings.

For our final investigative stop of the BAM Harvey Theater paranormal investigation, we ascended the spiral staircase to the stage-right balcony. Jade led the team to the location where she felt the spiritual energy was most dense.

As we reached the top of the spiral staircase, we could sense a flurry of activity. Jade, our psychic medium, was overwhelmed by the number of spirits that were trying to communicate with her at once. She struggled to keep up with their voices, which seemed to be coming from all directions.

We watched in amazement as Jade communicated with the spirits during the allegedly haunted BAM Harvey Theater paranormal investigation, asking them questions and listening to their responses. Some of the spirits were eager to share their stories, while others seemed more hesitant. It was clear that this was a powerful and emotional experience for Jade, and we could see the toll it was taking on her. Despite the challenges, she continued to communicate with the spirits, determined to learn as much as she could.

After Jade was psychically drained from communicating with the spirits at the top of the spiral staircase, we made our way back to the main stage area. We were all feeling a little shaken by the intensity of the experience, but we were also excited by what we had learned. As we discussed our findings and shared our experiences, we could feel the energy in the room shift. The spirits seemed to be calming down, and the atmosphere became more serene.

In our wrap-up, we caught the attention of the Archives Manager, Louie Fleck, who was pleased to share some fun facts about the theater with us. Louie also provided us with an immersive “behind the curtain” experience, giving a riveting presentation on the history of the theater and some of the most famous shows that have taken place on its stage.

We are grateful for the opportunity to investigate the BAM Harvey Theater, which was coordinated by Vilina Phan of BAM. During our trip to Flatbush, Vilina was knowledgeable and astute in highlighting the similarities between the characters in The Turn of the Screw and our BKPS Detectives.

As we look back on the paranormal investigation at the possibly haunted BAM Harvey Theater, we can’t help but feel a sense of discomfort. Perhaps the similarities between ourselves and the characters in the novella are too difficult to ignore. Will our debut in paranormal performance art haunt us forever? The answer remains to be seen.

Detectives of the Brooklyn Paranormal Society pose for a photograph after our investigation of BAM Harvey Theater. Photo by Anthony Long 2018.
Detectives of the Brooklyn Paranormal Society pose for a photograph after our investigation of BAM Harvey Theater. Photo by Anthony Long 2018.

Paranormal Detectives' eye view of the BAM Harvey stage. - cAnthony Long 2018

Does Marian Anderson Haunt BAM Harvey Theater?

BKPS met to investigate whether BAM could home the spirit of Marian Anderson.

Marian Anderson Stands In Front the Lincoln Memorial.
Marian Anderson pictured in-front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Born to blue-collar Philadelphians, Marian Anderson expressed talent in singing from a young age.

She began studying music independently in her teens and early twenties, after being turned away from the Philadelphia Music Academy. At the time, the institution upheld a whites-only policy.

Far from being deterred by racial prejudice and economic disadvantage, Marian gained notoriety as an opera singer and went on to tour Europe extensively in the 1920s.

Unlike their American counterparts, European audiences were seemingly more accepting of a black contralto, and Marian was beloved by her fans. Back on American soil, Marian faced severe opposition from the white elite. She performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1938, but a year later, the tides turned.

During a historic turning point in the civil rights movement, Anderson was denied the opportunity to perform on Washington, DC’s prestigious Constitution Hall stage. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) who owned the hall and oversaw its performances were unwilling to offer non-segregated seating.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who served on the board, was unnerved by the blatant racism of her fellow Daughters and chose to resign out of respect for Marian. She went a step further and organized a special Easter Sunday performance for Marian at the Lincoln Memorial.

Marian Anderson

To a crowd of 75,000, Marian Anderson, raised a devout Baptist, performed a series of traditional hymns in her operatic style said to be full of “intrinsic beauty.”  Later, she expressed gratitude to her audience, stating, “I am just so overwhelmed today that I cannot express myself properly. You don’t know what you have done for me.”

While stories like Ms. Anderson’s may sound antiquated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If perhaps she, like us, was disturbed by the racial divisions in modern-day America, and hoped to offer some positivity to the brokenhearted and the downcast. This was no small feat. I understood the gravity of what I was attempting.

With nothing but respect for the Anderson family, I decided to invite a small group of members to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where Marian performed over a dozen times in the late 1930s. 

If she was, in fact, still lingering around Brooklyn, this seemed the most likely place to investigate.

Our all-female coven of psychics and paranormal detectives set out to explore BAM.

It was this knowledge that inspired my latest venture into the paranormal side of Brooklyn. I wondered if perhaps Marian Anderson’s spirit was still within reach.

The coven consisted of psychic-empath Cindy and psychic-medium Elaine, investigator Tina, and student-journalist Comice.

Marian Anderson
“Microphone” EVP response to Comice’s presence. (Photo credit: Anthony Long)

To begin, I loaded up M2 – the ghost-hunting app that has served me well in the past, and set the analog and digital voice recorders to record. Our choice of analog recorder that night was a trusty Tiger Electronics Talkboy, and our digital recorder a modern Etekcity VR-BK8.

After a few moments for protective prayers; the psychics began to explore the perimeter of BAM as the rain misted. Throughout the next few minutes the investigators discussed amongst themselves and aloud questions addressed to Marian and any other entities present outside BAM with us.

Increasingly curious by the lack of EVP and EMF activity, I walked off-course and began to ask her opinions on the state of modern music, politics, and culture including references to current events. Unfortunately, no response came, either psychically or on my app.

Gadgets, and hopes of making contact had captured my attention away from the group for a few moments. Sensing commotion I lifted my gaze to catch the group’s attention attracted towards a stairwell. Cindy and Elaine confirmed, we had a hit.

Stairwell at BAM, location of alleged spiritual entity. (Photo credit: Anthony Long) Marian Anderson
Stairwell at BAM, location of alleged spiritual entity. (Photo credit: Anthony Long)

Despite our focused efforts to contact Marian Anderson, Cindy informed me that she was sensing a completely different spirit: that of a construction worker present on top of this stairwell. 

Perhaps in life this person assisted with the construction of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and died onsite, or simply enjoyed being close to the beautiful architecture and music.

We received no explanation for his presence, nor did we observe any symptoms of haunting; such as chills, goosebumps, dread, etc.

The only correspondence the spirit of the construction worker passed to the two psychics was that Marian was not present, nor had her spirit been present since he had been there.

Having no other messages or answers for the group, and the equipment and meters showing no activity, we shuffled over to Whole Foods to continue the conversation.

Each investigator described a different account of our experience that February night as we unified our notes and feelings. The psychics, reporter and investigators were each confident the spirit of Marian was nowhere to be found.

In spite of our failure to connect with Marian Anderson, I was left with a deep sense of hope and optimism. Going around the table, each detective confirmed this optimism prevailed when no actual evidence emerged, which most likely means the company and conversation was incredible.

As the detectives said their goodbyes I promised to continue the investigation, alluding to a choice existing that I wasn’t sure I had. Reflecting on my thoughts and actions over the past few weeks, reveal a determination to uncover Marian’s story that could be considered supernatural.

Upon arrival at home, I hastily smudged myself and performed a Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram; a mainstay of the Brooklyn Paranormal Society’s magic arsenal. When performed correctly, the ritual would ensure that construction worker didn’t find himself a new home, a neighborhood over from his current abode — in my house.

After lighting incense, I played performances of Marians’ including the Lincoln Memorial performance as a research soundtrack. I poured through the evidence hoping to find something, even reaching out to Cindy and Elaine to see if Marian Anderson had appeared since we departed BAM.

The latest word from the psychics, and the recorded audio and video all paint a distinctly non-spectral performance occurring outside of BAM. The sounds of New York City, including car radios, angry drivers and horns blared over any subtle EVPs that may have been recorded.

That night, what I read of Marian Anderson reinforced what the five of us hypothesized on the street; a soul as accomplished as Marian Anderson’s couldn’t possibly have unfinished business.

In the soft glow of the candlelight, a single word appeared on my phone screen confirming my theory: “heaven”.

Marian Anderson M2 ghost hunting app displays heaven
M2 ghost hunting app displays “Heaven” in response to Marian Anderson questioning. (Photo credit Anthony Long)

Editors note: Thanks to BAM Harvey for hosting us. Check out our other article about a haunted theater; Loew’s Kings Theater and learn about our paranormal investigation at Brooklyn Academy of Music.