The Haunted Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA

Posted by junketseo in Atlanta Ghost Tours
The Haunted Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA - Photo

It was a Christmas unlike any other in Atlanta. In previous years, families would gather together, enjoying succulent roast duck and sharing holiday cheer. On the cusp of the end of the roaring ‘20s and only days after the stock market crash, though, Peachtree Street to East Ponce de Leon Avenue was crowded with onlookers hoping to glimpse stars and performers. A new marquee hung overhead, the illuminated display welcoming all to witness the grandiose Islamic and Egyptian architecture of the freshly opened Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA.


Ages ago, audiences turned up to watch Elvis Presley command the stage or to catch the latest premier from John Wayne. While the Fox Theater remains operational and still hosts house-filling events, when the moon is high, and the stage is empty, there’s a far more curious reason to visit the historic theater. 


In a city as old as Atlanta, spotting the occasional spirit is expected. In fact, Atlanta ghost tours run weekly for that sole purpose. On many of them, the Fox Theater is a given stop, its antique bones having absorbed decade’s worth of memories. At any moment, echoes of those bygone years may filter through the illustrious space, uncovering the truth that the theater is more than an entertainment venue. It’s a final resting place.  


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The Fox Theater Opens in Atlanta


An unusual blend of entertainment came to Atlanta that wintry night. Laughs and booming music filled the venue as Walt Disney showcased Steamboat Willie, and the theater’s Mighty Möller pipe organ appeased the masses. George O’Brien and Helen Chandler joined the festivities, albeit as the on-screen stars of John Ford’s forgettable feature film Salute


The space seemed primed for what was sure to be a lifetime of events and gatherings. Yet, there was something peculiar about the theater. It looked like none other, and its interior was a blend of Egyptian and Middle Eastern stylings. That’s because before it opened as the theater, the design was originally intended for a Yaarab Shrine Temple.


When the project was deemed too expensive, movie industry executive William Fox offered to front the multimillion dollar cost. Though Fox and his wife, Eve Leo, had every opportunity to fashion the space in a more localized image, they stayed true to the Egyptian and Middle Eastern decor, a decision that would lend to some of the theater’s most striking features. 


The rest would come with time, as years passed and the remnants of those closest to the theater became part of its lasting legacy.


A Sordid History Stains Fox’s Enterprise


Behind the scenes, as the Fox Theater struggled to find a footing in Atlanta, the once-successful businessman started to become a ghost of his former self. The production company he established in 1915, Fox Film, was lost in a hostile takeover, and what money he had left after the 1929 stock market crash very quickly drained. 


Despite the turnout for its Christmas Day opening, the Fox Theater didn’t take long to face financial troubles. With The Great Depression weighing heavy on Atlanta and local unemployment hitting more than half of the workforce, entertainment wasn’t a high priority.


By 1932, the financial toll taken on Fox and his venue forced the mogul to declare bankruptcy. During an unceremonious auction on the courthouse steps, Fox sold his beloved theater for $75,000 to a private company, a significant fraction of the $3 million it cost to build.


Before long, Fox was a shell of his former self, locked in a prolonged legal struggle over his bankruptcy. For seven years, he fought to save his legacy, ultimately throwing it all away in an attempt to bribe the judicial system. His five-month prison sentence in 1943 was the last notable act of William Fox, the once-lucrative entrepreneur. 


With his production company in the hands of Twentieth Century Pictures, Fox had little connection to the industry he had thrived in. When he passed in 1952, his former peers had completely forgotten of his impact


Though interred at Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn, he remains tied to the Fox Theater, a specter clinging to his greatest feat. As it turns out, though, he’s not the only one who refuses to leave the majestic theater.


The Interred at the Fox


The theater’s architecture isn’t its only alluring quality. The Mighty Möller pipe organ became a focal feature within the historic structure, its crisp sound ringing throughout. A beauty in its own right, recently restored to preserve its 3,634 pipes and lustrous golden shine, the Mighty Mo still astounds audiences today.


Many had the pleasure of making the organ sing throughout the theater’s years, but organists Bob Van Camp and Larry Douglas Embury remain the most notable. Known for their performances at the Fox, the Mighty Mo so enamored both that they decided to be forever connected with the organ. Today, their ashes are stored in two chambers embedded beneath the stunning pipes. 


Van Camp and Embury may be interred within the theater, and likely a source for some of the venue’s spectral sightings, but one would be remiss to not consider the true Phantom of the Fox as an eternal resident. 


The Phantom of the Fox Theater


Just as Fox had after its construction, Joe Patten had an affinity for the Fox Theater. During the 1970s, he volunteered to help restore the Mighty Mo, and from there, became an essential asset and is crucial to its presence today. 


He grew attached to the theater, even working as its treasurer and technical director before moving into an on-site private apartment where he lived for free and served as unofficial security. Not only did Patten stave off an attempted theft of the theater’s chairs during his residency, but it’s because of the live-in guard that the Fox still stands today.


In 1996, an electrical fire broke out in an attached restaurant. Flames threatened to engulf what was left of William Fox’s memory and burn it to the ground. Spotting the smoke through his window, Patten acted fast, phoning the fire department and remaining at the theater to guide them through its layout and point out the best spots to fight back the fire.


The Haunts of Atlanta’s Fox Theater


Patten may have earned himself the name the Phantom of the Fox, but he’s far from the only phantom still calling the sprawling theater home. Fox and the organists, Van Camp and Embury are sure to welcome curious guests with a whisper or a rare appearance. 


While an otherwise innocuous and magnificent structure, there’s something deeper in the belly of the theater that one employee describes as the “creepiest space ever” — the hospital. Yes, the Fox Theater houses a hospital room, and it’s here where relics and artifacts of the theater remain. Could they be what keep the presence of a former nurse named Mary and a mysterious presence known only as Roosevelt from leaving the Fox? 


There’s only one way to find out. Join Atlanta Ghosts to visit the Fox Theatre and discover the many apparitions that call it home.


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