The Atlas Theatre gives off a creepy vibe at night, especially when you peek into the doors’ glass panels. The lights from the passing cars make the shadows dance inside, easily playing tricks on the eye.
I’m at the building late Saturday for an investigation with the Paranormal Hunting and Observation Group and some Cheyenne Little Theatre board members. That’s a fancy way of saying “I’m going to spend the evening hunting for ghosts in one of Cheyenne’s most haunted buildings.”
I can’t decide if I’m nervous or afraid of what I could see tonight.
The Atlas has accumulated plenty of ghost stories over the years with varying levels of believability. Aiden Sinclair, paranormal illusionist and Cheyenne ghost history expert, is fond of telling a true story where a mother and child died of exposure during a blizzard while at the theatre for example.
“It’s got kind of a dark history,” he said. “Fascinating, but dark.”
I’ve heard other the urban legends as well: there was a fire in the theatre that killed people, the “woman in white” who haunts the building or a child who got her hair pulled by some unseen force. I don’t know if I believe these stories, but I used to play in a funeral home as a child, so my scare tolerance is higher than most.
PHOG has investigated the building nearly a dozen times and will be guiding me through the night. They arrive with 10 black cases, loaded with equipment such as cameras, temperature gauges and an audio recorder. One case, however, contains items such as holy dirt and water, silver crosses and a bundle of sage.
We gather in a circle to pray before the probe. There’s an air of excitement, but also anxiety.
“Dear Lord, thank you for bringing us all together tonight,” PHOG member José Gonzales prays, loud enough for everyone to hear. “Please keep us safe and protect us while we go through the building.”
And so it begins.
The basement: 10:30 p.m.
“You don’t have to whisper,” PHOG member Martin Perez tells the group. “Avoid yes or no questions.”
I’m huddled in the corner of an old couch downstairs, sitting opposite the CLTP board members while Perez and Gonzales place their equipment on the floor. While the investigators begin tossing out questions to the spirits I have noticed, rather alarmingly, that my feet are growing cold.
“It’s probably a draft,” I think. “This is all in your head. Calm down.”
My feet are tingly and freezing. After five minutes, I can’t stand it anymore. I let everyone know how cold I am.
Gonzales scrambles to grab the temperature gauge, running it over everyone else to get an average reading. Everyone is around 75 degrees. I’m at least 10 degrees colder.
“Guys, check this out,” Gonzales says. “Look at how cold she is.”
Suddenly, we hear footsteps on the stage. I think it could be the furnace, but I didn’t notice the noise before or after the footsteps appeared.
“Kris, are you walking around upstairs?” Gonzales asks PHOG member Kris Phillips on a walkie-talkie.
“Nope,” he responds.
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I continue to be degrees colder than everyone else for the next ten minutes while we’re down there.
I need to be out of this room.
The balcony: 11:15 p.m.
As we take our seats, I still feel spooked from the basement.
CLTP board member Rory Mack begins asking questions.
“How do you feel about the work being done in the Atlas?” he asks the empty room in front of him. “What do you think of the renovations in the building?”
The electromagnetic field meter immediately begins flashing, which happens for nearly every question Mack asks from here out.
“It seems to like Rory,” Perez jokes.
We wait, straining our ears to see if we hear anything out of the ordinary. Most of the light comes from a flashlight and the EMF meter, with the light occasionally making small shadows on the walls.
Eventually, CLTP board member Morgan Martin begins feeling cold – just as I did downstairs.
She becomes anxious and dizzy, feeling more frightened as time ticks by. The balcony always affects her, she later notes, to the point she will experience vertigo and anxiety nearly every time she’s up there. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the building though.
“I sat on the top step and almost immediately, I grabbed Rory’s hand,” she says. “As I sat there, my hand got cold. It wasn’t just once, though. I would get hot and cold, so it kind of freaked me out.”
The séance room: Midnight
We crowd into a small room with a pentagram poorly spray-painted on the wall.
“Well, this could get exciting,” I think to myself.
The investigators set up a “spirit box,” a radio that scans through AM wavelengths to pick up white noise.
Gonzales goes around the room, asking the spirit to identify anyone in the room. A male voice comes from the box, responding with “José.” The group enthusiastically exclaims that they heard the voice, too. But, all I hear is static.
The EMF meter doesn’t light up nearly as much as it did in the previous rooms either. After 20 minutes, we decide to head down the hallway.
The final room: 12:30 a.m.
“The third-floor rooms don’t seem to be showing off as much activity,” I jot in my notebook. In comparison to the balcony and basement, it feels quiet and calm upstairs.
Perez dons a headlamp with a red light, giving the room an eerie, sinister glow.
We occasionally hear yells from passersby on Lincolnway, but even the EMF meter seems to be worn out from the work done tonight. It lights up a time or two, but the room doesn’t appear to have anything in it.
After 15 minutes, we decide that this room isn’t going to provide what we want. We head downstairs while PHOG begins gathering up the equipment.
We pray one final time.
“Dear Lord, thank you for the experience we had tonight,” he says. “Please make sure that if anything attached itself to us, it stays here.”
“If anything attached itself to me, it’s going to be hopelessly disappointed in how boring I am outside of work,” I think to myself.
The end: 2 a.m.
I’m so relieved once I step out into the cold air, watching a few cars make their way down Lincolnway.
I plop myself between Gonzales and Phillips on one of the Atlas’ benches to go over what we saw and heard tonight.
“I always come out of every investigation thinking we didn’t get anything,” Phillips says. “But, tonight was a little different. It was the first time I ever felt uncomfortable. When we went to the séance room, I felt like I heard footsteps behind me, but it went away fairly fast.”
Gonzales, on the other hand, is more optimistic. They both agree they should review the evidence before making any conclusions.
If I thought any building was haunted, it’d be this one. There’s certainly enough seedy history tied to it and I still don’t know where those footsteps I heard in the basement came from.