The stage technician at the Malmö Stadsteater was beyond startled.
Without warning, in a moment of otherwise quiet, his headset lit up with the sound of a little girl shouting at her mother. But where was the girl? Where was the mother? Neither seemed to exist – not on stage, not backstage. Not in the building at all.
* * *
I’m always on the lookout for weird and wonderful stories behind the scenes of arts and culture organizations. And nothing brings me more joy than all those weird and wonderful buildings in arts and culture. In the past year alone, I’ve been taken on a wild spin behind the scenes of the Theatre Royal Newcastle, seen behind the walls of an ancient castle in tiny Bishop Auckland, and even crawled inside a tiny half-room to nowhere at the Indiana Repertory Theatre:
Here are Kim and Molly from Indiana Repertory Theatre, showing off the Lilliputian-sized door in their Vaudeville-era building
Nevertheless, I had to travel all the way to Sweden to find a ghost story.
Is your theater haunted?
On my first visit to the Malmö Stadsteater, I heard many stories about unusual occurrences in their unusual building. Originally built as a hippodrome in 1899, the structure has been renovated, expanded, reconfigured and reimagined countless times over the past century. This became evident as a few members of the team took me on a tour of their winding corridors.
Along the way, we passed offices, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios and – randomly — a small unused hatch cut into the wall halfway up a stairway. When I asked about the hatch, they gave me a shrug and the same answer my friends at Indiana Rep had given me about their half-sized door: “We have no idea why that’s there.” (This adds credence to my theory that inexplicable features of old theaters are a global phenomenon.)
As a grand finale to the tour, I was surprised to find the most efficient way to reach the box office was to shimmy down a tight spiral staircase cut into the floor of the marketing office. It felt more like a tour of Hogwarts than a tour of a theatre.
And like Hogwarts, the Malmö Stadsteater has ghosts.
The shouting girl heard in the technician’s headset was not an isolated incident. Staff have heard footsteps crossing the stage when the theater is totally empty. Others report feeling a room go momentarily frigid. Doors open and slam shut. The staff was most excited to tell me that on multiple occasions, the lights will blink out or the sound system will reset itself moments before curtain rises. But this only happens on opening nights.
I felt the room go momentarily frigid.
Inside the empty (or is it?) Malmö Stadtsteater
The staff seemed unfazed by the stories. If anything, they consider the ghosts part of the family. Perhaps this is because stories of supernatural events have been related by Malmö residents for centuries.
Satan’s Ghost of Kalendegatan
The tale of “Satan's Ghost of Kalendegatan” dates to the 1700s. According to legend, a young brewer named Per Nilsson Möller and his wife Karna owned a small mill and brewery in the Kalendegatan section of Malmö. During the first ten years of their marriage, Karna gave birth to ten children. Shortly after the birth of the tenth child, Karna died — as the legend goes — “under unusual circumstances.”
It wasn’t long after the brewer remarried that weird stuff started happening. Horrified neighbors reported seeing Karna’s apparition hovering over the street wearing a shroud and staring down at them with hollowed-out eye sockets. At other times, locals would see ghostly dogs run through the nearby streets while tiles would fly off roofs and come smashing down to the street below.
The brewer’s neighbors became so frightened by Karna’s unearthly sorrow that they exhumed her body from the graveyard at the Sankt Petri church and prayed over it to drive away the demons.
That was 300 years ago, and Per Nilsson Möller’s brewery is now long gone. What was built in its place?
The Malmö Stadsteater.
About a year ago, I saw a group of the Malmö Stadsteater staff at the Tessitura European Conference. Of course the first question out of my mouth was to ask how things were with their theater ghosts. Carin Hebelius, the Press and PR Manager, smiled and pulled out her phone to show me a picture. The City of Malmö had dug up a portion of the street in front of the theater for some infrastructure improvements. Carin was leaving the building to grab lunch one afternoon, passed the construction site, and glanced down into the ditch they had been digging that morning. Imagine her surprise when she saw this:
Special thanks to Carin Hebelius, who shared the story of Satan’s Ghost of Kalendegatan and her photo.