Ghosts in the Guild – a blast from the past

 I first learned about Betsy Belanger from the playbills on the walls and panels in the Guild lobby. Later, I heard that her experiences with us led to her founding St. Louis Spirit Search in the early ’90s.  Intrigued, I wrote to her, and asked her to describe in her own words the events that led to the founding of Spirit Search.
— Don Love

Ghosts in the Guild?

by Betsy Belanger  

The first time I walked up the steps at 517 Theatre Lane in 1979 and over the threshold into the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, I felt remarkably like I was ‘‘home.’’ The charm, the history and the warmth struck me immediately. Little did I know I would spend the next seventeen years of my life there. And it wasn’t long after my first show that I became an official TGWG groupie, doing anything and everything just to be there. And it wasn’t long before I began to sense that there was more to TGWG than meets the eye.

Let me flash forward a bit. About fourteen years ago my friend Jason and I began a quest into the world of the paranormal. But… …and this is a big BUT… …..we were truly terrified of anything that went bump in the night. So, I decided then and there I had to get a handle on these feelings in order to better understand this phenomenon. So, I read anything I could get my hands on, asked questions of anyone who would listen, went to metaphysical classes and joined a group whose focus was exploring paranormal activity. This all led to the founding of St. Louis Spirit Search in 1993.

But let’s get back to TGWG. About a year after I joined The Guild, I was asked, by then president Larry Furrer, if I would like the job of cleanup person. Since I was back in school, raising a beautiful little toddler, and struggling financially, I jumped at the chance for a little extra money in my pocket. Besides, I thought this would give me the opportunity to be there alone to soak up some of the charm of the old girl. My first day on the job I was busy cleaning the upstairs theatre, when I heard someone coming up the stairs very slowly but determined. I knew I had locked the front door but wasn’t too alarmed and welcomed the prospect of chatting with a fellow Guildee. But as quickly as the footsteps began they abruptly stopped.

‘‘Hmmmmm, what’s going on here,’’ I thought. ‘‘ANYBODY THERE,’’ I called out. I was met with total silence. I crept over to the top of the stairs and looked down. No one was there. I went down the stairs and still found no one. I searched the dressing rooms, the kitchen, even the bathrooms… …NO ONE WAS THERE! Now, I have to tell you I was scared.

People had told me the place was haunted and that the basement was home to at least one spirit. I had heard the tale of the two old guys who had lived in the basement long ago, and that one or maybe both of them had died there. But I thought, even if these were true stories, I could handle it. I had always had an interest in the paranormal. Ghosts had been a part of my life since I had been fifteen or so. But through the years, try as I might, I couldn’t find anyone who would or could talk to me about it.

So, here I was again in the presence of an unseen entity. I finished my work really quickly that day and high-tailed it out of there. Well, that was my first spirit encounter at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, but it certainly would not be my last.

Year after year of feeling I was being watched by unseen eyes, hearing faint voices, muffled footsteps, and even feeling spiked energy and cold spots in various parts of the building, I still didn’t say anything to anyone. When I finally decided to tell someone else….you guessed it…..they laughed. I took this with good humor afterall, I knew it was affectionate laughter. But the feelings kept getting more and more intense.

It got so bad during a play I was directing (Rehearsal For Murder) that the cast made fun of me but made sure I was never left alone in the building. They even went so far as to give me a book about Hollywood hauntings for an opening night gift. The encounters continued. The most intense of which took place in 1996.

I was directing The World Goes ‘Round and spent lots of time there alone making costumes, building sets, painting and such. The energy was heavy and even felt menacing, at times. Then opening night arrived. The play went well, the after party was fun and soon everyone filtered out the door to go home. Jason and I stayed behind to gather up the last of our belongings and to check to see that all the lights were turned off, etc.

We were just about ready to leave when we decided to make a final check of the ladies dressing room. There we were met with such an intense negative energy field in the doorway that we actually felt threatened. We backed away quickly and literally ran out the front door, only stopping long enough to lock it behind us.

You’d think I would have left for good after that but I guess my love of theatre overshadowed my fear or good sense, for that matter.

[The historic, haunted Lemp Mansion Restaurant and Inn, where Betsy conducts weekly ghost hunting tours.]It has been years since I have been back to the Theatre Guild. I am now a professional “ghost hunter.” I lecture to others on ghost and spirits, appearing on National Geographic Television, The Travel Channel, The Discovery Channel and local radio and television and I conduct a weekly ghost hunting tour of the Historic, Haunted Lemp Mansion.

Me, Betsy the scaredy cat, is not afraid anymore! I think I have TGWG to thank for that. Every encounter I had there made me stronger and more confident. And now today my team and I investigate haunted places in an effort to help others to understand ‘‘What’s Going On.’’

I think about the The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves often and the old girl still ‘‘haunts’’ me. I long for the day I can investigate the hauntings or just step over the threshold again and say ‘‘Hello ghosts, I’m Home!’’

Betsy Burnett-Belanger
Director of St. Louis Spirit Search
Tour information: 314-776-4667

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