HOLMBERG: The haunting story of the spooky nursery inside the National Theater

Posted at 11:39 PM, Oct 31, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-01 07:43:50-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Halloween is a night of trick or treating, goblins and ghouls.

It’s also a night of fright, when ghostly and haunting tales are shared.

There are many told in metro Richmond, but a relatively new one has come to light about a spooky nursery, long hidden inside one of Richmond’s historic landmarks.

When the National opened on November 12, 1923, it was a smash hit, opulent, with the largest orchestra pit in Virginia.

Supposedly, the owner loved the cavernous facility, practically living there. Rubbing shoulders with the staff, he fell for a box office girl, according to lore handed down by theater workers.

When his wife found out about the affair, she wandered through the winding halls as if lost, down into the basement, to a remote musician’s closet, where she hanged herself.

National Theater general manager Clay Dabney says, according to the story handed down, the person who painted the nursery walls was a friend of the wife.

That may be why the kittens and clowns and children and bears are all hanging from slender ropes.

It’s a haunting series of murals, with doves and graceful storks soaring serenely in the middle skies, but with ravening hunting dogs on the borders, chasing and killing the birds and rabbits.

The theater changed hands and names. The upstairs became office space.

And for many years, the nursery was a secret room, it’s doorway hidden, covered over by plaster.

Twenty years ago, carpenters for the Historic Richmond Foundation discovered it.And beneath layers of wallpaper they found the nursery murals.

There is little evidence for this eerie tale. You won’t find it among the countless ghost stories for central Virginia stored in a file inside the Franklin Street City Library.

We did find a report of a janitor hanging himself in the building, and there’s also a legend of a vaudeville performer killing himself there in 1928.

A current janitor for the building said it can be a creepy place in the wee hours, but he’s yet to see or feel any ghosts.

Could this haunted nursery story be true?