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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Lasting Spirit(s) of Theatre

On the last day of an often vexing year, we decided to end it on a high note by all piling into one car (not so bad on a cold and rainy day) and taking in a late afternoon show at The Gaslight Theatre. The musical comedy was loosely based on a Christmas favorite and fittingly titled “Elf’d.” I think we all laughed more than we had all year and won’t soon forget all the pizza, popcorn and Rootbeer floats!

It’s impossible to overstate the rustic ambiance of the wooden walls, floors, and stage.  Lining the knotty walls are images in black and white and glossy color of past and present Gaslight stars that lend a sense of graciousness surpassed only by the warm handshake you receive from each actor on your way out the door. 

Naturally (or not), on the ride home I thought about all the shows; the actors, and the patrons who keep the live stage theater alive and kickin’. And of course, I thought about those who’ve passed on.

Thinking about theater ghosts took me way out of my desert digs to a place on the south coast of the Isle of Wight; in the English Channel, where more than a few ghosts tenaciously linger at the Ventnor Operating Theatre. 

“The prettiest place I ever saw in my life” ~ Charles Dickens

The Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest at Ventnor saw upwards of 100,000 patients in under a century. Most suffered from consumption – or Tuberculosis; a disease for which a cure had not yet been found, leading to much speculation and an alarming amount of experimental surgeries being performed in the Ventnor Operating Theatre. 

By the time the last patient left in the summer of ’64, plans were already forming for repurposing the grounds in anticipation of brighter days, without the pall of death and sickness.

The first phase went as planned and the Ventnor Botanic Gardens soon flourished across the half-mile stretch of land where terminal patients were once housed.  Problems began with the demolition of the hospital itself.  To all who witnessed, it seemed the hospital was not willing to go.

There were equipment malfunctions, and utter failures - tractors, excavators, and a Ball Crane were all wrecked in the process - unexplained accidents, and grizzly sightings of moaning ghostly figures that led even the toughest worker to flee from an honest day’s pay. 

"Ventnor is a sun-box - north winds would have to confess that they have not even a visiting acquaintance with her." - Ward Lock Guide (1931)

When at last only the Operating Theatre remained, and all other efforts had been vehemently resisted, it was decided that the remaining demolition would be done by hand, there were few takers. Those who dared attempt to complete the work, left with their sledgehammers long before dark each day, having endured being scrutinized by disapproving spirits since sunrise. At least a couple of the workmen who saw the demolition to the end recall the strong smell of ether as they stood in the icy rubble of a stoic Theatre on a balmy summer day.

Once it was clear that not so much as a weed would grow where the hospital once stood, it was paved for a parking lot; a place where lights often flicker at night and dogs won’t approach by day. 

Have you been to the Isle of Wight? Would you visit Ventnor Botanic Gardens?


  1. Hi, diedre (I remembered :)

    I love ornate wooden interiors and entertainment memorabilia. The Gaslight Theatre in Tuscon must be a magnificent venue. I'm happy to learn that you and your family had a great time seeing a New Year's Eve show there.

    I've never been across the pond to the Isle of Wight but every time it is mentioned I am reminded of the verse of the popular Beatles song "When I'm 64."

    Every summer we can rent a cottage on the
    Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear
    We shall scrimp and save
    Grandchildren on your knee
    Vera, Chuck, and Dave

    Surely the Ventnor Botanic Gardens is one of the most beautiful destinations in England, and what remains of the Royal National Hospital one of the spookiest. Knowing its gruesome history as a site of disease and death, it would give me a creepy feeling to be charged with dismantling the Operating Theatre, especially if I detected the scent of ether.

    Thank you very much for telling us about your dinner theatre experience and the ghost plagued ruins of that hospital on the English Channel. Enjoy the rest of your week, dear friend diedre!

    1. Hi Shady!
      Wow, I'd forgotten the Beatles tune - good call!
      Discovering Ventnor Botanic Gardens was a double treat, since I was (as usual) also chasing ghosts ;-)
      I think after one strange mishap I might have taken my sledgehammer and gone home - ha!
      Thanks for coming by, dear friend. Have a fantastic week!

  2. Hello, dIEDRE !

    >>... Have you been to the Isle of Wight?

    Nope. I haven't even been to the Island of Wong. Wight and Wong -- someday I hope to visit them both.

    The only place outside of the U.S. where I've been is Mexico.

    >>... Would you visit Ventnor Botanic Gardens?

    Sure I would. If you read the blog bit I linked to on one of your older posts then you know that I worked for 15 years (and often alone at night) in what I consider must be one of the most "haunted" buildings in America. So the VBG wouldn't bother me in the least.

    I am a devoted Christian and feel very much protected by God and Christ.

    Have a great week!

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Check out my new blog @
    (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

    1. Howdy Reno!
      The Isle of Wong?
      I've enjoyed a quaint seaside village and some cool Mayan ruins in Mexico,climbing up a waterfall in Jamaica, and gobbling the world's most expensive hot dog in Grand Cayman. I still love Arizona best!
      Ireland and (now)the Isle of Wight are places I'd like to see if I ever travel that far again.
      Yes I did read the link about your haunted workplace - fascinating!
      May all good forces be with you - Oh, I enjoyed your new review blog - have a terrific week!

    2. How much was the world's most expensive hot dog? What was on it, and was it worth it?

      You may have already seen this, but if not, I think you would absolutely LOVE this DVD. Maybe even as much as I do:

      ~ Stephen

    3. It was an ordinary nothing-to-see-here hotdog for which only two condiments, ketchup and mustard, were available. Definitely not worth $11.00, considering you can get three LOADED Sonoran dogs for that amount here - and a soda is included.
      Oh! Now I'm intrigued and will come by to check out the DVD by day's end - I'm working on this soggy Sunday.

  3. Never been to that Isle and probably never will, but if I did, I'd like to visit the gardens. I enjoy places like that. The very concept of an operating theater has spooky connotations reminiscent of a horror film. Give me a theatrical theater over that I guess, but a visit to a spooky old operating theater does sound interesting.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Hi Lee!

      I'm sure I'd enjoy a place as beautiful as these gardens are described too. I probably would avoid the parking lot, though ;-)

      True, Operating Theatre does bring to mind "Frankenstein's Monster"!

  4. Sounds like your difficult year had a lovely end, at least. Historic theatres must be rife with ghostly vibes. Wish I had been to the Isle of Wight! They have a fabulous music festival there, every year. ☺ The Botanical Gardens must be worth seeing, as well. The closest I came was London, which is ~90 miles northeast. I can imagine how creepy demolishing that hospital must have been for the workers. Fascinating bit about nothing growing on the spot of the operating room. You find the most interesting tales to tell!

    1. Hi Debbie!
      I imagine any ghosts of the Gaslight would be fairly jovial:-)
      A music festival in the gardens would have some outstanding acoustics (nearby cliffs)to go along with the surrounding beauty and certainly would be fabulous!
      Creepy is right! And construction workers aren't easily spooked, so there must have been some rather convincing events that ran most of them off. Perhaps the parking lot was a way to cover up the stark contrast to the nearby gardens.
      I'm glad you enjoyed - have a peaceful weekend!

  5. Hi Diedre - your theatre visit sounds like a great success and definitely a together thing. The Botanical Gardens in Ventnor ... I definitely didn't know about ... and I've been to the IofW once I think ... what an interesting history the hospital has ... not sure what I really think ...

    But Arthur Hill Hassall who founded the hospital was highly respected and knowledgeable ... from what I can see ... interesting! Cheers Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary!

      Oh yes, we all thoroughly enjoyed the Gaslight Theatre. We'd probably go more often if it was closer.

      In addition to the beauty of the grounds, what struck me was the attention to every detail of the lovely 'cottages' where more than a few patients spent years recovering. I haven't read a single report depicting anything other than marvelous.

      Not to malign desert TB Sanatoriums, but I imagine a subtropical atmosphere to be a bit more preferable.

      Mr. Arthur Hill Hassall did indeed have a tremendous effect on the medical world - did you know it was his own illness that inspired the founding of the Royal National Hospital? Perhaps his attention to every detail was because he knew how the sufferers felt. Such a remarkable man.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Hilary!

  6. I have not been to the Isle of Wright and probably would not visit the garden. Although very pretty, just reading this makes it clear that it's a place I would never even drive by. Not even the parking lot!

    1. Hi Quanie!
      You wouldn't go? Aw, after that barbeque at the New Mrs. Collins' house I'm surprised anything fazes you - ha!
      I think I'd steer clear of the parking lot, but I'd love to see the gardens.
      Have a pleasant weekend!

  7. I have visited the IofW just once and the highlight of the visit was to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's retreat at Osborne House. If I go again (would love to) will definitely visit the botanical gardens.

    1. Hello, Purrfect!
      A visit to the Osborne house sounds fabulous! I can just imagine the stately decor and majestic atmosphere. Lucky you!
      See you at Carlton's place;-)

  8. I've always been fascinated by theatre ghost stories. I wouldn't pass up the chance to see the gardens, if I could.

    1. Hi Chrys!

      Funny, I was expecting to hit on a place like Tombstone when I ran across the Operating Theater at Ventnor. Fascinating just the same!
      A visit to the Gardens would be wonderful!
      Hope your day tomorrow is fabulous ;-)

  9. The hospital sounds like rich story material! I've been to the Isle of Wight as a kid, but I don't remember Ventnor at all. I would go back.

    1. Hi Nick!

      I agree about story material. some of the first hand accounts were quite poignant and more remarkable than (I think) fiction could ever convey.
      Good to see you, Nick!


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