Today the ghost of Bobby Darnall is said to haunt the KiMo theater. It is believed that Bobby is prone to playing tricks and pranks on the crew if they do not appease him by bribing him with doughnuts or other trinkets, leaving them out before performances so that he won’t interfere with the show. The dozens of ghost stories at the KiMo theater provides a proliferate amount of information that makes it challenging to sort out. The easiest way to make sense of it is to take a sampling of the stories that have been presented in ascending chronological order.
The tradition of hanging doughnuts on the back wall of the stage is started in September of 1985, two years before the play the “Christmas Carol.”
12/02/1987: The opening night of a “Christmas Carol” by the New Mexico Repertory Theatre occurs. This is the apparent beginning of the ghost story. However, in a slightly strange twist of fate, one of the crew members from the play, Wendy Jay, had now joined the Southwest Ghost Hunter’s Association. This is her recollection of the events from that night.
“I was working with the Andrew Shay, the New Mexico Rep at the time. There was no reference to the ghost being Bobby Darnall. The crew simply referred to him as “the hungry little ghost.”
During the production of A Christmas Carol, the Rep took down the stale doughnuts, which didn’t please the little ghost one bit. The technical rehearsal before the first performance was a disaster, as everything went wrong! When new treats were hung on the wall the following day, everything went smoothly for the production. This has happened many times since. As long as doughnuts are hung on the water pipe, everything works fine, goes smoothly as this child ghost is happy. If the doughnuts are taken down and not replaced, disaster happens with the technical effects”.
Wendy’s comment on the identity of the ghost is important because within the next seven months the ghost will be associated directly with Bobby. However, before this, the ghost is known merely as the hungry little ghost. It also shows that the catalyst that starts the belief that the theater is haunted by a little boy is already in place before the play even starts.
07/10/1988: The first printed article about the ghost of the KiMo Theater appears in the Albuquerque Journal. Written by Carole Mazur, it appears in the theater section of the paper. Written only 7 months after the performance of “A Christmas Carol” the article contains several critical clues about the ghost story and is provided below.
“Thirteen donuts hang from pipes on the back wall of the KiMo Theatre this month, the past year’s peace offerings to a child-like ghost with a sweet tooth and a talent for computer hacking.
Things go wrong in mysterious ways whenever anyone removes the little round talismans, insists Tony Marsh, the KiMo’s technical director. Along the dark-red brick wall at the rear of the stage the 13 donuts, one of them chocolate, dangle on ribbons or strings at irregular intervals. Two tortillas, one corn, and one flour add Southwestern flavor to the collection.
The hanging of the donuts started three seasons ago, Marsh recalls.
In the fall of 1985, the crew foreman of Opera Southwest brought a box of doughnuts and coffee for his technical crew each morning. When they left at night, there would always be one or two doughnuts left in the box. But the following morning the doughnuts would be gone.
“Now I would be the first one here and the last one to leave, and I didn’t take them,” says the slender Marsh. “But the doughnuts would be gone. So as a lark, crew members started tying doughnuts against the back wall. Eventually, there were six or seven doughnuts up there, and nobody really thought anything about it.”
The next chapter came in December 1986, when the New Mexico Repertory Theatre moved in to set up “A Christmas Carol.” Since the Victorian set design called for a bareback wall, the Rep’s crew removed the crumby decorations.
“The night of the Tech rehearsal before the first performance everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Marsh remembers. “Light cues didn’t work. Sound cues didn’t work. Actors were walking into each other. It was a total disaster.”
The Rep stage manager placed some doughnuts backstage the next morning and the preview night went like clockwork.
“It became a ritual with the Rep that whenever they moved in they would hang a doughnut on the wall,” Marsh says, “and everything was great. But then the opera quit bringing doughnuts, and the same thing happened to them.”
These days Marsh can’t remember the production’s name, but the chaotic rehearsal remains vivid.
“It’s always the same thing,” he says, “nothing goes right technically.”
The many computerized light and sound cues the crew spent many hours running and re-running without a hitch would suddenly malfunction for no discernible reason. Then the next day the computer program would run perfectly again without any readjustments.
“Now, whenever something goes wrong,” Marsh adds, “somebody says, “It’s time for a doughnut.” If nothing else, it gives people time to calm down. Minor mishaps occasionally occur even with the doughnuts on duty,” he says. “But it’s mainly human error, things that you can explain away.”
Some people believe the calamities are the work of the ghost of a child killed in the theater, Marsh says.
On Aug. 2, 1951, 6-year old Bobby Darnall was killed when a hot water heater exploded in the lobby. Bobby and two friends, Lou Ellen and Ronald Ross, were in the balcony for a matinee of Abbott and Costello’s “Comin’ Round the Mountain” when Bobby startled, apparently at a noise in the movie, and started running down the stairway to the lobby. He headed straight into the blast.
Ronald Ross, now an Albuquerque attorney, said in a telephone interview that no one ever figured out exactly why Bobby left his seat. (Attempts to contact the Darnall family were unsuccessful.)
Marsh says that he has occasionally heard a door closing or the sound of whispering when he has been alone in the theater.
“I haven’t actually seen a materialization,” he says while gazing towards the balcony, “but I have heard things that were kind of strange. And this is a pretty spooky building when you’re all by yourself at 2 in the morning.”
“Theater people are a superstitious bunch, says Marsh, so nearly all the Albuquerque performing groups who use the KiMo now contribute at least one doughnut per production to the back wall’s decor. If an old doughnut happens to crumble and fall, the group will immediately replace it, even if it means working shorthanded while someone races to the nearest doughnut shop right before a performance.”
Out-of-town groups playing one night stands usually come unprepared for the KiMo tradition. But once they find out about it, they don’t want the doughnuts taken down, Marsh says.
“Sometimes there are doughnuts all over the place, ” Marsh says, estimating that he throws away about 50 during the season. “They’re in the dressing rooms, the prop shop, the boiler room. But I try to draw the line because on the stage wall is where they belong.”
At the end of July, Marsh removes all the doughnuts to make room for new ones in the upcoming season.
“That’s the way we officially signify the end of the year,” he says. “We’re closed in August to do repairs. We’ve never done a show right after I’ve taken the doughnuts down. I’d be curious to see what happens.”
But then Marsh adds, with a nervous laugh, “If a major show suddenly got booked, I would probably go out and get some doughnuts myself, because I know it works and I’d just as soon not mess with it.” (Mazur, 1988)
This article reveals that some myth-building has taken place. The events happen during a tech rehearsal, not during the opening night as the legend suggests. For the next 6 years, there is not much written on the ghost and the theater. During this time the ghost story is “brewing.” The effects on the story become apparent in 1994 when the ghost story of the KiMo Theater first appears in the book “Adobe Angels” by Antonio Garcez. The book gives more evidence of myth building on page 21 as facts are now becoming confused.
The accident that killed Bobby did not occur backstage but in the theater’s lobby. The book also listed firsthand accounts of the ghosts that are rumored to be in the theater. The apparitions were seen by a theater employee named Jewel Sanchez. According to the written account, she was making her way up the stairs around 5 p.m. when she gazed across the lobby and saw a little boy running up the stairs on the opposite side of the room. He was wearing a striped shirt and blue jeans and appeared to be playing a game. When he reached the top of the stairs, he vanished.
There are two issues with this sighting. The first is that if the boy stopped at the top of the stairs, he would be concealed behind the support pillar located there. Jewel did not go over to see if anyone was behind the post, she merely assumed that it was the ghost.
Secondly, this could not be the “ghost” of Bobby as she was confident that the figure she saw was wearing blue jeans, a clothing item that was in fashion for boys in 1951. After James Dean popularized them in the movie Rebel Without a Cause in 1955, wearing jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion during the rest of the 1950s. Because of this, they were sometimes banned in theaters, restaurants, and schools. Blue jeans were not in fashion for boys in 1951.
“In 1951, sports coats and slacks came first in the teenage boy’s wardrobe, as well as fun patterned sweaters and flannel shirts. For younger boys, plaids, corduroy, and frontier knits in various styles.” (Pearson)
What is remarkable is that the myth building occurred very rapidly, taking only six years to make radical changes in the myth. In addition to Bobby, there is another ghost mentioned, the apparition of the woman in a gingham pattern dress.
One of the major “red flags” that indicate that myth building has occurred is the sudden addition of more ghosts. The question is, how extreme has the myth-building been?
The apparition of an unidentified woman in “pioneer” garb was also described by Jewel Sanchez in the book. In her account, she says that she only saw the “ghost” once and that it had not ever been seen by any of her co-workers. However, when I first investigated the theater in 2005, no one working at the theater knew anything about this ghost. There are not any additional sightings to collaborate her account, so the focus was shifted to search for further explanations. This apparition was seen by Jewel in the hallway that leads to the women’s restroom. The only available light was coming from the exit sign at the end of the hall. She said she saw a woman about 25 feet away from her at the end of the hall. The ghost was described as being female, wearing gingham pattern dress and a bonnet. Jewel could not make out any facial features. There are two essential details listed in the account:
“My eyes could not focus clearly.” (due to the dim light in the hallway)
“She seemed shadow-like with an aura of grey.”
These are especially important when you know that Jewel wears prescription eyeglasses. The highly polished surfaces of spectacle lenses reflect light off the front and back surfaces of the lens. The new thinner and lighter weight lens materials reflect more of the available light than the old style glass and plastic lenses. The wearer will see the reflections from the back and front surfaces of the lenses. These vague duplicated images (ghost reflections) create a distraction and cause the eyes to make additional adjustments between the ghost and real images. The ghost image was caused by the light from the exit sign reflecting on the inside of her eyeglasses. The “aura” of the figure is the tell-tale sign of the alternative explanation.
I replicated the effect using a pair of similar eyeglasses and found that the result was especially pronounced as one enters the hallway. If the subject moves forward, the reflection vanishes due to the change of the angle the light is coming from. I’m still looking into this one, but so far there seems to be some alternative explanations for the ghost sightings at the theater. I’ll post more when I have something new.