BIDDEFORD CITY THEATER   BIDDEFORD, ME       HISTORY          Sometime in the late 1840s, the city of Biddeford purchased land at the corner of Adams and Main Streets for the purpose of building a government center. Beyond containing various civic offices, it was also to include an opera house. The first play performed there in 1860 depicted slavery and its consequences in the southern states - a most ironic choice in view of the civil war that would soon consume and divide the country. Biddeford was once a thriving New England mill town employing tens of thousands of people whose structural links to its industrial past have been turned into office space or professional buildings.                   When a fire consumed the building on December 30, 1894, plans were hastily made to rebuild but a hot- button issue was whether or not to incorporate the opera house in the reconstruction plans. Eventually the decision was made to indeed include the opera house in the rebuilding and the task of designing a sounder, superior structure than its predecessor fell to Maine architect John Calvin Stephens. On January 20th, 1896 the opera house reopened to grateful and supportive audiences.          Vaudeville was a staple of the any entertainment of the era and the opera house saw its share of legendary performers. The likes of Mae West, Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields and even Fred Astaire played the opera house. Lionel and Reginald Barrymore also graced the stage there at various times and the theater became the cultural core of the York County area featuring both national and local ensembles.          Like so many venues of this time however, the opera house fell victim to the latest fad to hit the country in 1928 - the talking film. Live theater as it was known began to breathe its last breaths across the country and in last-ditch efforts to at least keep the buildings functional, many became movie houses - the Biddeford Opera House was no exception.          Beginning from the 1930s right up to and including the mid-50s, the opera house underwent the dramatic and sometimes melancholy change from the roots of its past to a full-blown movie theater complete with cinemascope screen and projection booth. By 1955, it had been officially renamed City Theater.          The next stages in the evolution of the theater were equal part poignant and bizarre. The advent of television and the drive-in theater in the 1950s eventually trumped the movie house and the inevitable result was the closing of the building in 1963. For three years from 1971-1974 the city of Biddeford used it as a storage facility, yet strangely a petition by concerned residents to recognize the original city hall/opera house structure as a historical landmark was reviewed and accepted by the National Trust in 1973. Not many warehouses could claim such lofty and rarified nobility. The historical designation had such a positive effect on the rest of the population that by 1975 - for reasons unclear - a load of sand was dumped inside the facility.           Appalled by the fate of the landmark building, a citizen's group calling themselves the City Theater Associates began the arduous task of regenerating the facility and restoring it to its glorious past. Their efforts in time paid off as the theater reopened in 1978 with a performance by the renowned Norman Luboff Choir. Through community efforts and support, the necessary upgrades and renovations were handled and in time the City Theater again became a "go-to" place for public performances.                 The centennial anniversary was celebrated in 1996 and the city of Biddeford commemorated the occasion by donating new seating to the theater. Grants and donations were solicited from government and private sources and restoration began in earnest on everything from the exterior marquee to heating and air conditioning. New lighting, a modern sound system and a digital projection system were the fruits of these offerings.              The restoration still continues today with the focus being more on structural reformation. The theater, in large part due to the aforementioned upgrades now stays open year round and has introduced senior citizen and children's performance and workshop programs as part of its revival effort.              THE HAUNTING OF THE CITY THEATER            One cannot begin any conversation of the City Theater that involves ghosts or not without relating the story of Eva Gray. Eva was a solo soprano who was travelling with the Dot Karroll Repertoire Company from New York. Part of the audience on Halloween night - October 31, 1904 -  was her three-year-old daughter. Eva performed brilliantly and was called back on stage for a curtain call.          As her encore she chose "Goodbye Little Girl Goodbye" which she sang to her little girl. After finishing the song and going offstage to thunderous applause, Eva collapsed in her dressing room, the victim of a fatal heart attack. The heartrending combination of a mother leaving such a young child behind and the bizarre irony of the song she sang for her still strikes a chord in all who hear the story. Eva Gray was thirty-three years old.           During a summer camp for children that is held each year at the theater, lights have been known to swing as if for the children's entertainment. The same lights have been known to swing in this manner during many performances held there - a sign, some say - of Eva registering her approval.          The sounds of whispering and a woman singing have been reported within the theater. One young former staff member named Katie Arsenault - now a dance captain at Maine's Dance Company and an actress - remembers a time when she went upstairs with a friend to a third-floor dressing room when they both heard loud footsteps coming up the stairs behind them. Investigating, they saw nothing - but the footsteps followed them both as they descended the stairs soon after.          Katie also recalls a time when she and a group of friends decided to contact the ghost of Eva to tell her they knew who she was and to express their condolences for what had happened to her. Kate then told her it was alright for her to leave. It was then they all felt a rush of extreme cold on the stage where they stood and the faint sound of a woman crying behind them. While at first it seemed Eva's spirit moved on, there are reasons to believe she just might have changed her mind.      The presence or non-presence of Eva has become a source of controversy that stems from a photo of what some maintain to be her spirit captured inside the theater. The photo has been a source of some debate as alternate explanations for what was shot have flown fast and furious. The validity of the images will likely remain a source of continued discourse, pro and con. Here is the photo that was posted by EVPparanormal of Maine. The white figure of what some assume to be Eva is at the bottom of the stairway.      There was also some real doubt as to if Eva really existed and her story had any real veracity to it. Critics of the photos also questioned the validity of the legend itself. This cast even more doubt on the image’s legitimacy. But, an observant and invested viewer of the debate from the U.K. produced solid evidence that, indeed, the legend was based in truth. A newspaper article from the Semi-Weekly Reporter in Council Bluffs, Iowa dated November 18, 1904 was produced detailing the tragedy and it was…absolutely true.          Katie's mother, Deborah Lombard (l.) - also a former staff member and a professional choreographer - has experienced her share of unusual events there. One day in 1991, while making lunches for a group of 40 children who were in a vocal lesson upstairs, she felt a presence behind her and heard the singing of a soprano voice in her right ear. When she turned, there was no one there with her.          A brilliant orb has also been seen moving across the second floor balcony and two high school students researching a class project witnessed the form of a woman with her hair in a bun and in period dress standing by the rest room while they were there. Many say when Eva is present a cold chill seems to wash over them. Aluminum ladders have been known to shake with no one standing on them or touching them in any way.          Actor/Technician Bill Cook once saw a column of light race across the seats in the balcony area and onto a nearby wall. At first thinking it was headlights from a passing vehicle he quickly realized the balcony had no windows and it was four stories up. Another time, Cook was working above the stage area when he swore he heard either his director or his wife call his name. The chilling moment for him came when he realized he was alone in the theater.          Another ghost who may be having its way in the City Theater is one they call "Mr. Murphy". Legend has it that Mr. Murphy ran the movie theater during the 1930s and 40s. He was a man who truly loved what he did, but his pride and joy was the theater's electronic equipment. He demanded all those handling it treat it with kid gloves and respect, even going so far as to not allow any women to so much as touch it.        Mr. Murphy's love for electronic gadgets seems to extend even to today. Light switches and other electronic equipment seem to act a bit randomly, switching themselves on and off by themselves at times. True to form though, Mr. Murphy seems to up the ante a bit when females are behind the stage's lighting console.        A final, but extremely creepy manifestation in the City Theater centers around a pair of eyeballs(!) that seem to appear on the theater ceiling.