Legendary ghost haunts Purple Masque Theatre

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Footsteps echoed, pacing back and forth above the actors’ heads. As they stared fearfully at the ceiling, a girl asked, “Is somebody up there? I thought no one was allowed.”

Another girl responded, “Oh, that’s just Nick. Don’t mind him.”

The footsteps continued for half an hour, then faded away. When the actors went upstairs to make sure no one was there, they discovered the footsteps had originated from a locked room.

Originally a dormitory for football athletes, the Purple Masque Theatre, located in East Stadium, was converted in the 1960s and has been haunted just as long. A Collegian article from August 1987 reports that “Nick the Poltergeist,” as he is called, was first noticed in 1964. Local myths claim he was a football player in the 1950s who was injured during practice and carried into the cafeteria, where the Purple Masque is now, and eventually died there. It is said that he now waits for his parents, who died in a car crash on their way to see him play. This story, however, is not true.

While a record of a football player named Nick does exist, he didn’t die on campus. However, the Kedzie Krier reported on July 27, 2001, that two people did die in the 1950s.

On Aug. 27, 1951, a football player named Robert Mayer died of polio before the first football practice of the season, and on Oct. 14, 1953, John M. Holden died after a mid-air collision with another player during an intramural football game. However, this didn’t take place at East Stadium.

Many think this discredits the “Nick” theory. However, in a Collegian article from Nov. 1, 2007, Loyd Auerbach, director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations, was quoted saying, “Ghosts do not haunt where they died. They go back to a place they like — they go home, a place they love.”

A Collegian article from 1985 noted that, when contacted by Ouija board, Nick said he was 19 years old—the same age as Holden when he died.

Dwight Tolar, assistant professor in acting, said he has had experiences with Nick since he was a student.

“I believe that Nick did exist,” Tolar said. “I don’t know if he exists now.”

When he was a senior, students held a seance in the Purple Masque. A Collegian reporter went along; however, Tolar said that the full details were never printed. The reporter had taken a tape recorder with her into the Masque. The tape was functioning well both before and after she entered the theater, but not for the period of time she was within the Masque.

“It was all jumbled tape, just for the space she was in the Masque, all jumbled tape,” Tolar said.

The students locked all the doors in the theater and began the seance by asking Nick to appear. Pipes started banging, and they heard footsteps coming from the rooms above the theater and around the ramps backstage. Then, just as suddenly as the noises began, they stopped.

Tolar decided to spend the night there with a few of his fellow students. When they were awakened in the middle of the night by the same noises as before, he sprinted up the stairs to catch the culprit. He saw a shadowy figure at the top of the stairs and yelled, “GOTCHA!”

“I swear I saw someone duck behind one of the pillars there, and all the doors were padlocked then. I saw a shadowy figure — looked like someone — dart into a room,” Tolar said. 

No one was there. He went back downstairs. Everyone had heard what happened. They told him that when he yelled, the noises stopped. Needless to say, they chose to spend the rest of the night elsewhere.

Paranormal investigators have gone into the Purple Masque in search of activity. According to an Oct. 31, 2005, Collegian article, one said he felt the spirit of an aggressive farmer named Nigel from before the East Stadium was built. Another Collegian article from 1985 told of a woman who said she felt a presence inside the theatre. When she walked into the box room, she ran screaming from the building. She then warned all theatre faculty never to enter the Purple Masque alone, claiming that something evil was in there.

Diana Watts, senior in theatre performance, has had her fair share of experiences with Nick.

“My first year with K-State, I could hear footsteps coming down the stone staircase from the upstairs hallway. I could see to the top of the landing, but there wasn’t anyone up there,” Watts said. She called and no one answered. “The footsteps stopped for a few seconds, and then came towards me, so I ran.”

Another instance occurred when she was doing a lunchtime show. While answering questions from the audience, with all the cast and crew members, the heavy curtain that used to be in the main entrance to the stage started sliding back and forth by itself.

“It was really heavy, maybe 30 pounds, and we all watched it move,” she said.

Watts said she believes Nick is a friendly ghost.

“He’s a prankster; he wouldn’t hurt anybody,” she said.

Matthew Harrison, sophomore in mass communications, said he is hesitant to believe in Nick.

“There is a possibility. I just don’t 100 percent believe in it,” Harrison said. “For all we know, it could be Nick the demon, or Nick the invisible cheese.”

Charlotte MacFarland, associate professor in theatre, has been with K-State for 31 years. While nothing has happened to her in a long time, she has had experiences with Nick in the past.

“I’ve had enough weird experiences, and enough non-weird students have been to my house in tears that I think there was something going on,” MacFarland said.

MacFarland didn’t believe in ghosts until shortly after she began working here in the early 1980s, when Nick convinced her. She was doing a show at a time when the Masque had no back doors. The doors leading inside were locked for privacy. Suddenly, in the middle stage entrance, the silhouette of a man appeared.

“I didn’t think ‘ghost.’ I just was mad. There wasn’t supposed to be anybody in there,” she said.

She asked what he was doing there and the actresses turned and saw it. They screamed and flew to opposite corners of the stage. When the silhouette moved away, MacFarland ran to the back of the stage to intercept it, but no one was there. Both doors were still locked.

The next morning MacFarland was telling her class what had happened. When she called out, “But you know what, Nick? I still don’t believe in you and you don’t scare me,” the light above her head burst.

“It changed my whole perception of spirituality. After that, I couldn’t go into the Masque until at least two other people showed up.” MacFarland said. “Do I think he’s, like, demonic or harmful? No. He doesn’t hurt people, but he’ll mess with people.”

As for what will happen to Nick when the Purple Masque is moved, no one is certain what to expect.

“I don’t know,” MacFarland said. “People who are into these things think he’s a spirit who’s stuck. Once they move it, he’s not going to stay there.”

Tolar had a different view.

“My guess is that he’ll just stay with whatever new facility is built there,” he said. ”I don’t see him jumping over to West Stadium.”

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