The Opera House of New Zebedee, Michigan, is a now-abandoned theater located downtown above shops and storefronts along Main Street (The House with a Clock in its Walls, 23; The Doom of the Haunted Opera, 14; 61). The theater took up half a city block above the five-and-dime and Farmers’ Feed and Seed Company and has seen little use since it closed in 1919.
With its main entrance on Eagle Street, patrons climbed to the second story and entered a vestibule with counter and ticket booth; doorways led into the theater proper. The floor of the theater could sit nearly 500 in plush, red velvet seats divided into three different-sized sections. Seats slopped forward and culminated at the orchestra pit. Above was a horseshoe-shaped balcony that could seat approximately another 100. Curtained arches opened on either side of the stage, with knee-high railings. The walls were a faded pink, with intricate designs in yellow and red framing the stage. In an oval to the left was the laughing mask of comedy, and to the right of the stage the grieving mask of tragedy, both done in faded gold (Doom, 18-9).
Plans for a theater were brought forth by the New Zebedee Eleemosynary and Cultural League in 1900 when it was decided the storage area above the farm supply shop was too cumbersome to be used as intended. As the city needed an auditorium, the league took out a 99-year lease and had local architect Albert Galway design and build the theater. It opened in 1902 with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance (Doom, 29-30).
During its hey-day the theater had a handful of noted performers visit, including opera singer Enrico Caruso and stage magician Harry Houdini. Immanuel Vanderhelm, who had sang in operas around the world, retired to New Zebedee and in the spring of 1919 wrote an opera to be produced by area talent. His production, entitled "The Day of Doom", started off innocently enough but was soon plagued with injuries and disappearances, including theatre manager Mordecai Finster and then Vanderhelm himself.
It closed later that year, never a major success or audience draw.
The Doom of the Haunted Opera
In the mid-1950s it was reopened at the encouragement of Henry Vanderhelm to give the citizens of town a chance to perform his grandfather’s lost opera score. Things quickly start to go awry under Henry’s direction and Lewis, attempting to figure out the younger Vanderhelm’s plan, discovers that Immanuel was actually a wizard. In the archives of the Capharnaum County Magician’s Society, Lewis reads that the society’s president, Lucius Mickleberry, was tipped off to Vanderhelm’s intentions by Finster. A wizard’s dual between Mickleberry and Vanderhelm resulted in the presumed death of Vanderhelm. While many citizens had their own theories as to why the theatre closed, the society pressured to have the theatre closed. Immanuel was thought to have perished in 1919 but following Mickleberry’s death in the mid-1950s, something inside the old opera house stirs and awakens.
The Eagle Opera House in Marshall, itself constructed in 1870, served as inspiration.