RIVERFRONT THEATRE

BY LIZ REED
CO-FOUNDER OF PSOBFL
AUTHOR OF HAUNTED MANATEE COUNTY
OWNER OF DOWNTOWN BRADENTON GHOST WALK

In 1947 a group of aspiring actors organized a community theatre group known as the Manatee Players.


In 1953, Dr. Sugg and Edward and Lillian Bishop graciously provide start-up funding for the first community theatre in Bradenton, Riverfront Theatre, on an undeveloped
piece of land on the Manatee River. It was leased from the city for 50 years for one dollar per year. The total cost of the building was $60,000.


It opened in December 1953, with the first performance being “I Remember Mama”. Over the next 60 years, the Manatee Players group would produce some of the best
live theatre in Southwest Florida at the Riverfront Theatre. Hundreds of signatures from dozens of actors who had performed on the stage over the decades graced the walls backstage. Families performed together, and some were engaged and married on stage.


To get to the control booth of the theatre, you had to climb up a straight ladder and through a square hole. Staff jokingly called it the “birthing canal”.


From the day it opened, everyone thought it was haunted. They would hear a little girl crying in the lady’s costume room and see a couple dressed in colonial clothing
dancing on the stage.


We were able to go in right before it was torn down and do an investigation. We found the building in terrible condition. The stairs would sway side to side when you
walked up them. It was a scary feeling.


Upstairs not only did we find the little girl (her name was Lily, and she was 3 years old) by communicating with her and catching a child’s voice on the recorder, but we also saw the ghost cat as it ran in front of us that people had been seeing right before it closed.

The stage was the most interesting part for me. I went and sat down on the stage and was doing an EVP session (asking spirits question with a digital recorder to see if we could catch their voices answering). As I was sitting on the stage, I turned my head to the left and saw from the knees down men’s dress pants and shoes. I started to tell my husband, Ron, to ask him if he could see this on camera. He didn’t see the men’s pants and shoes; he saw the whole man walk across the stage and stand next to me the whole time. I guess from my angle I couldn’t see the whole figure.

After the building was torn down, you could stand there and see streaks of light running across the lot. We discovered this to be Lily. I placed a teddy bear on the property for her to play with and it remained there until the landscape was torn up.

We also discovered that there were five more spirits on the property, and one
was a Native American who liked to peek out from behind a tree on the property.


Since the building has been torn down and the Springhill Marriott was built, the activity outside isn’t as busy as it was, but Lily is hanging out on the outside patio by the library. I wonder if the spirits are inside the hotel itself. I may have to plan an overnight stay to check it out!


If you ever stay at the Springhill Marriott and see one of the spirits, call me. I’ll bring the equipment and we’ll do some investigating together!

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