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The Princess Theatre was packed, and the audience fidgeted in anticipation as a young woman, a volunteer from the second row, stepped up to the platform and gracefully stretched out on the table. The handsome entertainer was a German magician named Jerome Schmitar, a popular performer on the regional theatre circuit, in Hot Springs for the first time that hot August night.
Ladies fanned their necks, and gentlemen took swigs from their flasks as the final illusion was staged. The young lady from the audience, Clara Sutherland, smiled sweetly as the sheet of blood-red silk floated over her body, hiding her from view. After a charming monologue and a practiced sweep of his arms, Schmitar pulled the silk away from the table with a flourish, and the audience gasped to see Clara had disappeared. The magician smiled slyly, and confidently repositioned the silk.
With a choreographed speech well-practiced in the dressing room mirror, the magician commanded Clara to return, and again pulled the silk away… but Clara did not reappear. Again, the command was given. And again. But Clara Sutherland never reappeared. She was gone.
Or was she? In the decades after Clara disappeared, the theatre hosted vaudeville shows, silent films, modern movies, and specialty productions like the magic show where she disappeared, and guests and employees have logged numerous reports of paranormal activity. Objects are found to have moved from place to place without human help, screams have been heard when no one was around to utter them, and a glowing figure of a woman has been seen drifting through the basement.
The original Princess Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1935, but rebuilt as a Malco Theater that was the main movie venue for Hot Springs into the 1990s. The Art Deco-style building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and was the home of the annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival until the building’s sale in 2013 to a private investor.
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