Actor Tim Dolan was on a bus and truck tour of Gentleman Prefer Blondes, hitting 75 theatres in five months, when he first delved into the history of the theatres he played each night. “I would say to the stagehands, ‘Who else has performed on these pieces of wood I’m about to dance on that I care about? And do you have any ghost stories [about this place]?’”
And as the post-show ghostlight got dragged out each night—whether in hockey arenas or vaudeville theatres—Dolan was always fascinated by the theatre’s pervasive lore around ghosts. “We have these superstitions and all over America we do them,” he marvels.
“I got back to New York City and I was like, ‘I have all these stories from theatres no one’s ever heard of on this random tour, but we have 41 theatres—at the time we had 40—in our backyard so there must be crazy stories [here],’” he continues.
Dolan began his extensive research into the legends of haunted Broadway, but got a little side-tracked in his research, learning the history of Broadway’s architecture, theatre owners, and more. “You focus on the shows or the people but you rarely focus on the buildings as their own separate personalities and entities,” he says. “When you really start to break down all the things that happened and why they’re built and where they’re built and who built them and where we get all these nicknames from, all the dots connect and it all makes sense.”
So in 2010, Dolan launched Broadway Up Close Walking Tours to cover the basic origins—and lesser known factoids—of the theatre district’s illustrious history.
Now, nearly eight years after founding Broadway Up Close, Dolan has added The Ghostlight Tour: Haunted Broadway to satisfy the impulse that initially led to his company’s founding.
Beginning at 1430 Broadway, the site of the former Empire Theatre, The Ghostlight Tour explores the roots of some of Broadway’s long-running superstitions and shares the stories of spirits, apparitions, and ghost sightings in Broadway houses. (And Dolan giave Playbill a taste of the Ghostlight Tour in the video above with a sneak peek of highlights from Times Square’s spookier locales.) While the tour comes just in time for Halloween, Broadway Up Close will offer the Ghostlight Tour year-round.
To date, Broadway Up Close has served nearly 20,000 people on their five tours, delivering 350-400 tours a year from 14 tour guides. The history of the theatre district is divided into three tours: Act 1 covers 41st to 44th Streets, Act 2 moves from 44th to 47th Streets, and Act 3 delves into 47th Street and beyond. Plus, Dolan created Hamiltour, a downtown walking adventure for Hamilfans to learn the history of Alexander Hamilton and the making of the Tony-winning Broadway smash while walking the streets the Founding Father called home.
Like the theatre itself, Dolan and his fellow tour guides—all actors, performers, and stage managers—want to bring history and drama to life, as Dolan says, “one little story on a sidewalk at a time.”
For more information and booking inquiries for The Ghostlight Tour or another outing, visit BroadwayUpClose.com. If you won’t be visiting New York City soon, pick up a souvenir program from Act 1, Hamiltour or The Ghostlight Tour, also available on the website.