If you've ever attended a show in Chicago's downtown, you might have unknowingly stepped into one of the world's most haunted places. The James M. Nederlander Theatre, formerly known as the Oriental Theatre, has a chilling history that dates back to its original opening in 1903 as the Iroquois Theater.
In that fateful year, a devastating fire broke out during a performance of the comedy-musical "Mr. Bluebeard." A spark from a stage light ignited nearby drapery, leading to a fire that claimed nearly 600 lives. Despite attempts to contain the blaze, it spread rapidly, causing panic and chaos. Audience members scrambled for exits, many of which were obscured by curtains, leading to a tragic loss of life. The theater next door was transformed into a makeshift morgue and hospital, and the event became known as "The Great Chicago Fire Disaster."
The theater underwent renovations and was renamed the Oriental Theatre in 1926. In 2018, it was rebranded once more as the James M. Nederlander Theatre. Yet, the spirits of those who perished in the fire are said to linger. Apparitions have been reported in "Death Alley," the street behind the theater where bodies were stacked following the disaster.
This haunting legacy has earned the theater a spot on Condé Nast Traveler's list of the "43 Most Haunted Places in the World." The list, curated by editors, includes various locations such as remote forests, churches, hotels, and castles. The James M. Nederlander Theatre is one of 12 U.S. spots featured, standing as a chilling reminder of a tragic past even as it continues to host performances, including the current run of "Hamilton" through December 30.
For those interested in the supernatural, the theater is a common stop on many Chicago ghost tours, offering a spine-tingling experience that goes beyond the stage.