Miami is a relatively young city, so few of its buildings have been standing for more than a century. The Tower Theater, on SW Eighth Street, is close enough to that triple-digit number. Built in 1926, the movie theater celebrates its 90th birthday this year. Throughout the decades, it has hosted all sorts of events — from film screenings and theatrical productions to community conversations.
In 2002, Miami Dade College (MDC) took over the management of the theater, and in 2014, it began extensive renovations to maintain Tower's classic appeal on the outside while upgrading the inside to include the latest technologies.
A place that old and that active has likely experienced a haunting or two, right? Actually, yes.
Associate director of MDC’s Miami International Film Festival, Elizabeth “Betsey” Greene-Freeman, says she herself — as well as some of the theater’s employees — have felt a presence wandering about the place. She relates a story about an employee who would arrive early in the morning to clean, and while she vacuumed, someone would open and shut the doors of Theater 2. There never was anyone else inside the building.
Greene-Freeman recounts moments when she herself has glimpsed spirits. She describes them as clear, misty orbs. “They’re not quite fully formed bodies, and there’s something about them that you know they’re not of this time.” She says she often sees men and women who are dressed in bowler hats and flapper-style dresses. “I mostly notice what the women are wearing,” she adds with a laugh.
Though there hasn’t been any physical proof of ghosts — only sightings and eyewitness accounts — Greene-Freeman says there is one ghost she sees often, and the staff has taken to calling him Nelson. Why Nelson? It was the name of the theater’s first manager in 1931. The associate director says he must have loved the theater so much that he decided to stay.
Check out New Times' video above as we go exploring and in search of Nelson in an empty theater on a recent Friday at midnight — because if ghosts don’t sleep, neither do we.
Visit towertheater.com for a complete schedule of upcoming films, and visit miamifilmfestival.com to purchase tickets for the upcoming Miami International Film Festival.