A fixture in Albuquerque, this art deco theater has been serving the community for over 100 years. Named by a contest in its early days, the winning choice was KiMo, a contraction of two Native American words meaning “mountain lion”, a colloquial term more akin to “king of its kind.” For decades, the theater served the community with vaudeville and road shows, as well as the new “moving pictures,” that came to the scene in the 1920s. Today, we’re exploring the KiMo Theatre in New Mexico and the tragic ghosts that still linger in the auditorium.
Built in 1927, the theater originally cost $150,000 to build, approximately 1.7 million dollars in today’s currency. It was opulent and matched the unique architecture of the region, a pueblo art deco design and plenty of room for theater goers to be comfortable in the seats. The original owner who dreamt of the culture the theater could bring to the wild west town of Albuquerque was Oreste Bachechi, who unfortunately would pass just one year after his dream was brought to life. His sons took over the theater after his passing and made it a mainstay stop in the southwest, with famous names like Ginger Rogers and Gloria Swanson performing on its stage.
Tragically, in 1951, the KiMo Theatre would experience a disaster no one could have seen coming. A young boy named Bobby Darnell was enjoying a show with his friends when a frightening screen drove him to seek shelter in the lobby, near the concession stand. At the moment he arrived, the water boiler in the basement exploded, taking Bobby and 7 other people in the disaster. Bobby was only six years old when he was killed. Part of the lobby was destroyed in the blast and theater goers tried their best to help Bobby, but his injuries were too grievous and he died in the lobby.
Yet another tragedy befell the theater in 1963, when a fire destroyed nearly all of the original stage and forced a costly renovation to bring it back to its former glory. It was nearly demolished in 1977 as the glamor of downtown dwindled. Just before the wrecking ball took the building, a large group of Albuquerque citizens voted for the city to purchase the theater, rather than tear it down. Today, the theater is a staple in the community, restored to its former glory and is now used as a performing arts center with 700 seats and a robust theater scene.
The spirit of young Bobby is said to still linger in the theater, a playful spirit that many affectionately acknowledge during performances with little treats and offerings, like donuts or candy. A poltergeist spirit, little Bobby is said to play pranks on the actors, trying to get them to stumble or forget their lines by messing with the equipment on the ceiling of the stage. Occasionally, his apparition can be seen in the lobby where the tragedy occurred, usually seen in blue jeans and a striped shirt. The actors of the KiMo theater leave offerings for the young spirit to try to persuade him not to do anything during performances, but he doesn’t always listen, sometimes messing with the electricity on the stage, much to the frustration of the stage hands. Sometimes, the donuts they leave will be gone at the end of the performance, and a few with child-sized bites taken out of them.
One account says that the actors procured stale donuts to appease Bobby before a Christmas performance. No sooner had the curtain gone up before chaos started to occur, Bobby apparently throwing a tantrum. They quickly replaced the donuts, and the performances went off smoothly after that. Visitors to the theater often leave their own offerings of toys and candy in the lobby. Bobby is obviously a beloved part of the theater and a mainstay for the actors working around his playful pranks.
Another spirit said to roam the halls is a young woman in a bonnet, seen gliding through the lobby and hallways on a few occasions. She’s not nearly as active as little Bobby, but isn’t that the case with all 6-year-olds? The woman primarily seems like she’s going about her business and has only been seen as an apparition, with no explanation as to her role in the theater and why she still haunts it. Perhaps she’s a theater fan and likes watching the show.
The KiMo Theatre is still a popular spot in Albuquerque, providing culture and entertainment to thousands every season. Performances are a real treat for locals and tourists alike. This year, they celebrated their 95th anniversary with parties and performances, with offerings for Bobby, of course. If you visit, don’t forget to bring some candy or a toy to leave for little Bobby.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.