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Local Legends: The Beneke Theater

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One legend that has surrounded Park for years is the legend of the ghost of Phyllis A. Beneke haunting the Beneke theater. Phyllis was a former principal of Wheeling Park High School and an educator for thirty years. She died in 1988 and was inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame in 1990.

Former Wheeling Park theater teacher Bill Cornforth explained the origin of ghosts within theaters.

“A ghost light is a term that is very popular to so many theaters,” Cornforth said. “And we have it in the Beneke. It’s when the last person in a rehearsal leaves and locks up the theater and turns off all the lights. Then you come in the next day in the morning and there’s one light lit. And there’s no explanation for it and it’s not even brought up on the lightboard… it’s technically not on but it’s lit.”

However, Cornforth does not believe that the ghost is Phyllis, or at least doesn’t believe that she is the only one.

“What I think is possibly incorrect is that there’s a ghost of Phyllis Beneke,” Cornforth said. “Because there are incidents of ghosts in the Beneke before Phyllis died… Wheeling Park High School started in 76-77, so the Beneke theater was open for several years before Phyllis died and kids back then were talking about incidences, of strange things happening and they were attributed to the ghosts of the theater.”

Cornforth also shared some of his thoughts on the idea of the ghosts that may be possibly living within the Beneke.

“The famous psychologist CG Jung said, ‘I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud’,” Cornforth said. “Sometimes you just can’t explain this stuff, it has no logic. But if it is true that we have spirits, that we all have souls, and then the body dies, that doesn’t necessarily mean the soul dies… the afterlife doesn’t have to be just one afterlife, it can be a variety of things and… maybe these are people who never got a chance to do what they really wanted to do, to be on stage… so they get together at night and have a good old time in the theater.”

Sue Farnsworth, retired attorney, was a student of Phyllis’s while she was Dean of Triadelphia High School, and eventually had her as a client and friend when she began practicing law.

Farnsworth had the opportunity to learn from Phyllis immensely in her time of knowing her.

“I just learned that she was really interested in her students and in the high school and making it a better place,” Farnsworth said. 

Farnsworth also commented on how she felt Phyllis would feel about being seen as the benevolent ghost of the Beneke theater.

“I think she’d be quietly pleased,” Farnsworth said. “I don’t think she expected a lot of recognition.”

The legend of Phyllis is a true testament that not all scary stories are born from a place of fear-mongering and scariness, some are born from a place of love and remembrance.

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About the Contributor
Taylor Andrews
Taylor Andrews, Managing Editor
  • Journalism II
  • Senior
  • Young Patriots Choir, Park Players President, Speech Team Interp Division Leader
  • Future Goal: Broadway Starlet
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