The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a sneaky theater tech.
In Atlanta's Fox Theatre lurked for many decades the Phantom of the Fox. But this Phantom didn't kidnap damsels or play his bellowing tunes into the night like a dick; he simply repaired organs. Born three years before its grand opening, organ-enthusiast Joe Patten became the savior of the Fox Theatre by fixing its Mighty Mo, the second largest organ in the world, which had been broken for 15 years. Afterward, he became a fixture in the theatre, spending all his free time maintaining its massive instruments, moving like a ghost through its labyrinthine corridors and often spooking people by appearing from shortcuts known only to him.
In return, the Fox eventually made Patten its Technical Director and, since he "was spending 16 hours a day at the theatre anyway," let him live there rent-free. The Phantom chose a series of abandoned offices as his lair, which he remodeled into a 3000 square foot luxury apartment. Through a gate with a hidden lock that only a password could open, several winding steps would lead only Patten to a Moorish Rococo abode that would've fit perfectly in a Gaston Leroux novel. (This blog has a gorgeous photo gallery of the apartment in all its theatrical grandeur). It even had a revolving bookcase that led to a secret closet -- if he ever needed a place to stash billowing capes and sinister half-masks.
Not that the life of the Georgia Phantom was all tinkering with organs and living in luxurious lairs. He too knew tragedies on the scale of his tortured French colleague -- Patten just wasn't a moody crybaby about it. When he fell in love with his best friend's fiance, he didn't drag her across a fog river and tried to kill his rival with a Punjab lasso; he broke off their affair and never loved again. And when he became engulfed in a large fire in the Fox Theatre, Patten didn't become an antisocial disfigured monster hiding in catacombs, he used his knowledge of the layout to guide firefighters and save the building from certain destruction.
The only time Patten embraced the swishing bitterness of his literary namesake was when the Atlanta Landmarks Board of Directors tried to banish their Phantom to a retirement community, causing him to curse: "I should have let the building burn down in 1996." But so beloved throughout Atlanta, a series of public protests kept the Phantom in the Fox, and he lived out his days in his lavish lair.
Joe Patten died in 2016 at the age of 89, but no doubt his spirit still roams the many unexplored corridors of the Fox Theatre as an eternal caretaker -- not just of its organs, but also its heart and soul.
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Top Image: Universal Pictures / pxfuel