Ghosts and Hauntings of the Midwest Theater

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Western Nebraska MysteriesGhosts and Hauntings of the Midwest Theater


According to eyewitnesses working at the Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff, one entertainer has never left. For several decades, staff and volunteers have experienced a host of otherworldy events, scaring some, and intriguing others, but the ghostly residents who roam the building have never appeared threatening. It has been surmised there are three ghosts, but one, The Great Miss Bish is the only one who has been “identified.” She is often encountered by staff and volunteers, who have become accustomed to her moving around the nearly 100-year-old building.

Hubert Clair Bishop AKA "Miss Bish".  Photo courtesy of Nebraska Historical Society.

Hubert Clair Bishop was a local celebrity in the early 20th century in Scottsbluff. He moved to the area in 1916 with his mother, who was a seamstress. He performed at venues around town as Claire Bishop, the “Great Miss Bish,” a female entertainer with a heavenly voice. Hubert took on the persona of Miss Bish, who sang and entertained throngs of people in the area.

Billy Estes, then theater director, gave an interview with Stuart Chittenden, of A Couple of 830 Mile Long Conversations in 2015 in which he described how he came to learn about his famous resident spirit.

About 15 years ago, a visitor from New Mexico told Billy she was a spiritual site interpreter and wanted to walk around the theater in the dark, late at night. Billy agreed and met her that night after the theater closed. The woman said she felt three spirits in the theater. One was a male with a feather boa and tiara and pearls around his neck.

Several years later, Billy was giving a tour to members of the American Association of University Women. He related the story he was told by the spiritual site interpreter and one woman in the group said she knew who the ghost was. It was Hubert Bishop. Billy did more research on Hubert and, soon after, the theater adopted Miss Bish as their ghost.

Hubert was the eldest son and always looked out for his family. This went as far as filling out his World War I draft registration form with details that he should be exempt from military service because he had to take care of his mother and sister.

According to historical records at the Legacy of the Plains Museum, he held a variety of jobs in town between 1928 and 1940, including operating the Bishop Drapery Service with his mother. It was here Hubert learned his sewing skills, which would benefit him when creating his costumes when he performed as Miss Bish.

The Midwest Theater on September 13, 2019. © Hawk Buckman
The Midwest Theater on September 13, 2019. © Hawk Buckman

Miss Bish’s gowns were just as much a hit as the singer. She sang and danced in church plays and performed around town, including at the Lincoln Hotel, where she sang at its dedication on Jan. 1, 1919. Newspaper articles of the time recorded residents who were delighted by her voice, describing it as a “lovely lady’s voice.” At the end of nearly every performance, Miss Bish would reveal himself by taking off his brown wig and singing with a deep voice.

Some of Miss Bish’s favorite songs to perform were “I’d Love to be Loved by a Boy Like You,” “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise,” and “So Blue.”

While Miss Bish delighted the crowds with her heavenly voice, decked out in glittery sequin gowns accompanied by pearls delicately draped around her neck, Hubert was also well-known as a kind and compassionate man.

When the 1918 flu epidemic swept through Scottsbluff, everyone avoided public places as much as possible. This meant funerals were often held in the homes of those who had succumbed to the virus. Because it was likely fatal if you caught it, people feared any gatherings.

Ministers who conducted funeral services were the only persons allowed inside the home. Bishop, however, grabbed his 1909 Faber Organ Company of Chicago portable pump organ, which was the size of a large suitcase, and set it up on the porches of the dearly departed.

While the Legacy of the Plains Museum has Miss Bish’s organ and a collection of sequin gowns worn during performances throughout Nebraska and Wyoming, it appears Miss Bish decided to take up residence at the Midwest Theater after her parting from her mortal coils.

Office manager Krista Baird hasn’t experienced anything herself, but her daughter, Savannah, has. The two had worked out at the Skyview Drive-in and were bringing the cash proceeds back to the theater to store in the safe until the bank opened in the morning. They arrived at the theater shortly before 11 p.m. Savannah offered to take the money in so Krista could stay in the car. Savannah was only inside the theater for a few moments when she called her mom on her cell phone and asked if there was anyone else in the theater.

“I told her no and asked why,” Krista said. “She said the bathroom lights were on.”

Krista assured Savannah the cleaners probably just forgot to turn them off. Relieved, Savannah hung up. A few minutes later, the back door to the theater flew open and Savannah ran out of the theater. She jumped in the car and locked the doors.

“She was putting the money in the safe and the light to the basement came on,” Krista said.

Savannah told her mother, “I didn’t stick around to find out if anyone was there.” Krista and Savanna were sure it was Miss Bish.

No one was in the theater, but lights turning on when no one else is around is a common occurrence. A couple of weeks ago, the automatic paper towel dispenser near the concession stand started advancing towels. The dispenser is motion-activated and no one was near it. Krista was sure someone walked past the area, but nobody was there.

“Stuff like that happens here,” she said.

Bookkeeper Harriett Aden said she hasn’t had the kind of encounters others have, but even she attributes the strange occurrences to Miss Bish.

“Every now and then, my adding machine will just go clickety-click,” Harriett said. “But I don’t know if it’s her.”

During an event on October 13, 2022, staff and volunteers were convinced Miss Bish was there as well after a series of minor problems arose. The biggest issue was a malfunctioning ticket machine.

“We had tickets printed as a test and everything worked fine,” said Joe Dutton, communications and grant manager. “But, as soon as we opened the doors to the public, it didn’t work.”

Miss Bish has been accused of making phones ring and flicking the lights on and off around the theater. Most who have encountered her brush off the incidents, but others are afraid to be by themselves in the theater, especially at night.
“Our cleaning lady is terrified,” Krista said. “She won’t stay here alone.”

Harriett takes it all in stride, shrugging off any potential encounter as just another day at the office.

“When we hear strange things or odd things happen, we blame it on Miss Bish,” she said.

Miss Bish is said to reside mostly in the south stairwell of the theater, which is where Savannah encountered her. If you happen to encounter Miss Bish on your visit, staff say there’s no need to panic or worry. Just wave and say hello to one of Scottbluff’s historically finest entertainers. Who knows, maybe one day she will sing for everyone, too.



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Photo of Hubert Clair Bishop – AKA “Miss Bish”. Courtesy of The Nebraska State Historical Society
Personal experiences with past, and current, employees and volunteers of the Midwest Theater.

Story by: Irene North
Photography by: Hawk Buckman

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