Behind Criterion's curtain- part two

Published: May. 6, 2019 at 6:22 PM EDT
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The Criterion Theatre looks much the same as it did back in 1932 when the Cottage Street landmark first opened in Bar Harbor.

At that time, owner George McKay had a dual purpose for the building - providing entertainment to the elite on the island as well as illegal alcohol during Prohibition.

The Criterion Speakeasy only lasted one year.

In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was enacted.

Some believe the ghosts of Prohibition past now reside at the Bar Harbor theatre.

Joy Hollowell joins us with part two of her special report - Behind Criterion's Curtain.


"There were five little stores that they had to take down in order to build the Criterion Theatre," says Debbie Dyer with the Bar Harbor Historical Society. "It was something for George McKay to build that Criterion Theatre in this little town."

McKay himself enjoyed watching performances. His favorite seat, Box A, is said to be haunted.

"We have had reports of somebody running across the balcony, like through all of the partitions, through all of the seats," explains Amy Roeder, Executive Director of the Criterion Theatre.

In later years, McKay reportedly turned over the theatre operations to his nephew, also named George McKay. The younger George loved his job so much, he actually slept in this dressing room above the stage.

"So the story is, he fell asleep with a cigarette, and he died of smoke inhalation when the mattress he was on caught fire," explains Roeder.

Now, McKay's ghost is said to keep visitors on their toes.

"I've been told that if you sit in the front row during one of the ghost tours, he might grab you by the ankles," she says.

Production Manager Chuck Colbert recalls an unexpected encounter while changing out a light.

"I was right up there in the balcony, up on a ladder," Colbert explains, pointing up towards the ceiling.

30 feet high, Colbert says he felt someone tap him on the shoulder.

"i said - hi there, and I kept focusing on the light," recalls Cobert with a chuckle.

And feeling is believing-

Just ask our own TV5 Chief Photographer Mark Rediker.

As he was shooting video of the theatre's old rum runner tunnel, he felt someone's hand on his back. You can see a loop of video where it distorts the exact moment that happened.

Now watch the video as Mark turns around, only to discover no one is there.

"There was a large time in our history where we tried to cover that stuff up," says Roeder, "when it was shameful. And now, it's just cool."


G eorge McKay wanted only the best for the Criterion. That's why he installed a state of the art intercom system with 8 channels.

The theatre is now hoping to bring it back online.

They're searching for anyone who worked with Bell Atlantic before 1984 to help repair the system.

For more information you can call the Criterion Theatre at 288-0829 or log onto

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