WAILUKU - Is Wailuku's venerable Historic Iao Theater haunted by the spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors and a guardian angel named "Emma?"
A showing of the SyFy Channel's "Haunted Collector" cable TV program left some believers Wednesday night after more than 150 people gathered at the theater for a big-screen showing of "Haunted Islands: The Ghosts of Maui County."
"Oh yeah, I think it's haunted," said Dylan Bode, 19, of Wailuku, who has acted in some shows in the theater. "You can feel the presence of entities throughout rehearsals and things."
Maui OnStage special events manager Michael Pulliam talks about his experiences witnessing Historic Iao Theater’s resident ghost while displaying the objects found in a time capsule at the landmark theater.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Bode said the TV program helped convince him that ghosts inhabit the theater.
"It definitely put a face; it put a meaning and a whole story of what we've seen and what we've felt at the theater," he said.
Cory Untch, 29, of Kahana said he found the program "pretty convincing."
A highlight of the hourlong show was the point when a flicker of light, or mist, or something, approached a table with 1920s-era items taken from a time capsule at the theater and used as "trigger objects" or bait for spirits.
Untch said that, at that moment, he "definitely saw something there that was kind of unexplainable . . . It definitely sent a chill up your spine."
While the second half of the TV program focused on paranormal activities at the theater, the first half detailed the exploration of reports of ghostly happenings on Lanai, where Castle & Cooke's Steve Bumbar reported a bed shaking and of being frozen while lying in bed in the company's plantation-era carriage house.
A team of paranormal investigators, led by show host John Zaffis, explored various rooms in the carriage house as well as at a nearby social hall. They used the ghost hunters' tools of the trade - electromagnetic field measuring instruments and film that records body and other temperatures in a room.
In a crawl space under the carriage house, they found an old bed frame and observed a shadowy apparition crossing it during filming.
They learned that a servant woman may have committed suicide in the bed, and they recommended that the bed frame be removed. Since then, there have not been further reports of ghostly happenings, such as windows and doors slamming shut for no reason, according to the program.
At Iao Theater, the team deployed to videotape various parts of the building, including the main stage and a downstairs dressing room. Zaffis captured on audiotape what was purported to be voices chanting. Then, in a highlight of the program, they broke open a time capsule, put its items on a table and filmed a misty light approaching it and lingering there for a few seconds.
The items were left in the time capsule after the theater was built in 1928, according to Maui County Film Commissioner Harry Donenfeld. The items included a silver barrette, two postcards of Maui pineapple fields and a reel of 16 mm celluloid film, he said.
The film showed a few moments of a young women, apparently doing some kind of screen test.
Is it Emma?
Donenfeld said he and Maui OnStage officials would like to know.
"We are trying desperately to find her," he said.
Michael Pulliam, special events manager for Maui OnStage, was interviewed on the program and said Wednesday that he's convinced the apparition is Emma, the ghostly vision he saw at the theater in March 2011.
Then, "I actually saw her walking through the building," the 42-year-old Pukalani resident said.
Before then, he had seen unusual things out of the corner of his eye as he worked at the theater for the past six years. But he had dismissed those earlier observations.
Then, one night around 11:30, "I saw something walking toward me from the women's restroom," he said.
It came within 20 to 25 feet of him, then it stopped and "kind of looked at me," he said.
The features were not sharp, he said, but he could make out a person, seemingly feminine, around 5 feet tall, with "kind of a mist around her body that glows," he said.
"She kind of stopped and looked at me," he said, adding that he had an overwhelming feeling that she wanted to prove to him that she existed and was "laughing at me, (but) not in a scary way."
The ghost turned, walked through a railing and went up to the ceiling and drifted through an octagonal feature in the ceiling, he said.
After the TV crew had finished its work, Haiku resident Regina Norlinde was brought in as a medium to try to communicate with the ghosts, Pulliam said.
She didn't know about the TV show, but she had heard of the name of Emma through the coconut wireless, he said.
Pulliam said Norlinde reported that Emma told her she was very happy that her things had been found in the time capsule, and she was standing behind the people as they opened it up.
He said Emma told Norlinde that she loves watching plays and movies at Iao Theater, had wanted to be in the movies and loves it when people talk to her or pay attention to her.
As for the Native Hawaiian ghosts in the basement, Norlinde reported that they were not happy, that they had "died for nothing," he said.
Pulliam said he believes that the Native Hawaiian ghosts are warriors who perished during the 1790 battle of Kepaniwai in Iao Valley.
Donenfeld said there may be several ghosts at the theater, and one ghost had been "caught on film" during filming for the TV program.
The "Haunted Collector" program came to Maui at the request of the Maui County Film Office, he said. The program is one of the SyFy Channel's top-rated shows, he added.
When asked if he believes in ghosts, Donenfeld said: "I definitely believe there are other things here."
He said he's color blind and sees the world differently than most people.
"What makes you so sure we're not ghost blind?" he said.
Pulliam said that once people see the footage of the ghost at the theater, they'll either think it's a gigantic hoax or it's real.
"No, it's not a hoax," he said.
Pulliam said Norlinde and at least two other people have seen Emma, with the two earlier sightings independently yielding the ghost's name or a slight variation of it.
When asked earlier Wednesday if he thought Emma would make an appearance for everyone later that night in the theater, Pulliam said he doubted it.
But "she'll probably be up somewhere in the rafters watching," he said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.