Ghosts of the Past: BATMAN’S MELBOURNE The ghost of honor didn't make the party

24th April 2024. Reading Time: 6 minutes General, Ghosts Of The Past. 658 page views. 0 comments.

In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we look at Melbourne's most famous ghost haunting the Princess Theatre.

In this series, I take a look at some historical accounts of ghostly encounters published in newspapers. In this edition, we look at Melbourne's most famous ghost haunting the Princess Theatre.

Melbourne's Most Famous Ghost

In March 1888 at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre during the opening night performance of Gounod’s opera Faust, Frederick Federici cemented his fame for all eternity.  After singing the very last note of the opera, the trap doors opened, and he descended in what would be his final exit.  As Federici reached the bottom, he died of a sudden heart attack.  His ghost has since been spotted by actors, crew and patrons in the many years that followed.  He is often seen in the centre of the third or second row in the dress circle of the theatre critiquing the performance of his fellow actors before he glides away down the stairs behind the royal box.  It has now become custom every opening night at the theatre for a seat in the dress circle of the Princess Theatre to be left empty for the theatre’s resident ghostly critic.  If Federici’s ghost appears, it is considered a sign of good luck.

Federici is featured regularly in 'Melbourne's Most Haunted' type articles.  One such article was published in the Melbourne Bulletin in 1967.

The following was published The bulletin., v.89, no.4582, 1967-12-30, p.6 (ISSN: 0007-4039)

The ghost-of-honor didn't make the party  

FRANKLY, it is surprising there are not a great many ghosts in Melbourne.  After all, this is a city in which a vast number of bodies are buried, and one can only presume that there must be many very restless spirits abroad.  Our only regular ghost lives in the Princess Theatre. This is an utterly marvellous building. It could have been designed by a consortium of artists, which might have included Cruikshank, Tenneil, Ronald Searle, and Charles Addams. It is in the very best Victoriana-Berserk style. It has the lot, urns, stained-glass windows, balconies, balustrades, little cast-iron cupolas, muses all over the place, and an utterly magnificent golden angel with trumpet.  

Actually, the architect was William Pitt and he modelled his theatre on Italy’s renowned Politaema. It opened on December 18, 1886. The “Argus” on December 20 said it was the handsomest theatre south of the Equator. Indeed, with its splendid marble staircase and beautiful foyer, the new Princess was the equal of the Grand Opera in Paris, the Stadt Theatre in Frankfurt, and the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux, which contained the finest approaches and foyers in Europe. What’s more, our theatre had  
a mechanical roof, which opened to the stars, and grottoes, and waterfalls on either side of the proscenium; irresistible to ghosts.  

Yes, Federici’s ghost has been the only decent Melburnian ghost we have been able to cling to, so to speak. Why, Federici turned up even as recently as July last year. June Bronhill told the “Australian” she saw Federici at the back of the dress circle  
during a performance of “Robert and Elizabeth.”  “It was during the second act,” she  said. “During a dialogue scene I saw  
this very pretty pink light, more a pinpoint than anything. But it wasn’t  like any other light. I’m sure it was Federici’s ghost.”  
So, seeing that Federici is our only permanent movable ghost game, it is most satisfying to find that the whole story is laid down in Frank Cusack’s book “Australian Ghost Stories,” just out.  

Now, Federici was an English baritone named Frederick Baker, who came out here to play Mephistopheles in “Faust.” The F. Federici bit was just an idea to give him added style. Opening night was March 3, 1888. The performance went very well, indeed; Mephistopheles, as the agent of the devil, had claimed his victim and was descending the stage trap-door when he  
collapsed and died. As the “Illustrated Australian News” said at the time, Mephistopheles, while descending with Faust amid stage-fire and flames, turned the mimic scene, by his own death, into one of tragic reality. Then the funeral was a very painful affair. The Reverend T. H. Goodwin, of the Church of England, who exhibited great emotion, according to the “Argus,”collapsed, fainted away, and was unable to be revived for some considerable time. This happened just after he had finished the second  
prayer and the coffin was being lowered into the grave. “Mr. Charles Warner, the well-known actor, had to take up the reading.”  
Gounod’s “Faust” had a very short run at the Princess in 1888. Some members of the cast claimed that Federici had taken the curtain call on the substitute’s first night and again on subsequent nights.  But, as Frank Cusack points out, the best authenticated stories of Federici’s ghost have always had him in evening dress. George Musgrove, the theatre’s original producer, saw him in evening dress at a late rehearsal. Federici was sitting in the front row of an otherwise empty dress  
circle.  “Give us another drink - I still can’t see him!”  Miss Betty Beddoes, who worked the greater part of her life at the theatre  as wardrobe mistress, saw the ghost in 1917 during the season of Alan Wilkie’s “School For Scandal.” She was getting costumes ready for the opening night when a fireman knocked at the door and said: “Would you like to see a ghost?” She and the fireman saw a figure sitting quietly in the second or third row of the dress circle. Cusack writes: “The figure made no  
movement and could be seen quite  plainly and appeared to be staring  straight ahead at the empty stage. It was dressed in evening dress and gave the impression of being well built with either grey hair or a wig. The face was in profile and not very distinct. Her most vivid recollection of the occurrence, Miss Beddoes says, is of the studs in the white shirtfront which seemed in the half-light give off a sort of glitter. “The fireman asked her if she were afraid. In a whispered reply she assured him she wasn’t. Fascinated, they watched it for some time during which there was neither sound nor movement . . . Miss Beddoes does not pretend to be able to explain what she saw. She cannot accept that it was a case of ‘imagination playing tricks.  She prefers merely to recount what she and another observed and leave it at that.”  

Soon after this incident Johr. Charles Gange, a fireman, saw the figure in evening dress standing in the centre of the dress circle. He thought it was a theatregoer who had found himself locked in. Gange called out to him. The figure didn’t answer, and, slowly, it began to fade and disappear. Altogether, according to Cusack, there  have been nearly 30 authenticated sightings of our ghost and at one stage the management offered £lOO to anyone who would spend a night alone at the Princess.. There is no record that the reward was ever claimed.  Heinemann’s had a late-night book launching of Cusack’s book right there in the theatre. They played the last act of Gounod’s “Faust,” and tried to get everything as it was on March 3, 1888.  They had dim lights and even used dry ice to provide ghostly vapors on the stage.  

Everything was done to encourage Federici’s appearance. Miss Betty Beddoes, now in her late 80s, was there.  So, too, was Mrs. Garnet Carrbll, who saw Federici in a dark cloak one night during a ballet rehearsal.  Special cocktails, invented just for  
the evening, were served. For example, there was the Mephistopheles Cocktail, which was devil-red and consisted of  
cherry vodka, Polish pure spirit, and pineapple juice. Then there was “The Spectre” . . . Polish pure spirit,  loz. Zubrowka Bison vodka, and lemon juice.  However, by 1.30 a.m. Federici had failed to appear. Undoubtedly it was  the cocktails. No respectable devil would be seen drinking them.  

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