Walking into the Shrine Auditorium for the first time is like peering through a time capsule. Decades of Hollywood history are etched into the graying walls of this historic entertainment landmark — the site of some of the most star-studded events in the business, including the Academy Awards, the Grammys, the Emmys, and on Sunday, May 7, the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards. But it’s not just the ornately painted walls and oversize chandeliers straight out of a Beauty and the Beast set that grab your attention when you get here.
Everyone from MTV colleagues to my Uber driver seems convinced the venue, located just south of downtown Los Angeles, is completely haunted. With just two days to go before our inaugural Movie & TV Awards, I decided to get to the bottom of it.
"Big in life, big in death"
Psychic-medium Patti Negri conducted her first séance at age 8. When she arrives at the Shrine to meet me late Friday night, her blonde hair is swept into a bun, wisps of gold framing her face. She's dressed all in black, a colorful, beaded satchel hanging at her hip. She has a ring on every finger, and several charms and crystals hang from her neck. The self-described "good witch" looks the part and I feel reassured.
Immediately sensing the heaviness in the place, Negri explains that theaters are a hotbed for spirits because they tend to gravitate to places with people and excitement. (To be fair, if I were a spirit, I wouldn't mind haunting Hugh Jackman at the Movie Awards either.)
"Big in life, big in death," Negri says. "If you were big in life, whether a celebrity or politician or sports star, you're going to be big in death."
Armed with rods, electromagnetic-field meters, and bells (for some reason), I take a deep breath and we start our "walk-through" of the theater. The mostly old-school Negri has two primary methods for detecting spirits: dowsing rods, which act as conductors of hidden energy sources, and handheld EMF meters, which measure the amount of electromagnetic energy in the air. Basically, spirits emit electromagnetic energy when they manifest. The EMF has five LED lights, which change color depending on the level of energy detected. Green lights signify a low level, while red indicates the opposite. (So if you're not standing near an electrical outlet when that device flashes red, it's a ghost.)
Goose bumps, orbs of light … and whispers
Negri warns me and a group of colleagues that we can expect goose bumps, changes in temperature, orbs of light, and whispers if we cross paths with a spirit. You know, the usual. But before we can officially search for ghosts, Negri first applies to her neck a protective oil that she made two supermoons ago.
"[The neck is] a portal for spirits," she says. "That's why when you bow your head for prayer, you open yourself to [them]." Not wanting to get possessed by the spirit of Frank Sinatra, I do the same.
The first ghost we come across downstairs is a timid, female spirit. Negri describes her as "brunette and youngish," and when asked if she was here for the Movie & TV Awards, the dowsing rods cross, indicating a yes. "You're going to get a lot of spirits that come here for the awards," Negri assures. Remember: Spirits like excitement.
We find a whole lot of energy floating toward the ceiling of a dressing room, but none of the ghosts feel particularly chatty so we turn to Negri's Ghost Radar app for support. Yes, there is an app for communicating with spirits, and it's terrifying. This particular app not only detects paranormal activity, but words and messages from the spirits too.
"I’m thoroughly freaked"
Within 10 minutes, the ghosts in the dressing room have already sent me four cryptic messages: Melted, Dark, Property, and Wagon. I'm not a medium or anything, but this doesn't sound particularly good. (In fact, the original Al Malaikah Temple burned down on this site in 1920 and was replaced by the Shrine Auditorium in 1926, so the word "melted" is too real for me.) But apparently, spirits like me, I'm told. "You're very intuitive," Negri says before adding, "they feel like you can see them."
By the time we sit down for the séance — a.k.a. lifting the Veil to the Other Side — I'm thoroughly freaked. But Negri assures me that only "good spirits" are allowed through the Veil, and apparently good cats, too, because she senses several feline spirits prowling about. There is a little group of men in the room, Negri says, including one named William. I honestly feel my throat begin to close as the dowsing rods are pointed in my direction. She says the spirits just wanted to communicate with me but, personally, I think I was just allergic to those (ghost) cats.
Negri lights the candle, burns some charcoal, and lifts the Veil, encouraging us to participate in a traditional "om" chant to reset the energy in the room. The Shrine ghosts are huddled in a corner, she tells us. Every once in a while, I'd feel a change in temperature, a sudden cool spot, while one of my coworkers felt his cheek get unusually warm. Were these spirits? Possibly.
By far my favorite ghost in the Shrine is a mischievous spirit who has one hell of a sense of humor. When we walk into a room with dusty chairs and old set pieces, Negri's ghost app buzzes, declaring the word "Sets." (It freaks me out too.) Allegedly, he was an actor who could sing (though not Sinatra), but it's hard to take a ghost's word when you can really only communicate through two metal wire rods.
Still, I like this spirit. He's just here for the laughs, which I can appreciate. In fact, it seems like so many of the spirits who drift in and out of the Shrine are here for a good time. Negri says that spirits often go back to the time and place that brought them the most joy, and for many in La La Land, that place is the theater. A place for performance, and all the emotions that come with it — joy, sadness, exuberance.
Before we say goodbye, Negri has one final thought: "I think this is a place of happiness," she smiles.
Be sure to tune in to the 2017 MTV Movie & TV Awards on Sunday, May 7 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. And check MTV News for all your updates on the big show.