The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Meet Fred the Ghost, State Theatre’s permanent performer

Photo by Emma Sylvester for The Lafayette
Fred the Ghost is the namesake for the local FREDDY awards.

Fred, the manager of Easton’s State Theatre, is a simple man. He loves cigars, a packed theater and women. Also, he’s a ghost.

The legend of J. Fred Osterstock has haunted the halls of the State Theatre since his death in 1957. In life, Osterstock briefly lived in the theater following a house flood. Fred the Ghost, affectionately called Freddy by theater staff, has reportedly taken up permanent residence at the performing arts venue in the afterlife.

President and CEO of State Theatre Center for the Arts Shelley Brown said she became a believer in the paranormal when Fred physically appeared before her.

“I saw this man sitting in a box in the theater, which was locked,” Brown said. “There was nobody here but the staff and I walked by the theater door and saw this gentleman sitting there. I knew [that] I knew him from somewhere. When I went down the aisle and I was saying ‘Sir, sir,’ the closer I got I couldn’t see up there anymore. By the time I got up there, there was nobody there.”

The ghost frequently manifests through the smell of cigar smoke, despite the venue itself being a non-smoking facility. Another one of Fred’s favorite tricks is dropping pennies.

When I was here for summer acting camp in 2011 I was putting on my jazz shoe and there was a penny in it! I haven’t had any interactions since, but I’d like to believe him and I are buddies since that day,” marketing manager Kori Lotito wrote in an email.

Theater lore says that Fred attempts to sabotage traveling performers who are unkind to the theater and its staff. 

“The reason our technical people love him so much is because … when we were first really experiencing a lot of these big stars and big acts that would come in here for the first time, if any of them would come in with a real attitude and be kind of nasty to us, inevitably their equipment wouldn’t work or something would happen,” Brown said. 

Mark Rafinski, vice president of production and operations, has used the apparition to keep unfriendly acts at bay.

“[Fred’s] super friendly, unless the show is treating the theater and the staff badly, then he’s not so friendly,” Rafinski said. “I won’t lie, I might have used that with shows before to keep them in line.”

Not everybody at the State Theater is a believer.

“There’s a lot of creative people in theater and I think that they draw from a place of creativity and if you want to believe in something, I think you can believe in it,” Rafinski said. “If there is a spirit floating around and people are more willing to be connected to it, then maybe they’re connected to it. So I leave the possibility open. I just personally don’t want to see him at two in the morning.”

Fred did not always have a positive reputation — previous State Theatre employees were scared of the venue’s permanent performer. Staff would frequently call the police reporting break-ins, only to discover that nobody was inside.

“I’ve met people that said, ‘I worked there for years, I will never go back,’” Brown said. “They would call the police … the police would go in, and the dog’s hair would stand on end and they would come back and say there’s nobody in there.”

Brown was intent on developing a working relationship with the spirit.

“On my very first day I went into the theater and it was empty,” Brown said. “I went in and I said, ‘Fred, I need your help. I don’t know anything about theatre … if you take care of me and the new people I’m going to bring in I promise you I’ll pay you back, I’ll do something that will make you even more famous.’”

She made good on this promise in 2003 with the creation of the FREDDY Awards: an annual televised broadcast that highlights high school theater programs and students. The Emmy Award-winning program honors Fred while inspiring life-long connections.

“I was a FREDDY© student myself, graduating high school in 2016 – I know firsthand the impact that this program can have on students. It gives them a community unlike any other. These students come together for two weeks and leave life-long friends,”  Lotito wrote.

While Fred has spent more time hidden in the wings recently, he will always have a place at the State Theatre.

“You can’t conjure him up, it’s on his terms,” Brown said. “This is his theater and we respect him and love him.”

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About the Contributors
Isabella Gaglione, Editor-in-Chief
Emma Sylvester, Photo Editor

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