Ever since its tumultuous Gold Rush origins, there have always been anxious murmurings about ghosts wandering the city of San Francisco. Having been the premiere entertainment venue in San Francisco for nearly a century now and filled over these past hundred years with many spirited characters (actors are haunted types), the Curran, in turn, is widely considered to be one of the city’s most haunted places and has become a key destination for ghost-hunting enthusiasts.
On the evening of November 28, 1933, Geary Street was abuzz with excitement as theatergoers donning fedoras and furs huddled outside the Curran, eagerly waiting to take their seats for the hit revival of Show Boat.Audiences traveled from all over Northern California to nab a ticket, as this was the show’s first time in San Francisco. With only four performances left at the Curran and two days before Thanksgiving, no one was prepared for the chaos that would ensue when a young, hollow-cheeked man with skittish eyes shoved his way to the front of the line at the box office only minutes before show time.
"[I need] a lot of easy dough to show my girlfriend the bright lights...You can't show a girl all the hot spots on that coin."
On the other side of the box office stood the Curran’s young treasurer, an exhausted Hewlett Tarr who strained to hear each customer over the clamor of speeding vehicles and the giddy crowd. Dedicated to supporting his single mother, Tarr had jockeyed to acquire this position upon graduating Lowell High School. Now 25, he had seven years under his belt and was one of the Curran’s most experienced employees. As the last patrons trickled in, Tarr got ready to meet his fiancé nearby for dinner. After a five-year engagement, their marriage was now only weeks away.
Without uttering a word, the gaunt man pulled a revolver out of his jacket and killed Tarr with one shot. Tarr’s fiancé had unknowingly shown up at the theater and collapsed upon hearing the tragic news, while Tarr’s mother was so struck with anxiety that she was briefly hospitalized. It would take three weeks before authorities could catch the shooter, 25-year-old electrician-turned-bandit Eddie Anderson. Anderson had held-up five different businesses in San Francisco for over $1,500 before his arrest, claiming that his professional income did not provide him with ample funds to entertain his beloved girlfriend. He told authorities he committed the robberies because he needed “a lot of easy dough to show my girlfriend the bright lights. I was only getting $14 a week as an electrician and you can’t show a girl all the hot spots on that coin.” When questioned by police, however, the “girlfriend” adamantly denied any romance, revealing that the two had only known each other for three weeks. Amidst public outrage, Anderson pled not-guilty, arguing that he had killed Tarr accidentally when the trigger caught onto the bars of the box office. The trial came to an end only ten days after Anderson’s arrest and the jury reached its guilty verdict after deliberating only 7 hours. It was one of the quickest trails on record in San Francisco. By late December, Eddie Anderson had been sentenced to hang in San Quentin.
Whether you believe in ghosts or roll your eyes at such a notion, since Tarr’s death, generations of Curran audiences and staff have reported hearing eerie sounds throughout the theater and some have even claimed to see an apparition of Tarr reflected in lobby mirrors. If you do encounter the ghost of Tarr, do not fret; we like to think of him as the theater's friendly guardian angel, who only becomes menacing when patrons unwrap crinkly candies or forget to turn off their phones during performances.
PHOTOS VIA SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY.