One of Ashland, Kentucky’s most elegant historic landmarks is The Paramount Arts Center. It is housed in the Paramount Theater, which was originally designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp to show silent movies. Ironically, by the time construction was completed in 1931, silent movies had been replaced by “talkies.” The spacious theater continued to show movies for the next forty years. The Paramount closed in 1971 but reopened in 1972 as a performing arts center called the Paramount Arts Center. As a part of its mission to reaffirm the region’s Appalachian traditions, the Paramount has featured acts such as the Nashville-style production Highway 23 Jamboree and the Troubador Concert Series, which offers folk and acoustic performances. Today, the 1400-seat theater attracts approximately 120,000 people annually. Interestingly enough, one of the theater’s best-known attractions died over seventy-five years ago.
In 1931 when construction of the Paramount Theater had just begun, a four-man work crew from the Boyd Theater Company was working in the stage area. At noon, a worker named Joe decided to stay behind while his coworkers went to lunch. When the three men returned, they were shocked to find Joe’s corpse hanging from the curtain rigging. The cause of death was never officially determined to be suicide. Over the years, people have had some very odd encounters with the spirit that has come to be known as “Paramount Joe.” Witnesses have seen lights turn off and on by themselves. People have felt drafts of cold air in the heated sections of the theater. Sometimes, the silence of the theater is broken by the sound of heavy boots stomping across the stage. Even the faint image of a man manifests itself in the theater once in a while.
In the Shadowlands.com Web site, one can find the story of the marketing director who was taking a group of high school students on a tour of the Paramount Arts Center in 2004. On a lark, he cast his eyes to the ceiling asked Paramount Joe for permission to tell his story. At that exact moment, everyone present heard a seat squeal, even though no one was seated at the time. The marketing director did not give the incident a second thought until a psychic called to say that she had a message for him from the “other side.” She said, “I’m supposed to tell you that Joe said he is here.”
The most famous incident involving Paramount Joe occurred in 1992. Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus was filming a video for his song “Achy Braky Heart” in the Paramount. While he was there, Billy Ray heard stories about Paramount Joe. Before long, Billy Ray half-jokingly began carrying on conversations with Joe, sometimes even asking him for help. Before leaving, Billy Ray signed photographs of himself for all of the female members of the theater staff. He even autographed one photograph to Paramount Joe. These 8 X 10 photographs occupied a special place in the box office, along with pictures signed by other performers over the years. Over time, the walls of the box office became so cluttered with photographs that the executive director asked the female employees to remove their photographs autographed by Billy Ray Cyrus. None of the women wanted their photographs taken down, so they took Paramount Joe’s photograph off the wall instead. The next morning, the women were surprised to find that all of the 8 X 10 photographs were lying on the floor of the box office, some with the glass broken. To prevent a similar occurrence, the staff has hung Paramount Joe’s photograph in a special area of the Marquee Room
Researchers have had great difficulty documenting the specifics of the story of Paramount Joe. No one connected with the Paramount Arts Center really cares about authenticating the legend because for them, he is a very real presence. They think of Paramount Joe as a good ghost who seems to look out for the theater and its occupants.