In 1889, Derby, Connecticut opened the Sterling Opera House, a magnificent performance space—featuring two sweeping balconies, an orchestra pit, and a stained glass cupola—that entertained the country’s elite for almost 60 years.
But this historic building has seen many years, and with them came a lot of people using the space for less-than-ideal things.
Far below the feet of the smiling chorus girls and limelights that lit up its stage, the theater held a deep, dark secret…
The Sterling Opera House is widely recognized as an architectural achievement, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968.
Part of the Sterling’s basement served as a prison for some of the town’s most notorious criminals. One of them, Lydia Sherman, was a “black widow” murderess who was convicted of killing 10 people with arsenic. Sherman’s victims included three husbands and seven of her own children.
Though the theater’s connection with Derby’s criminals is irrefutable historical fact, its reputation isn’t sullied. The 100-year-old opera house is as celebrated as ever, if not more, now that its dubious background has been brought out of the darkness and into the light of the public consciousness.
Over the years, talk of restoring the Sterling Opera House has circulated, but only its exterior benefitted from restoration efforts in 2011. Hopefully, this national treasure will get the attention it needs to save it from total disrepair. With its bizarre history and beautiful aesthetics, the Sterling Opera House is one historical place we’d love to visit.
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