Inspired by its eerie, possibly haunted nature, Stanly couple gets married at the old Albemarle Opera House

When most people think of their dream wedding, it usually involves getting married inside a church, hotel or even a banquet hall. Some even consider exotic destinations like a sandy-white beach in the Caribbean.

But for one Stanly County couple, their ideal location was quite a bit different — and much more spooky and even macabre.

After dating for close to a year, Madeline Hana, 27, and Adam Barringer, 38, tossed around several wedding options, including going to Vegas and getting married inside a salt cave in Asheville, before shifting towards having it inside some sort of abandoned building, possibly even a church.

The couple soon settled on a location known to many in Stanly as being purportedly haunted: the old, vacant Opera House above Starnes Jewelers in downtown Albemarle.

The wedding occurred Friday afternoon followed by a reception at Tiffany’s At The Boardroom.

“I’ve known about the Opera House my whole life,” Hana told the SNAP prior to the wedding, noting she’s visited the location many times over the years through her work with the Uwharrie Players and as part of various photoshoots. “So I knew that it was accessible.”

As someone who grew up acting, Hana appreciated the space had a functioning stage and good natural lighting. The potential presence of supernatural beings was also a plus.

“We’re big eccentric people in general,” she said. “We love anything artsy and creative and we’re kind of treating this whole wedding as an art project.”

Saving a life

Though they both grew up in Stanly County, Hana and Barringer first met on Halloween in 2019 while they were both working at Little Tokyo in Albemarle.

Hana and Barringer saw each other on-and-off for several months as a friendship began to develop.

“I liked her personality,” he said. “She was funny, sarcastic and I liked that playfulness.”

He remembers the first time he began to develop romantic feelings for Hana happened shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. She was playing the ukulele and performing with her band Almost Exes during acoustic night at Little Tokyo.

“I was able to see her past just who she was, something deeper and more meaningful,” he recalled. “And that’s the first time I really thought about this could be somebody I could create a life with.”

They first began dating last November.

As someone with a history of trauma and depression, Hana said once she started dating Barringer, everything changed. She stopped taking antidepressants, lost weight and learned to love life again.

“When I met him, he basically reminded me of the fire I had within me,” she said. “This wedding is not only a celebration of love, but a celebration of life.”

She readily admits that Barringer saved her life. She hopes her backstory can help encourage other people who are struggling that they can still find the light, even in the darkest of situations.

“There is magic out there to look forward to,” she said, holding back tears.

Deciding on a wedding venue

After they had dated a while, Barringer purchased a ring, though he was never sure when to propose. He had held onto the ring for many months, but the right moment never presented itself.

“I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and I want everything to be perfect and so, I’ll sit on things until I create what I really want to happen,” he said, noting he had already talked to her family and friends about his intentions to propose.

Eventually, during a night out in Charlotte, Hana brought up the topic of an engagement and Barringer, after a few drinks, let slip that he had a ring for her. The two then began to plan for the wedding, even though no formal engagement had taken place.

About a month later, they went to Asheville to look at the possibility of getting married in a salt cave. Barringer brought the ring with him, still trying to come up with the perfect moment to propose.

While having lunch at Crave Dessert Bar, Barringer finally made his move, asking a server to place the ring on Hana’s key lime pie, which was her favorite dessert. He then proposed, amid much fanfare from the other restaurant patrons, some of whom even bought them champagne.

“I had a hunch that he was probably going to do it because I knew that he just wanted to get it over with,” she said.

The couple joked that arranging a proposal after the wedding had already largely been planned aligned with their “weird” personalities.

While at the restaurant, they decided to nix the salt caves and get married in a different setting. Barringer started looking at images on his phone when he happened upon an old abandoned church, which intrigued him. Hana then brought up the idea of getting married at the Opera House.

“The eerie, sort of haunted mythical vibe is definitely something that we were going for,” she said. “We like to create a little magic.”

Barringer had actually never heard about the Opera House until Hana brought it up. But once he visited, it just clicked.

“The way the natural lighting was coming into the building and how old it looked and with the cobwebs and the dust, it just felt like that vibe I was looking for,” he said.

As self-described old souls, both Hana and Barringer are fans of the early 20th century, especially the 1920s, and so the Opera House — which has been around for more than 100 years — seemed to make sense.

“It just fit perfectly for what we were wanting to do,” Barringer said.

Wanting to get married in an abandoned building, Hana and Barringer decided upon the vacant Opera House. Photo courtesy of Madeline Hana.

Is the Opera House really haunted?

Having known Gene Starnes, owner of Starnes Jewelers, for many years — he used to be a regular when she worked at GloryBeans CoffeeHouse and he’s always been a supporter of the Uwharrie Players, Hana contacted him a few weeks after the Asheville trip, inquiring about using the second floor space for her wedding. They told him only about a dozen people would be in attendance.

Though initially taken aback, Starnes agreed. (The space is not open for the public, though special events can take place if approved.)

This was the first time anyone had ever contacted him about wanting to get married in the space.

“I was just surprised,” Starnes said about the request. “I said, ‘Well, we don’t have electricity up there and it’s not cleaned up and it’s not in good shape,’ and they said, ‘Well, that’s okay. That’s the way we want it. We want it rustic and in an unusual place.’ ”

Though first opened in 1898, Starnes Jewelers moved to its current location around 1908. An Opera House was located on the second floor of the building and was host to hundreds of lectures, revivals, theatre productions, musical performances and several early motion pictures, according to information from the Stanly County Historical Society’s website.

Largely abandoned as a performance venue upon the completion of the Alameda Theatre in 1916, the Opera House was used by P.J. Huneycutt to store his supply of coffins and caskets during the Spanish Flu of 1917-1918. The space had been utilized for other purposes over the succeeding decades, including as a dance hall, but has been vacant for many years.

The Opera House has been around since the early 20th century. Photo courtesy of the Stanly County Historical Society.

While Starnes said he’s not aware of anyone dying in the space or any dead bodies kept there, the Opera House has nonetheless become a source of morbid fascination for many in the county and has been a featured location for many local ghosts tours and paranormal investigators.

Starnes said over the years he’s encountered many ghosts in the Opera House, though they’ve all been friendly, including a man in a brown suit and brown hat and a woman in a flowing white gown. He’s also heard voices and music playing at times on the second floor. A visiting paranormal group once told Starnes that the likely rationale is the spirits were allowed to leave heaven to revisit some of their favorite places, which included the Opera House.

“I’m not a big believer in those kind of things,” he said about the supernatural, “but it’s made a believer out of me.”

Once Hana and Barringer told their family and friends about their plans, they were asked if the Opera House had been renovated and fixed up.

“We were like no, it’s very much the same as it was, very abandoned,” Barringer said.

Like Starnes, they both believe there are ghosts residing in the Opera House and they told the SNAP they hoped the spirits made their presence felt during the wedding.

“I hope that one of them comes up and says hey to us while we’re there,” Hana said.

In a brief follow-up interview Monday morning, Barringer said the wedding was “everything I could imagine,” though he didn’t pay much attention to whether any spirits were present.

“I was just so focused on the actual ceremony itself, but it was very magical and it was everything we could have ever wanted,” he added.

The couple spent a “mini moon” at Myrtle Beach over the weekend and are planning to go to New Orleans in the spring.