As any fan of ghostlore knows, nearly every theater in Illinois is thought to have a resident ghost or two, but what are some of the eeriest and most interesting of them all? Mysterious Heartland is here to bring you the history and the ghost stories behind some of Illinois’ most notorious haunted theaters!
10. Egyptian Theater
Conceived during a wave of fascination with Ancient Egypt, the Egyptian Theater was designed by Elmer F. Behrns and built in 1928. It held regular performances until 1970, when it fell into disrepair. Luckily, in 1978 local citizens took an interest in the theater’s preservation and added it to the National Register of Historic Places. It is now one of only six remaining Egyptian Revival theaters in the United States. According to Operations Director Alex Nerad, the theater is haunted by two ghosts: one of Irv Kummerfeldt, whose leadership saved the building in 1978 and who died at the top of Isle 1, and one simply known as “Bob.” Open doors, footsteps, and mysterious taps on the shoulders of employees are all blamed on Bob. The Egyptian symbols in the theater also have been said to contain hidden messages.
9. Illinois/Chandler Theatre
During the late 1800s, this building was a swank, small town concert hall called the Chandler Opera House. In 1912 it was renovated and opened as the Chandler Theatre, which was renamed the Illinois Theatre in 1918. The theater showed movies in Macomb for 87 years, until it finally closed in 2005. One year later, it opened as a dance club called The Forum. This building has been rumored to be haunted for several decades and it was prominently featured in Macomb ghost tours given by Garret Moffett. During one such tour, Moffett claimed that he was attacked and pushed to the floor by unseen hands. Others have experienced uneasiness and feelings of being watched and touched without any apparent explanation.
The Fischer Theatre was originally known as the Grand Opera House, which was built in 1884 and opened on November 5, 1884. The theater played its first motion picture in 1889. In 1912, Louis F. Fischer purchased a controlling interest in the opera company and remodeled the building. Several businesses occupied the floors above the theater. It closed in 1982 and a preservation effort was launched. In 2004, the Vermilion Heritage Foundation asked the Springfield Ghost Society to investigate the theater after a volunteer accidentally recorded clicks, bangs, and dragging sounds in the projection booth when he left his recording equipment on overnight. The group experienced some phenomenon during their investigation, including “dark colored shadows” and “a dark figure,” but the ghosts failed to materialize during a haunted tour conducted in 2005.
7. Ritz Theater
Bloomer Amusement Corporation opened the Ritz Theater in 1929, offering cheap ticket prices for motion picture fans. Janitors working at the theater experienced strange things over its 60 years in operation. During the 1970s, one employee heard a woman’s voice calling for help, saw lights flash on and off, and also found his radio smashed to pieces even though he was the only person in the building. Others have seen the curtain shake, or witnessed the shadow of a man standing behind the curtain. A number of these events occurred in 1971 when the balcony was sealed off to create a separate auditorium. The ghost is thought to be that of a man who once worked at the theater, who may have been upset at the changes. The Ritz Theater building is now the home of Faith Baptist Church.
The Rialto Theatre was once the most magnificent movie theater in Joliet. Its construction cost nearly $2 million in 1924 and its architecture is a mix of styles, leading it to be called the “Jewel of Joliet.” It opened on May 24, 1926 with the silent film Mademoiselle Modiste. By the 1970s, however, the theater had deteriorated to the point that only a restoration campaign by the Rialto Square Arts Association saved it from demolition. Today, it is home to a performing arts center and a school of the arts. Several ghosts are thought to reside there. One, a pretty actress in her early 20s, has been seen floating around the theater while bathed in soft light. Two lovers who tumbled to their deaths are seen in the balcony. Cold Spots, unexplained noises, and moving objects have also been reported.
The Peoria Players Theatre has been in continuous operation since premiering on October 6, 1919, making it the longest consecutively-running community theatre in Illinois and the fourth longest in the United States. The theater company had several homes until finally settling at their current location in 1955. The new theater had a seating capacity of 400, and its grand opening was held on November 30, 1957. Ever since Norman Endean died of cancer shortly after becoming theater manager in the 1950s, thespians at Players Theatre have encountered what many of them believed was his ghost. Lights flickered and props seemed to move on their own. Once, the grandson of a volunteer reportedly saw a man in a gray suit sitting in the auditorium. When the volunteer looked to see who it was, the auditorium was empty. A large photograph of Norm used to sit in the costume room, but it mysteriously disappeared. Several websites have incorrectly reported that Norm died onstage.
The Coronado is a historic, 2,400 seat theater. It was designed by architect Frederick J. Klein, cost $1.5 million to build, and opened on October 9, 1927. Some have speculated that the theater was built on an American Indian burial ground because of its proximity to Beattie Park, which contains small Indian Mounds from the Upper Mississippian period. The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. According to a local psychic named Mark Dorsett, three ghosts haunt the theater: Willard Van Matre, the Coronado’s original owner (who died in 1953), Miss Kileen, the theater’s first office manager, and Louis St. Pierre, a Bridge enthusiast and the first theater manager. While Van Matre likes to greet visitors at the theater entrance, the scent of lilac perfume is associated with Miss Kileen. Other people have reported feeling “uneasy” on the catwalks, allegedly because they are occupied by the ghosts of men who died during construction of the building.
3. Barbara Pfeiffer Hall and Theater
Founded in 1861 as Plainfield College and originally located in Plainfield, North Central College was moved to Naperville in 1870. In 1926, a new arts building was added to the campus and named after Barbara Pfeiffer, the mother of a prominent benefactor. Over the next eight decades, the Pfeiffer Theater developed quite a reputation for playing host to as many as a half dozen ghosts. The most well-known of these is that of an elderly lady dressed in an elegant white dress who is said to have died in seat G-42. Mysterious faces have appeared in photographs taken in the balcony and lighting booth, and students report feelings of being watched in that booth. Other ghosts include a drama teacher who is believed to have committed suicide and a former janitor named “Charlie.” He haunts the west stairwell and balcony.
2. Meyer-Jacobs Theatre
In 1908, Lydia Moss Bradley, patron of Bradley University, paid for the construction of a beautiful gymnasium on campus. In the late 1970s, the gymnasium fell out of use and was subsequently remodeled and reopened as the Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts. A brand new theater was built inside and christened the Meyer-Jacobs Theatre. Something from the past remained, however. Since the theater opened, students have reported seeing a man in a brown suit who materializes in a cloud of cigar smoke. A second ghost, a woman wearing a white dress, has been spotted in the lobby. She appears more frequently than the brown-suited man. According to author Stephanie McCarthy, the ghost of a boy who drowned in the old gymnasium pool can be heard scratching at the floor boards beneath the orchestra pit. In addition to its ghosts, Meyer-Jacobs Theatre is reportedly home to an impish trickster spirit that messes with the equipment. A retired theater professor called it a “whompus.”
1. Avon Theater
One of Decatur’s many historic theaters, the Avon Theater opened in 1916 and predominantly catered to the new motion picture craze. Its interior was the largest and most elaborately decorated in Decatur. Renovations and a brief closure in the 1950s removed most of its glamor, however, and by 1986 it was abandoned. Luckily, in the mid-1990s, a group of entrepreneurs purchased the theater and again opened it for business. After its re-opening, the staff began to experience strange events that included hearing laughter, footsteps, and applause after hours. Items would also appear and disappear. Staff members have also seen the apparition of Gus Constan, who owned the Avon during the 1960s. Theater patrons have also described feeling as though they were pushed or had bumped into something unseen.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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