Theaters are designed to overwhelm the senses and bring joy and excitement to their patrons, and many are believed to be haunted by at least one or two ghosts. With so many haunted theaters, it is hard to decide which have the most compelling legends. Thankfully, Mysterious Heartland is here to bring you the history and the ghost stories behind some of the most notorious haunted theaters in the Midwest!
10. Calumet Theater
Opened in 1900, the Calumet Theater was the Upper Peninsula’s most beautiful entertainment venue. Funded by wealth from the nearby copper mines, it featured luxuries like an electric copper chandelier. The theater is famously haunted by the ghost of Polish actress Helena Modjeska, whose portrait hangs ceremoniously on the wall. Whenever her portrait is taken down, poltergeist activity follows. Lights turn off and on and loud crashes are heard. Her ghost has been spotted throughout the theater. According to legend, in 1958 she appeared to an actress who had forgotten her lines in the midst of stage fright. The ghost whispered the correct lines to her and saved the performance.
9. The Grand Opera House
The Grand Opera House, located on High Avenue in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is believed to be haunted by the ghost of Percy Keene, who was stage manager there for several decades. The opera house was built in 1883 and held 921 seats. It began to show motion pictures in 1948, but the declining economy put it in jeopardy. The local government stepped in to save the theater. Much of the activity in the Grand occurs around the balcony, where Percy Keene has been spotted several times. A phantom dog has also been seen. A light director saw the dog on stage and asked the actors to remove it. The actors, however, had not seen any dog, but encounters continued. Phantom footsteps have also been reported, as well as a strange orange mist on stage.
8. Fowler Theatre
Fowler Theatre, as well as the town of Fowler itself, is named after Moses Fowler, a prominent banker in the area. The Fowler Theatre opened March 1, 1940, and since then has been a pillar of cultural life in the community. It was designed to be a movie palace, and was one of six theaters in the country chosen to premier Gone with the Wind. Something from the past has remained. Volunteers have reported doors opening on their own, feelings of being watched, and a rocking chair that sways back and forth. Several have seen the specter of a gray-haired man wearing a tan raincoat and a fedora. He dashes through the theater and then disappears. Old photographs point to his identity as Dick Vlastos, the original owner of the theater. The sightings have occurred so regularly that volunteers assume he must be looking after his beloved building.
7. Orpheum Theatre
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
A ghost named “Larry” reportedly haunts this historic, century-old theater in Sioux Falls. The Orpheum Theatre was built in Beaux-Arts style and opened in 1913. It was purchased in 1954 by the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse, and strange things began to happen. Its new owners found an old, ornate casket in the boiler room. When they returned to clean the room, the casket had disappeared. In 1959, an actor named Ray Loftesness saw the figure of a man bathed in blue-green light pointing at him from the balcony. He felt an icy blast of air, and was later knocked unconscious by a falling sandbag—not just once, but twice! A dark shadow in the shape of a man has also appeared in a photograph of the balcony. Over the years, this ghost came to be called “Larry,” and there is much speculation about who he may have been. According to one strange tale, Larry was an actor who disappeared during dress rehearsal after a gunshot was heard in the light booth. His fellow actors discovered a pool of blood, but no body.
6. Mantorville Opera House
This handsome brick theater was built in 1918 after a fire destroyed the old business district. Members of the Mantorville Theatre Company, which owns the building and performs there, insist it is haunted by several entities. Actors and actresses have bumped into strangers wearing the same costumes as them, only to see those strangers disappear as mysteriously as they arrived. A ghost named “Ellen” is regularly encountered. Theater company members report feeling unseen hands touch their hair, the feeling of being watched, and of not being alone. Stranger still, a single light will remain on even after they have all been turned off for the night. A volunteer will turn off that light again, but as soon as they leave, they will see it on again. Local police have seen lights on in the theater in the early morning hours as well. No rational explanation has been found for this activity.
5. 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.
4. Cresco Theatre
The Cresco Opera House, as it was originally known, opened in 1915. It hosted many different kinds of performances, and even had a screen for motion pictures. Today, the theater continues this tradition by showing both movies and live performances. The building is long believed to be haunted by the ghosts of past thespians and their patrons. A lone figure that vanishes on approach has been seen sitting in the darkened theater. Ghosts dressed like vaudeville performers have been encountered around the stage, and voices and strange sounds have been heard when the theater is supposedly empty. Others have seen shadowy figures in the basement, and electrical disturbances have also been reported. With such an eclectic history, it is no wonder the Cresco Theatre is home to so many ghosts.
3. Majestic Theatre
Originally built in 1852 as the Masonic Opera house, the Majestic Theatre has earned its reputation as one of the most haunted theaters in Ohio. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, the overflow of dead bodies was stored in the theater, and their blood and vital fluids were pumped into the alley behind the theater. Since then, it has been called “Blood Alley.” Strange, ethereal singing has been heard on both audio equipment and recordings. In 2001, students from the University of Akron recorded a girl’s voice asking, “How do I get out of here?” This ghost has been seen and heard so frequently that she has been named “Elizabeth.” Strange clouds and figures have also been seen in the theater. The Knights’ Room on the second floor is a popular spot for photographing supposed “ghost orbs.”
2. Landers Theater
Built in 1909, Landers Theater is a handsome, four-story brick building along E. Walnut Street in Springfield, Missouri. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been in continuous operation since it opened. It is rumored to be haunted by several ghosts. On December 17, 1920, a fire broke out in the theater that nearly burnt it to the ground. A janitor perished in the blaze, and his ghost has been seen in the balcony. Another tragic story involves an infant that was accidentally dropped from the balcony. Witnesses report hearing a baby crying, or the sickening “thud” of the fall being reenacted. A “green orb” and inky black vortex have been encountered in various places throughout the theater, and passersby have sometimes seen a blonde woman wearing an Elizabethan costume in a fourth floor window.
1. Civic Theatre
Originally the Loews Theatre, the Civic Theatre was designed by Viennese architect John Eberson in grand “Atmospheric” style. The ceiling was designed to look like the night sky, and it is one of the few that can rotate. The Civic is believed to be haunted by three ghosts. A girl who allegedly committed suicide by jumping into the canal behind the theater has been encountered walking along the edge of the canal, weeping uncontrollably. The ghost of a longtime employee of the theater, a janitor named Fred, has been seen all over the building. He is believed to attack anyone who makes a mess in the bathrooms. Finally, the anonymous ghost of a man has been seen sitting in the balcony. What distinguishes him from “Fred” is that he is always described as being very well-dressed. Theater patrons are unable to decide who he was in life or why he is haunting the Civic.
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