Categories
Mysterious America

Does ‘Will’ Put the ‘Woooo’ in Will Rogers Theatre?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Built in 1938 at a cost of $90,000 in Art Deco style, the Will Rogers Theatre has been a fixture of downtown Charleston for generations. It was named after William ‘Will’ Rogers, a world-famous actor, humorist, and columnist of the Progressive Era who died in a plane crash in 1935. During the 1980s, Kerasotes Theaters divided the 1,100-seat auditorium and began showing movies on two separate screens. The Will Rogers was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and designated a Landmark Property by the City of Charleston in 2011.

Like many theaters, there are rumors it is haunted. Since at least the 1990s, employees have encountered strange sounds and surreal events they attributed to a ghost aptly named “Will.” Will, however, is just a convenient moniker.

There are several stories behind the identity of this ghost, but no one knows for certain. According to Will Sailor, a former theater employee, the ghost is that of a man who died in the Charleston Riot. Lucas Thomas, who worked at the theater from 1996 to 2000, told the JG-TC that he heard it was the ghost of a projectionist who died of a heart attack in the projector room.

Categories
Historic America Photography

Time Art Deco Theater

Time Art Deco Theater
The former Time Theatre, at 1416 Broadway Avenue in Mattoon, Illinois, was originally called the Grand and opened in 1910. A fire in 1938 led to a renovation and the glorious Art Deco facade and marquee we see today. The theater closed sometime in the late 1980s and has been open intermittently ever since.
Categories
Photography Roadside America

Theater Motel

The 1940s-era Theater Motel, at 7592 U.S. Route 20 east of Westfield, New York, was originally a drive-in theater. Checking the box on all roadside amenities, there’s also a small diner attached. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the theater in the late 1990s.

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Photography

Nightclub Rio

Nightclub Rio
Nightclub Rio, 136 Franklin Street, Watertown, New York. Formerly the Strand Music Theater and before that a movie house from 1914 until 1957. The building was abandoned for 20 years. The Rio opened in 2015.
Categories
Saudade

EIU Memories: Will Rogers Theatre

Built in 1938 at a cost of $90,000 in Art Deco style, the Will Rogers Theatre has been a fixture of downtown Charleston, Illinois for generations. It was named after William ‘Will’ Rogers, a famous Cherokee actor, humorist, and newspaper columnist of the Progressive Era who died in a plane crash in 1935. When I was an undergrad at Eastern Illinois University, my Friday night routine was to walk down to the Will Rogers and watch whatever movie had been released that week.

During the 1980s, Kerasotes Theaters divided the 1,100-seat auditorium and began showing movies on two separate screens. The Will Rogers was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and designated a Landmark Property by the City of Charleston in 2011.

When I entered EIU as a freshman in the fall of 2000, Kerasotes still owned Will Rogers Theatre. They showed two films per week on two screens, one at 7:00pm and the other at 7:15. Movie tickets were only $2, and popcorn was cheap too. My first visit was to see The Replacements with a sorority girl named Valerie who my roommate introduced me to (for more on him, read my article on Carman Hall).

Categories
Photography

Woodbourne Theater

Woodbourne Theater
Woodbourne is a small hamlet in Sullivan County, New York, in the Catskill Mountains along the Neversink River. Designed by local architect Abraham H. Okun and Built in 1938, this Art Deco theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Also known as the Center Theatre or Peace Palace, it closed in the 1980s and has sat abandoned ever since.
Categories
Photography Roadside America

Abandoned Catskill Drive-In

Mountain Drive-In, off NY State Highway 52, east of Liberty, New York, silently sits in ruins like a scene from the Fallout series. A faded sign still advertises “Mountain Fest ’97”, so I assume that was when it closed. According to Cinema Treasures, it opened in 1951 and once had three screens. More info and pictures from 2007 here.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, New York City Jews flocked to Catskill resorts in the summer months to escape the stifling heat of the city. There were once over 500 resorts and hotels in the area, known as the “Borscht Belt“.

Many famous comedians and entertainers got their start here. With increasing religious tolerance and the advent of widespread commercial airliners, many families chose to vacation elsewhere and dozens of these establishments now lay abandoned.