The Stanley Theatre, 261 Genesee Street in Utica, New York, was built in 1928 as a “movie palace” and seats 2,963. It was designed by Thomas W. Lamb in a unique Mexican Baroque style, with terra cotta and tiled mosaics. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and today functions as a performing arts center.
The Coronado is a historic, 2,400 seat theater in downtown Rockford, Illinois. 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/Late Woodland period. The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
According to theater volunteers and a local psychic named Mark Dorsett, it is haunted by three ghosts: 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.
The Paramount Theater, 215 E Main Street in Charlottesville, Virginia, was designed by brothers Cornelius Ward Rapp and George Leslie Rapp. It operated from 1931 to 1974, when it entered a period of abandonment. In 1992, a nonprofit began a multi-million dollar restoration. Today, it serves as a performing arts venue and remains a fixture of downtown Charlottesville.
One of Decatur, Illinois’ 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 glamour, 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.
The Des Plaines Theatre, 1476 Miner Street (U.S. Route 14) in Des Plaines, Illinois, opened in 1926 with this beautiful light bulb-lined marquee, just down the street from the Sugar Bowl. In 2019, Onesti Entertainment took over management of the theater and began restoration. As my longtime readers know, I grew up in Des Plaines. I remember when this theater played movies for 50 cents on Tuesday (I must have watched Jurassic Park there a half-dozen times), and I saw my first live concert there. I’m glad it’s finally getting restored after being closed for years.
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.