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.