“I Ain’t Afraid a’ No Ghosts”
— Joseph D. Kubal *
What do ghosts and the Rialto Square Theatre have to do with Route 66? Everything! The famous Rialto Square at 102 N. Chicago St. in Joliet, IL is a well-known Route 66 ‘haunt’ and, supposedly, the building is haunted. On Saturday, March 7, 2015, I set out to see if ghosts could really be found there.
You see, I have an open mind about such things and do believe that not everything can be proven with the science we currently have available. Over the years, I have had several unexplained occurrences happen to me and my family. it’s just the Eastern European gypsy blood in me, and I’m more susceptible to believing in the supernatural. But ask around, and you may be surprised to learn that lots of folks have had unusual things happen to them over the years. Often, people just don’t talk about those events openly, as they don’t want to be thought crazy, illogical, or as a “kook” by non-believers.
The Rialto Square Theatre opened in 1926, the same year that Route 66 was established. The movie palace was designed for vaudeville acts as well as films, was later turned into solely a movie house, then fell into disrepair and languished for years. It was renovated during the late 1970s and was then turned into the performing arts center it is today. For more information about the playhouse, see our previous blog post about the Rialto.
Last year, the Rialto began offering so-called paranormal tours with investigations led by paranormal professionals, but it wasn’t until recently that these tours were regularly scheduled. When recently contacted by theater staff that a session was in the offing, I jumped at the chance to go.
For only $40, you’re booked for a five-hour experience like no other. The session was held by a group called The Illinois Paranormalists (TIP) and led by co-founders and investigators Paul Schmidt and Christine Randall. TIP was established in June 2014; more information about the group can be found on their website. Although recently organized, the group’s members claim years of personal experience in dealing with paranormal investigations and use sophisticated electronic equipment to record any possible paranormal events.
Registration began at 6:00 p.m. that Saturday evening. There would be a full moon rising later – always a time for purported spirits to be particularly active. There were about seven team members there from either TIP or the Rialto itself. First, we were presented with a short history of the movie palace and given a brief tour to familiarize ourselves with the building. Then the lighting was dimmed, with only the sole ‘ghost light’ left burning brightly on stage. Ghost lights are so named because it was believed by theatre people (who tend to be very superstitious) that specters inhabit every old theatre. To placate the spirits, a single light was left glowing so that these spirits can ‘perform’ on stage late at night. To non-believers, it is considered merely a safety precaution, so that individuals don’t fall off the edge of the stage.
Anyway, back to the session. The investigation team briefed us on where in the theater paranormal activity is likely to be the highest. For example, the men’s restroom/coat room on the main floor has been recorded as having toilets flushing by themselves and coat rack hangers bouncing together unexpectedly on their own. This activity is usually attributed to the specter of a young boy named Kevin. According to the TIP website, this mischievous youngster met an untimely end when he was hit by an automobile on the street. He was carried into the theater, where he died; but according to legend, his playful spirit remains. The story is, however, undocumented.
Our group headed back through the darkened theater toward the stage when suddenly, hand-held energy meters indicated that a ghost was supposedly in our vicinity. The meters have flashing red lights and emit an audible sound to let one know when activity is present. The meters were registering at a high rate, and as quickly as the activity came, it ceased just as rapidly. One of the leaders shot photos in the immediate area at the time in groups of three, which is typically done to record movement between shots. When later examined, the camera showed a photo of a transparent older gentleman with a sharply pointed nose. Was this our first ghost, or a well-organized hoax? It seemed too easy.
From that point on, the larger group was broken into three subgroups – one with 11 individuals, the second with eight, and the last with five. I was in the group of five and was lucky enough to have three investigators with us as we explored the other theatre haunts. Our little group proceeded to the balcony to continue the investigation. My flashlight, which had been working at home, decided to give out, but luckily, I had a spare that did work.
The balcony area is the haunting ground of a few different ghostly presences. Again, according to legend, a couple attending a performance at the theatre fell to their death off the auditorium balcony seating area and continue to frequent the theatre in the afterlife. In other lore, another young boy, this one red-headed and named Colin, perhaps of Irish extraction, frequently plays pranks on unsuspecting visitors. Small toy balls were set around the balcony vestibule near recording cameras to see if Colin would come out and play with them. Colin did not seem to be active while our group was present. It is very possible that the line between the tales of Kevin and Colin blurred over the years, and both tales are actually about the same youngster. According to TIP’s Paul Schmidt, “None of the Rialto lore has been proven. There’s no record of a couple jumping off the balcony or the boy dying in the street. We just don’t know.”
We silently sat in the dim balcony and heat recorders were used to examine temperature difference on the balcony seats and out in the entranceway. It has been reported that some of the seats exhibit higher warmth as if someone recently had been sitting there. Also the recorders are used to find dips in temperature which supposedly are prominent when ghosts are astir. Some cooler temperatures were evident in places but I would not consider them to be out of the ordinary. One of the women in our group, however, did take a few flash photos up there and, upon examination, found an orb that tended to follow one of the investigators as she ascended the balcony stairs.
Now for break time and a short interlude.
I just want to mention a few of the devices used in our paranormal investigation. They included a centralized DVR system where investigators could view and record scenes from four remote cameras spread throughout the building. The equipment is designed to capture both visual and audial data. There were also handheld digital recorders to capture sound and K-2 electromagnetic (EMF) meters that are standard paranormal investigation tools that record spikes in EMF activity. The only trouble with the K-2 meters is that they record “activity” when one approaches existing electrical circuitry or even when our group leader used a walkie-talkie in communicating with the other two groups. It does seem that TIP tries to use all pertinent electronic technology to record paranormal occurrences in a scientific manner.
One investigational tool, used by one of the Rialto staff, however, seemed to be a throwback to an earlier era. This was in the use of divining rods, two copper L-shaped rods that are held in the hands of a medium or an individual that seems in tune with the spirits to “dowse” answers in the form of yes or no questions put forward by others. This method is similar, at least in my mind, to the concept of a simplified Ouija board.
After a short break, our small team went upstairs into one of the dressing rooms for the more prominent actors. The small room showed no activity upon arrival but we were in search of a ghostly apparition named Vivian. Vivian is thought to be the spirit of an aspiring starlet who performed at the theatre years ago. She loved performing so much that after she died, her spirit remained in the theatre to this day. She is alleged to like the color purple, and the scent of lavender is professed to be smelled when her specter is nearby. Believers in the group called out to the spirit by name requesting signs of her presence.
No signs were forthcoming until after one of the investigators who considers herself a skeptic left the premises. A séance-like session followed where we sat silently in a near black room lit only by a single flashlight with the medium (a Rialto staff member, not part of TIP) using the aforementioned divining rods to answer yes/no questions. Many questions were posed and were answered by the rods crossing and uncrossing themselves mystically. I maintained that this was all just hocus-pocus and that I was part of an elaborate ruse. The other gentleman in the group requested that Vivian make herself known by nearing the EMF meter so that it would spike, but again, she did not signal back. The querying session went on for about twenty minutes or so and Vivian claimed that there were many ghosts in the theatre, that she knew them all, and that only one was considered dangerous.
Being the only doubting Thomas in the group, I did not feel comfortable asking questions and started to wonder if my ‘negative energy’ was preventing the supposed spirit from making her known. I let down my guard of disbelief for only a second. No sooner had I done this than the EMF meter started registering, and I experienced a cold tingling sensation throughout my upper body. I got goose bumps and seriously started to question my rationality and impartiality. The gentleman thanked Vivian for showing a sign and, in response, she blinked the meter once more as if to say, “you’re welcome.” It was time for break again so I headed downstairs, somewhat disturbed.
I had had enough for the evening and left the session early, after only three hours. Again, all I could think of is that it was an elaborate hoax. But then again, I know what I felt. Or was, I, too, being simply superstitious? The darkened room definitely puts one into a different frame of mind, and the possibility of seeing a ghost just enhances the edginess. Or perhaps it was just the power of suggestion at play. However, the coincidence between my hair-raising sensation and the onset of blinking light was exceptionally uncanny and unsettling.
Other than the photo of the ghost light on stage and a few images of the theatre prior to dimming the lights, none of my photographs turned out to be good enough to share. My conclusion with the night’s events is that I remain skeptical but open-minded. I was able neither to prove nor disprove the existence of spirits as a result of this particular evening and am considering visiting again in the future to investigate further. Do ghosts exist? I came to a conclusive “I still don’t know.”
Additional information about the history of the Rialto Square Theatre and the paranormal tours that are offered can be found at http://www.rialtosquare.com/ or by contacting the box office at 815-726-6600. TIP currently is in the process of posting a summary of the Rialto investigation here on their website. Keep a lookout for the official update.
So: “Who ya gonna call?” The Rialto, of course, to see for yourself!
* The original line “I ain’t afraid a’ no ghost” was, of course, uttered by the characters Drs. Peter Venkman, Egon Spengler, and Ray Stanz in the film Ghostbusters.
Until next time,