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, the jewel of Joliet (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)
The Carmelite fathers and friars have a significant presence in suburban Chicago and in Joliet. They have a priory on the old Smart-Madden estate in Darien in the Maddens’ former summer home, Castle Eden, as well as a local parish there (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), a shrine to St. Therese of Lisieux (aka the Little Flower), a senior citizens’ residence, and a retreat center. In Joliet, they once managed St. Mary Carmelite Parish downtown as well as Joliet Catholic High School at 29 N. Broadway St., up on the upper bluff west of the Des Plaines River. And it’s at that former high school and the building called the Victory Center that the ghost of a Carmelite priest and practical joker made its presence felt.
First, the background. St. Patrick Parish is the oldest Catholic parish in Joliet. The church’s original location was on Broadway near Jefferson Street. Once a newer church was built further west on the upper bluff, the old church building and parish hall remained. Around 1917, Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago directed the Christian Brothers to renovate the old parish hall and found De La Salle High School for boys on the premises. The school opened in 1918 with only two classrooms. A new school building overlooking Bluff Street was built in 1927. That same year, De La Salle won the national high school basketball championship, the first of many titles the school’s teams would win during the following decades, beginning a sports tradition that led to the renaming of the renovated parish hall as the Victory Center. Its tall spire can still be seen to the southwest from downtown Joliet and the path of historic Route 66.
Yes, we know that Hallowmas is over (as of last Sunday morning), but it is the beginning of The Dead Season. No, that’s not the name of a new TV series on AMC or F/X, despite the numbers of dead and semi-dead running around on the boob tube on those cable networks. The fact is, almost-winter, winter and almost-spring are also the dead season up north for most car cruising and road trips. Which, to Route 66 roadies, means that either you go further south and west on the route or else you become a (temporary) armchair traveler. We don’t mind: we accommodate armchair travelers, too [grin!].
In that spirit, during the Dead Season we bring you stories of other spirit(s) on Route 66, this time over at Cigars and Stripes BBQ Lounge in Berwyn, IL. If you recall, we’ve already clued you in about owner Ronnie Lottz’s tasty smoked hot wings and his tent-and-music extravaganza during the annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show every September. We’ve even mentioned SweetPea, the resident mummy with its own namesake barbecue sauce; said mummy was out to a day-spa for the fake undead last time we visited Ronnie’s place (we trust that SweetPea’s tattered wraps are all rejuvenated and back in place now).
SweetPea, it seems, has spooky company in the way of a resident ghost or three – or at least there are three possibilities for such spiritual visitations. Ghost stories about the tavern include tales of glasses falling off shelves, bottles falling over or down to the ground, martini shakers flipping in the air by themselves, keys disappearing then reappearing in front of customers, a phone lifting off the hook by itself, a shadowy figure crossing the lounge area or appearing in a doorway, and unexplained noises. And now we have people willing to talk about their experiences in the lounge on YouTube.
The Rialto Square Theatre in downtown Joliet, Illinois at the time of its opening in 1926.
Route 66 has its share of ghost stories – mostly in the form of ghost towns out west that didn’t survive the changeover to interstates and modern living – and there are plenty of stories among the paranormal set of haunted theaters. But a haunted theater on historic Route 66? You bet: in Joliet, IL. It was even one of Al Capone’s favorite entertainment hangouts, though nobody’s seen the spirit of Scarface there, thank heavens.