Avon Theater Investigation

The Avon opened on November 28, 1916 and was decorated with original artwork by Mrs. CO Knapp of Bement, a local artist, making the Avon one of the most expensively decorated moving picture houses in the entire country. The ornaments and decor inside of the theater were said to even rival the twin, seven-foot-tall monuments on the posts outside of the building. A third statue was located just above the curtains. It was of a woman, reclining in the nude, and holding a wreath outward toward the audience. On a parallel with this figure, circling the entire auditorium, were base-relief casts of women’s heads. They were only matched by the lion’s heads that circle the theater below them, the eyes of those creatures glowing with brilliant light.


The artwork and the decor were not the only things that make this theater special. The screen was the largest and best designed in the city. Dozens of hours were spent whitewashing the rear wall of the theater in an attempt to make it as smooth and as clean as possible. The film projectors were the best models available and an orchestra was scheduled to appear on a regular basis to provide musical accompaniment for the films. In addition, the theater was also equipped with a giant pipe organ that was electrically controlled. It was located in three different parts of the building so that it would be acoustically correct for the entire audience.

The opening-night audience was treated to a few words from Decatur’s mayor, Dan Dineen, who expressed his appreciation for the theater. He stated that it is “unquestionably the handsomest and largest in the state of Illinois devoted exclusively to moving pictures.” He also boasted that, thanks to new businesses like the Avon Theater opening up, Decatur could finally take its place in the ranks of real cities.

The Avon became known as one of the most beautiful theaters in the Midwest and prospered for many years. It would not hold onto its crown though and the years were not kind to the place. After some extensive remodeling that was done in the 1950’s, the theater never again had the elegance of its early days. For several years, the building was closed and there was thought to be no chance that the Avon will ever welcome theater patrons through its doors again. The lobby and auditorium fell into poor condition and the last attempts to restore, or at least to salvage the theater’s dignity, met with indifference and a lack of enthusiasm.... until recently, when new occupants began restoring the old building, stirring up years of dust.

The theater saw a decline in revenue and business during the 1980’s, becoming the last theater to operate in the downtown area. By this time, audiences were mainly ignoring the Avon in favor of the new multiplex theaters on the north side of town. In 1985, the theater converted to showing second-run movies but that was not enough to keep the place open. It finally closed down in April 1986. The last of the independent theaters in Decatur had now ceased to exist.

After that, the theater was empty for many years, although there was an attempt to bring it back to life in 1989 when it was used for several live music shows. The problem was that the theater had never really been designed for live entertainment and the shows met with only short-lived success.

The Avon opened again in 1993 as a second and third-run bargain house and while the initial response was good, business soon died out. It remained open this time for a little over a year and then closed down for another six years. In 1999, the Avon opened once again, this time as an independent and art film theater, showing alternative films and limited release features that in the past would have never been seen in Decatur. Finally, the Avon again began to thrive and a new audience was reached. It appears the theater has finally managed to restore itself to the status it once had and hopefully the residents of Decatur will help to keep it there.


Located at: 426 N. Water St., Decatur, IL. 62523


Hauntings: The stories of restless ghosts at the Avon go back many years, even to the early days of the theater. There have long been stories of not only spectral presences but of ghostly ushers and strange sensations of being touched, cold spots and more. Many believe that the ghosts who haunt the place may not be directly connected to the theater itself. As ghosts are sometimes connected more to the location than to the people who interact with them, it's not hard to imagine that perhaps a few of the spirits of the past have ended up inside of the Avon, a likely haven for the spirit world!
During the process of evaluating the building for the nightclub project, Skip came down to the theater one rainy afternoon in the spring of 1995. On this day, his trip to the Avon had a double purpose. He was not only looking over the building, but was also borrowing some marquee letters from the theater for use at an upcoming show at the Lincoln Theater. Even though it was a "dark and stormy" afternoon and he knew the theater was probably haunted, he had no problem with going there by himself. In fact, he grabbed a flashlight and a couple of garbage bags to hold the letters and proceeded to the theater.

Skip Houston made his way through the theater to the "letter room", which is located off the previously mentioned hallway on the upstairs level of the building. The room is a small office where all of the plastic letters for the theater marquee are stored. Many of them were ancient letters for a marquee that hadn't existed for years, while others were the old letters from the Lincoln that had been donated to the Avon when the Lincoln's own marquee had been restored. These were the letters that Skip was seeking. After he entered the dimly lit room, he used his flashlight to begin looking for letters and checking them off the sheet he carried with him.

A few minutes after he started working, he distinctly heard a noise behind him in the hallway. He turned around, but saw no one there. A few minutes later, he heard it again. Were those footsteps? He wondered, and looked out in the corridor. The hall remained just as dark, but also just as empty. Skip shook his head and went back to work, hurriedly filling one of the plastic bags with letters. Again, he heard another strange noise and reflexively turned around --- but this time, he found that he was not alone!

"A man stood in the doorway to the room," Skip said. "My first thought was that someone else was in the theater, perhaps a homeless person hiding out there. He was of medium height and slender build. His age appeared to be in his late '50's or early '60's. His hair was close-cropped gray and black. He was not transparent or wraith-like. He appeared solid. His face was nondescript and he stared into the room, not looking at me, just staring.

"I started to speak to him and then he slowly turned and started down the hallway. Recovered from my surprise, I darted to the doorway to say something but all that I saw was an empty hall. I grabbed the finished bag of letters and left the theater as fast as my legs would carry me!"

That was certainly Skip Huston's most startling visit to the Avon, but it would not be the last. Before the theater opened again, another strange encounter took place in the fall of 1998.Even though the theater was still closed down, and without electricity, Skip managed to secure the building for the tour. He thought it would make an appropriately spooky setting for the end of each night's outing. On this particular night, a terrible storm was raging outside. Skip remembered that it was the only rainy night of the tour season and he was disappointed that the attendees had been "rained out" of Greenwood Cemetery. He hoped that a longer version of the haunting events at the Avon Theater would appease anyone who felt the night had been too short.

After a re-telling of the events in the building, he asked if anyone had any questions. Someone raised a hand and asked what the name of the theater's former owner (and the resident ghost's) name had been. At literally the same moment that Skip spoke the name of "Gust Constan", a shout went up from someone in the crowd. This person was frantically pointing up toward the theater balcony and everyone turned in that direction. Skip would never forget what he saw there. "It was a figure at the balcony rail!” he recalled.

He wasn't the only one who saw it either. He estimates that at least 15 people looked up and saw the shadowy figure on the balcony ---- and panicked! People were pushing, shoving, and climbing over the seats to get out of the auditorium, only to run out into the lobby and find the front doors locked. They were barely able to get the doors opened fast enough and needless to say, that ended the tour for the night! The incident left Skip's assistant so shaken that he quit the tours that night and never came back.

"I've had a lot of people come up to me later and talk about that night," he said recently. "In fact, one day I was at the supermarket and the young woman at the check-out said to me that she was on the tour 'that night'. I didn't have to ask what she meant... I knew exactly what night she was talking about."  

Later on, after others began to report their own personal encounters with the resident ghosts, this theory seemed to prove itself out. In recent times, there have been sightings of a woman in a blue dress and what appears to be a uniformed man in costume from the 1930's. Who he may be for sure is unknown, but local residents feel that he was a man who was employed at the Avon many years ago. They recalled that he took tickets in the lobby when patrons entered the theater. These same older folks assured me that the theater was haunted long before Gust Constan passed away in 1965, although they admitted that his ghost is likely to have stayed around as well.  

As the restoration and repair work began to shake loose the dust and grime of the building, it awakened other things as well. It was not long before everyone on the crew, including those who had been the most skeptical about the haunting, began to report eerie incidents they couldn't explain away. Nearly everyone talked of hearing phantom voices in empty rooms and in the deserted auditorium. They also complained of disembodied footsteps and inexplicable cold chills that simply should not exist. Most easily convinced were those who spent the entire night, either working or sleeping in the building. They were soon coming to Skip and apologizing for ever doubting him.

Later, as customers began to arrive at the re-opened theater, they reported their own encounters. Many people spoke of feeling as though they were being watched and of pressure of hands on their backs and arms when no one was present. There were also reports of apparitions and figures who were present one moment and then gone the next. None of the incidents were particularly frightening. It was more like the resident specters were simply trying to make their presence known.

One of the most common reports from people involves what have called the "phantom audience". There have received nearly a dozen independent reports of patrons spotting the hazy forms of people sitting in theater seats. These "people" appear to be watching whatever film is being shown but yet they are obviously not actual, human figures. They are normally reported as being transparent, or at least blurred, and they are often seen only from the corner of the eye. They usually are sighted for a matter of seconds before they simply fade away.

One theater patron was present during the showing of a film one night and saw not one, but two distinct figures seated a short distance away from her. "I happened to glance forward and a little to my right during the movie and I saw what looked like a young couple sitting in the seats, staring at the screen. They looked completely ordinary but they were only there for a second, then they were just gone," the woman told me. I asked her if, when thinking back, there was anything unusual that she recalled about them.

The only thing that she remembered was that they looked slightly "unreal". They were slightly blurred, as though she was looking at them through an old pane of glass. It was almost like, she attempted to clarify, that she was looking through a smeared camera lens.
"Did it frighten you that they just vanished?" I asked her.

"Not really," she replied. "I suppose that I would have been scared if it had happened anywhere else, but Skip and the rest of the people here just seem to have such an open attitude toward these things that it doesn't seem so weird."

Are the "phantom audience" members actual ghosts, or are they merely impressions from the past that have been imprinted on the charged atmosphere of the auditorium. It's hard to say because attempts to pin them down and categorize them have failed. On one hand, the witnesses accounts have stated that they figures appear and then vanish in a matter of seconds. However, a few of the accounts clearly say that the figures "turned and looked" at them, as if completely aware of the presence of the living.

Equipment setup: Since we only had approximately two hours to investigate the theater, no equipment was set up. Instead, we just employed hand held devices; Melmeters, REM Epods, Ghost Box, Ovilus X, digital trap cameras, digital cameras and digital tape recorders. I did set up the Spectercam4 on the stage looking up at the balcony and another IR camcorder with IR illuminator facing down the upstairs hallway.  

Experiments performed: EVP sessions were conducted in the balcony, on the stage, the upstairs hallway, woman’s restroom and some of the upstairs rooms.

The Ghost Research Society investigated Avon Theater on June 23, 2012. Team members included: Stan Suho, Lisa Krick, Nicole Tito, Joey Tito, Mike Lewis, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Jim Graczyk and Dale Kaczmarek with John Winterbauer.








Personal experiences: While using the Melmeter in the back of the theater near the doorways, I noticed exceptionally high meter readings on the back wall ranging from 15.3 to 27 mg! It was a concrete wall with no AC wiring inside. The other side of the wall had stairs going to the balcony and while the readings were a little high there (3.5) they didn’t match the other side. I place the Epod on the stairs to monitor the area.  

Mike Lewis: Investigated Avon Theatre in Decatur, IL on the evening of June 23rd, from the hours between 10:30 and 12:30.  Besides the standard group from GRS, there were several other smaller groups.  Due to the size of the theatre and the number of people, contamination was prevalent.  

I conducted my own EVP session in the lower seating area for approximately 5 minutes, but there were too many other noises, such as other conversations and people walking around.  I did another EVP session with Lisa and Nicole upstairs and did not pick up anything…it was very quiet for a long period of time (no contamination), but still could not pick up anything.  We did one more EVP session in the lower seating area again, but did not pick up anything (the session took place where Dale was reading high numbers against the corner wall).  

We used the radio channel monitor/changer…we picked up a couple of strange words….such as “Greek”….”Mike” when we talked in Greek to Gust.  May have picked up a NO to one of our questions as well (I attached that file).  

I also took several minutes of video, and the only abnormality I noticed was that while we were upstairs doing the EVP session, my video camera when out of focus on two occasions.  Several other people stated similar issues with their cameras.  

Nicole Tito: Team Partner: Lisa Krick,

Equipment Used: Audio recorder, K-II meter

Impressions/Personal Experiences:

The GRS had limited time during this investigation and was open to other groups investigating.  I felt that most areas were quiet to paranormal activity and due to the time restraints simply used basic equipment and performed several, short EVP sessions in various locations.

Undoubtedly, the activity seemed to occur upstairs in the hallway where the offices were located.  On several occasions during the first EVP session, I stood in the hallway with my back to a locked door and kept feeling like something was standing behind me.  At one point, I felt like something touched my back and then the back of my head, but I could not be for sure.  During this session, we captured a weird voice not heard in real time, which is difficult to understand. 

Since we had been getting strange feelings in this area, we decided to head back up there again for a final EVP session at the conclusion of the investigation.  At this time, the K-II meter began to response to our questions and light up, but did so on an inconsistent basis. 

EVPs/Audio Evidence: 

Still photos: Nothing out of the ordinary captured in both exterior and interior shots.   

Evidence collected:  

Me.MPG during an EVP session at the back right side of the theater a question was asked, “Who’s the shadow person that’s been seen back here?”  The Ghost Box responds with, “Me.”  

Strange noise.MPG during an EVP session at the back right side of the theater at the beginning of that EVP session a strange inexplicable noise was picked up.

Conclusions: Since this was an AGS event there were a number of other people being led through the theater so there was a problem with noise contamination, footsteps, people talking in the background, etc. We were also limited to a very small amount of time within the theater so there was no Command Center set up. Investigators used handheld equipment only and covered as many areas as possible in the time allotted to us. The X-Cam inexplicably set itself off after only recording for one minute, 26 seconds.

It did seem to be a quiet night at the theater for the little amount of time spent there.

Ghost Research Society (www.ghostresearch.org)
© 2012 Dale Kaczmarek. All rights reserved.
Web site created by Dale Kaczmarek