Coliseum Ballroom Investigation

In its heyday, the Coliseum had the biggest dance floor (10,000 square feet) between Chicago and St. Louis and featured the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Kay Kyser, Count Basie and most of the other big-name big bands - the megastars of popular music from the 1920s into the 1940s. Situated along old Route 66 (now Illinois Route 4), the Coliseum is said to have attracted crowds that sometimes topped 2,000, from all over central Illinois and metropolitan St. Louis. The popularity of the big bands faded, but the Coliseum continued to draw crowds for nationally known acts such as the Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Johnny Rivers and Ray Charles. In its later years, the ballroom mostly featured local rock bands before closing about a decade ago.

Built in 1924 by Dominick Tarro who acquired the front money from the Capone mob. There are underground tunnels that used to hide illegal moonshine and alcohol and Capone’s grandmother lived in town. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1924, a Grand Opening was held featuring from Chicago, Frank Westfall and his Famous Orchestra. On January 29th of 1930 Tarro was arrested for on federal indictments for bootlegging and later that same day was released on a bond of $30,5000. He never made it home. The mob, fearing the Tarro would implicate them shot him in the head and dumped his body in the river. On May 2, 1930, Robert Fox and Benny Spence were rowing in the Sangamon River when they came across the heavily decomposed body that would later be identified as Tarro.

His wife Maria then took over the business and ran it until she passed away in 1955. Her daughter, Joyce Tarro, then ran the business. It was often said that she carried a pistol for safety when taking the earnings from the business for deposit. On February 19, 1976 at around 2:20am, 51-year-old Joyce was entering her home at 211 N. Main St. from the rear when she noticed the kitchen door ajar. She apparently saw an intruder and fired several shots at the burglar. She was struck by five 32 caliber bullets from another intruder and the $2,000 in receipts was taken.  Some of the other Tarros ran the building for a bit before a Mr. Boone bought it in 1980 and ran the establishment until the late 1980s hosting some of the finest rock bands from the 70s and 80s. It eventually went belly up and he sold it a guy that turned it into a skating rink for about a year and a half in the late 1980s. Then it closed up for about seven years.

Cheryl and Davey Hammond bought it in 1994 and turned it into an antique mall for about three years. When Livingston High School closed down, they moved to that location which was closer to Interstate 55 and it remained closed for another five years. Danny Picarella bought it in 2008 and then in 2010 Kelly and Marlana Swanson purchased the building. It unfortunately burnt down on July 30, 2011, just five days after our investigation!


Located at: 520 S. Hardroad, Benld, Illinois 62009



Hauntings: Ghost believed to haunt the Benld landmark. Cheryl and Davey Hammond simultaneously sat straight up in bed, awakened by two hard knocks on the door of their camper. Who would be knocking at 3 a.m. in the tiny town of Benld? Their minds raced. Could it be a burglar that ran off into the woods? Perhaps it's Cheryl's brother playing a practical joke. Davey thought it could be a dog wanting to get inside. The couple stepped outside in hopes to find a clue, but only saw two dollar bills crisply folded in half on their front step.

"It was her," said Cheryl as she made her way back to bed. When the Hammonds bought The Coliseum Ball Room three years ago on historic Route 66 in Benld, they didn't know they were also buying a constant reminder of the building's past. They acquired a spirit that wants to co-exist with the couple in their new antique mall.
Walking into the Coliseum, it felt like a ghost's home. A life-size Farrah Faucet wax sculpture dressed and positioned like a fortune telling gypsy greets every customer walking through. This was just the first of many items that seemed to be alive, some creepy all historic. Aisles and aisles of antique collectibles maintain an old atmosphere that unintentionally recreates the good ole days of the Coliseum. An original stage and three bars are constant reminders of the dancing days the floor once felt. Hats the women wore while jitterbugging to the big band sounds of Lawrence Welk are sporadically displayed. A Fedora and cigar box mark evidence of a gentleman's night of swinging in the '40s. Little pieces of history: shoes, scarves, jewelry seem reunited under the roof where they feel most at home. This could only be how she feels -- at home.

Cheryl, the believer of the couple, said she's seen the ghost too many times to count. It appears to her in the form of a person; a woman about five feet tall with dark proper hair. Hammond has never seen her face, or noticed her dress, as the ghost always appears as one of the many customers that wander about the 15,000 square foot building. With a second glance, the ghost is gone. Cheryl is not the only one who is aware of the ghost's presence. Numerous dealers that display their antiques in the mall have also seen the ghost in different forms. Most encounters occur during regular business hours.

Kathy Kuhl sees the spirit as a mist, never able to distinguish any features. Cindy Majzel, also a dealer, wants more than anything to see the ghost that many have seen, but has not. Perhaps she is trying too hard. While not everyone has seen her, many can detect a definite presence of the spirit. Hammond spoke of over a dozen instances of people experiencing the ghost. Cheryl once saw a customer turn around as if he saw something and turn back around as if something caught his eye in the opposite direction. The man confronted Cheryl asking her if the building had birds. He said he could feel gusts of wind against his face as if a bird was flying by trying to torment him.

There are also stories of her presence in an old male rest room to the left of the stage. The Hammonds used it when they first purchased the building, but soon decided she didn't want anyone in that room. Toilet paper is known to unravel, the tissue holder has swayed back and forth, and one woman claimed a piece of plastic on the ceiling was flapping as though an exhaust fan was hitting it. However, there was no exhaust fan. Dishes unexplainably rattle. Chimes will sound when no one is near them. Lights flicker and dim unexpectedly. Prickles race up your neck. Swift drafts hit hard when all is still.

Davey Hammond was made a believer last Monday in their home when he felt water being splashed on his face, but couldn't tell where it was coming from. Cheryl was across the room with her hands full. There were no leaks in the ceiling or surrounding pipes. The ghost was the only explanation. "I think it really scared him," said Cheryl. While Cheryl says she's used to the ghost's practical jokes, she takes precaution not to get in her way. The owner claims that the ghost doesn't sit well with people being in the building after hours. "She spent her time in the ball room at night," said Hammond. "It is hers after hours." Cheryl's sister, Vicki Johnson and her daughter visited and stayed at the Coliseum in a back room that once served as a lounge area for musical guests. The ghost didn't like that at all. Vicki claimed that while she was sleeping someone tapped her on her shoulder. She woke up suddenly thinking maybe it was her daughter, but she was asleep. It must have been a dream. Vicki woke up again to what distinctly smelled like a foot directly in front of her face. It must have been a vivid dream. The last straw was when Vicki woke up to Davey Hammond's voice saying "get up get up," but no one was there.

The ghost often imitates the voices of both humans and animals according to Cheryl. “People think you're nuts," she said. "Until you have your own experience, you don't believe." So who is this unnamed, non-descript ghost? A trapped soul? Murder victim? Just a Light-hearted prankster? Cheryl is not certain who she is. One clue that could lead to an identity is the ghost's love for the building. Cheryl mentioned that the ghost almost serves as the keeper of the Coliseum. It is a place she loves and has spent a lot of time in. “She really enjoys being here. She likes all the stuff and gets a kick out of playing practical jokes," she said.

The ghost also was fairly wealthy in her life. According to Sue Cross, a local expert on paranormal phenomena, when the ghost left two dollar bills on the front step, it was an indication of wealth. Cross told Cheryl that many times ghosts will leave change - a few pennies’ or so. Many towns’ people have theories about the identity, but Cheryl is content not knowing. The owner does not want to invade her space, and has asked the ghost not to appear to her face to face. "I'm a chicken," Cheryl said. Cheryl did say she would like to further investigate the haunted aspect of the Coliseum at a professional level.

Other sightings of a young man with dark hair and an older man with white hair indicate there may be more than one apparition. On more than one occasion Cheryl has also seen visions of people dressed in white dancing outside of the building. Whether one believes in ghosts or not, the Coliseum is a spiritual, historic place. The building that once housed big bands, big money and big action works with the antique store that took its place nearly a century later. They play off of each other creating an eerie ambiance that magnetically draws people in. Perhaps it is a spirit that is the enticer.
There have been additional reports of shadow people seen in the balcony of the building and there was a report of a window coming out of its frame, hitting the floor and not breaking. 


The Ghost Research Society investigated the Coliseum Ballroom on July 25,  2011. Team members included: Stan Suho and Dale Kaczmarek with help by Jeanne Chilton, Dean Thompson, Susan Hearty, Scott Evans, Rita Doe and Theresa Moore with Kelly Swanson.








Equipment setup: IR camcorder with large IR illuminator was placed on one overhead balcony where a shadow figure and footsteps were reported in the past. At the end of the corridor a motion detector, followed by an EM Vortex, Geophone and REM Epod.
The camera was monitored at the Command Center on the main floor and connected by category five cables and a small TV monitor. G.E.I.S.T. and Ghost Microphone was assembled near the stage area with Tri-Field, Negative Ion Detector and Geiger Counter. Another large IR illuminator was shown towards the other overhead balcony to help with Jeanne Chilton’s IR camera.


Experiments performed: EVP sessions were conducted at the stage area and overhead in between the two balcony areas. In both cases I employed the Ghost Radar application on my Samsung Infuse phone. During the stage EVP session the GR kicked out the word Australia and the owner verified that there was an Australian group that visited the place recently. I used the Melmeter and was reading a steady 6.5 on the floor area. Others indicated even higher readings as high as 10 in their area. I was using a handheld IR camera and digital recorder as well.

During the overhead EVP session I used the Tri-Field Natural EM meter, Paracorder 667, Ghost Radar, digital recorder and handheld IR camcorder.


Personal experiences: During the overhead EVP session the Tri-Field Natural EM meter went off several times just as K-II meters on the other table nearby did as well. Tri-Field Natural EM meters do not often go off for any reason and currently not for inside AC fields as the meter isn’t sensitive to that at all. Spikes were as high as 10-12 on the dial!

When using the Ghost Radar and walking towards the EVP session already in progress at the stage it kicked out the words, “William”, “strange” and then just as I reached the aisle when I was to make a left turn, it said, “left” which I though was pretty amazing!


Stan Suho: Well this is a sad report to write up. We had a good investigation, several interesting things happened, and now this place is no more. It was a big building with lots of area to cover. As usual we could have used a few more bodies and a lot more cameras.

The Command Post was set up in the rear of the Auditorium. We shared a table with Jeanie's group. G.E.I.S.T. was set up down in front of the stage area. The full setup was placed there, Ion Detector, Geiger Counter, and the Tri-Field, along with Ghost Camera and Ghost Microphone. This was an area of some reported activities. Dale set up cameras in the balcony and cables were run back to the Command Post. I had set up two monitors to keep tabs on the cameras.

When everything was set up and running we began the EVP experiments.

The first was conducted down in front of the stage area next to the G.E.I.S.T. setup. This was monitored by the Ghost Microphone. While this was going on I was busy taking Video and photos of the session. While the group relocated to the upstairs balcony I walked around the floor taking IR photos. I then joined the upstairs EVP group. This was an interesting session in that two K-II meters were responding in unison to the questions the group was asking.  While this was going on I surveyed the entire room with my Night Vision Viewer.


The evening ended a bit early as several people had to work the next day.

Nothing showed up on my videos, photos, or G.E.I.S.T. print outs. I am curious to see what turned up during the second EVP session. This place has a long history and even an Al Capone connection. Sadly a week later the building burned down.


Evidence collected:  

Choice.MPG during an EVP session in the middle balcony, a question was asked, “How did you lose your arm?”  The Ghost Radar responded with, “choice.”  

Geophone1.mpg – the Geophone reacts to an audible noise in the upstairs balcony.  

Geophone2.mpg the Geophone reacts to another audible noise in the upstairs balcony.  

Picture.MPG during an EVP session in the middle balcony, a question was asked, “Would you let me take your picture?” The Ovilus responded with, “picture.”  

Tri-field.MPG continuation of EVP session, a comment was made, “Make that orange light come on if you wish to answer yes or no questions.” The Tri-Field Natural EM Meter as well as a nearby K-II meter spike significantly.  

Tri-field2.MPG a few minutes later, a command was stated, “All the way” and the Tri-Field Natural EM Meter spike to 4.0; followed by a question, “So, you are with us her? Right Ed?” and the meter spiked to a 9.0!



The Tri-Field Natural EM Meter which hardly ever goes off was extremely active upstairs in the middle balcony during the EVP along with a K-II which were both lighting up at the same time and many times in direct response to questions posed to the entities. There were some interesting responses on both the Ovilus and Ghost Radar application which appeared to answer questions or the topics that were being discussed at the time. The name Ed came through several times and at the very beginning of the EVP when a question was posed as to the name of the entity.

The laser grid experiments were uneventful as nearby air conditioning fans were distorting the beams and giving the appearance of interruption of the green dots. The Geophone did go off a few times upstairs in the one balcony when nobody was either upstairs or climbing the stairs at the time. The lights did light up and an audible sound was heard on both occasions, however when Jeanne walked towards the device on the same floorboards, she did not set off the device indicating that whatever had set off the devices was very local to the device itself.

There were the distinct sounds of shuffling and footsteps to the left of the stage area when a group EVP session was being conducted however IR camera pans of the area showed no human presence responsible for the sounds and they persisted.

It was a shame that the building burnt down less than a week after our investigation and listening to all the EVP and video sessions there was no mention of disaster or fire which would have been quite remarkable if it had been recorded in advance of the catastrophe.  

All in all I believed that there could have been many layers of ghosts inhabiting the building due to its colorful and somewhat sinister past. It would be interesting to conduct some investigations of the surrounding ruins and building to see if anything would be picked up from the disaster.

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