The Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet, IL opened on May 24, 1926 with a price tag of nearly two million dollars. The “vaudeville movie palace” was considered to be the jewel of Joliet. In the 1970s, the theatre had fallen into disrepair and was faced with demolition. A massive renovation of the theatre was done in the 1980s, and the “vaudeville movie palace” was reopened as a center for the performing arts. In 2006, a second renovation was done with a price tag of nearly six million dollars. There is currently another two million dollar renovation that is planned.
The "Jewel of Joliet” is not only the hosts to dozens of entertainers and performers, who bring in thousands of people, but the theater is the host to several resident ghosts. The most commonly seen or felt is the ghost of spectral woman, who has been given the name Vivian. She is believed to be the ghost of a past performer at the theatre. She is most often seen in the “Stars” dressing room. She is said to be dressed in purple and associated with the scent of lavender. It is believed by many that she loved performing so much that she does not want to leave the theater or stop performing.
Among the other ghosts that are often reported at the theater are the spirits of a couple who are seen in the balcony. Legend has it that his man and woman jumped from the balcony to their deaths, and their spirits refuse to move on. Another noteworthy ghost that is often seen and whose presence is felt is that of a little boy, who has been given the name Kevin. The legend says that the boy was playing on the street and was struck by a car. He was brought into the theatre where is passed away. His ghost is said to remain at the theatre, and is known to be a prankster. Whether flushing toilets, swinging hangers, or flipping the chairs in the theater down and up, he is definitely a mischievous little spirit. There are no reported tragedies or deaths that are documented with the theater, and those who haunt the theater cannot be documented either.
On the evening of February 21, 2014 the Will County Ghost Hunters Society arrived in the heart of downtown Joliet at the Rialto Square Theatre to begin our investigation. We were greeted by the Rialto Square Theatre staff, and brought our equipment into begin our investigation. On this night we had a total of ten WCGHS investigators due to the size of the location. It was determined prior to arriving that we would break the members into two teams. Team A was led by WCGHS senior investigators Jason Houck and Ron Muldoon. The other members of team A were Lesley Tuton, Craig Butkovic, and Rick Montalo. Team B was led by senior investigators Christine Randall and Paul Schmidt. The other members of team B were Stu Honeck, Carol Mulvhill, and Carol Flynn.
We determined the best location for our base was off to the one side of the stage. This location was centrally located to the locations where we were setting up the cameras. Both teams set up the IR cameras in the reported hotspots. A camera was set up in the Rotunda facing the grand staircase where the image of an apparition has been seen and caught on still photos and video. The next cameras were set up upper balcony facing the stage and the stage facing into the left side of the Auditorium; this is where ghostly figures have been seen. The next camera was set up in the green room, and the last camera was set up in the “Stars Dressing Room,” where the spirit of Vivian is reported to be.
As the cameras were being set up two team members, Christine Randall and Carol Mulvhill took base line EMF and temperature readings through the theatre. There was nothing unusual noted. They are as follows:
Near stairs over women’s restroom .03
Near door to Promenade .5
On stairs over women’s restroom:
Ascending stairs .2
Near upper wall 5.5
Balcony Women’s bath room 6-7
Wall near upper Promenade 11
Balcony Promenade .2
Stairs opposite side of room .2
Temperature of Rotunda center of room 75-77
Stars Dressing Room Temperature 77-79
Near walls 80
Sitting area table & chairs 1.00
Over sofa seats .40
Closet .08 - .50
Mirror with make-up lights 2, 3-3.5
Corner mirror 5.0
Lower level large group dressing room
Along back mirrored wall .02, .03
Hall side of room wall .04-.05
Green Room Temperature 70-72
EMF .1-.2 near counter with sink
Left of Refrigerator 6.0-10.0
Near Organ door .04-.05
Stage Corner Temperature 57
Stage Production EMF 4-6 Temp 67
Stage Left Stairs EMF .2
Wall structure next to stage, left stairs EMF 1.7
Main seating center EMF 0, Temp 68
Far left aisle wall EMF .2
Far left aisle towards stage EMP 1.0 - 1.6
Reception one EMF 0, Temp 68
2nd level reception EMF 0, Temp 71-72
2nd level bar, left hall EMF 1.0 - 1.5
Balcony Temp 69-70
Prior to the official start of our investigation, and even prior to lights being turned off the IR camera we had set up in the Rotunda captured something very unusual. The time stamp on our camera was 22:42.50, when some activity was picked up on the 2nd floor near the promenade entrance. Something manifest in-between the spindles of the hand rail. When looking between the spindles, not one but two figures move from right to left then just disappear. All members of the investigative team and staff were accounted for during this time. They never appear above the hand rail or continue the path they were on as a normal person would.
Team A began their investigation in the Greenroom, located directly under the stage. This is an area where people sit and have refreshments. They began with taking pictures of the room and surrounding stairwells. Once finished taking pictures they started our EVP session. They did have to unplug the refrigerator to help with background noise but there was an electrical box giving off a loud humming/buzzing sound that they could do nothing about. During their time there some of them heard what appeared to be voices and noises coming from the stairwell where claims of people seeing figures standing. They were able to debunk what appeared to be music coming from down one of the stairwells which was actually a radio that they keep on all the time, according to the Rialto staff. While conducting an EVP session and in-between questions at approximately the 16 second mark there is a click or tap noise in the distance. Then, Ron, Jason and Lesley all react to it. It appeared to be coming from the hallway adjacent, which leads up to the stage area.
Team B started their evening in the rotunda area of the theatre. The rotunda is a large entry way into the theater. It is very ornate with marble columns and a beautiful twin stairway up to the second level. Claims have included seeing a woman in a white dress on the stairway and the landing area on the second floor. Previously an apparition of what appeared to be a lady in white on the upper landing apparition was captured by another investigative team. Team B conducted an EVP session in the rotunda. After asking a number of questions while trying to get the spirit to turn a flashlight on and off in response to their questions. After asking numerous questions, they finally were able to get the light to turn on and off once. It appeared more random than in response than to the questions. Christine also went to the top of the stairs so we could get a size comparison to the apparition that a previous group had captured during their investigation. However, the footage was inclusive. The team also conducted an EVP session in the coatroom, where there have been reports of a small boy swaying the hangers and men’s bathroom where all the toilets flush on their own. The team did not capture any evidence during these sessions. The rotunda area is difficult because it is so large with all hard surfaces so it actually echoes on the recordings.
Next Team A moved to the Rotunda and Grand Staircase area, while Team B went to the Stars dressing room. They started off by taking pictures, which took some time due to the large size of the area and the connecting rooms. They determined for the EVP session that the team would spilt up into two small teams to cover the vast area they were in. Craig and Rick went up to the 2nd floor to sit along the hand rail in front of the opening to the 2nd floor promenade. Jason, Ron, Lesley remained on the main floor. Prior to starting the EVP session Jason went to get his KII meter from a small table in-between two of the large columns just in front of the doors to the main level promenade. When he got to the table he noticed a reflection in the door’s glass pane and recognized it one of the staff members from the Rialto. Upon further looking at it, he noticed another face looking at him. It then disappeared, which caught his attention. He ran to where he thought he saw the face and no one was there. Ron, Jason and Lesley tried to logically explain it and just could not figure it out. Who could have it just been in the reflection? The face Jason saw appeared to be female. They began their EVP session. It is during this time, Jason and Ron are talking, at about the 10 second mark; immediately after they are done talking a yell is picked up. It sounds like the yell echoes through the vast area. No one heard the yell or reacted to it during this time.
During that same time, Team B went to the Stars dressing room. They were the first team in there of the night. We were the first team in the room that night. The Stars Dressing Room is host to possibly the most well-known ghost of the theatre, the spirit of old vaudeville actress who was given the name Vivian. She is said to wear purple and the smell of lavender is often smelt in here. Some of the highest EMF readings (100+) that investigators have recorded have been here. The room is still used by the stars of the current performances. There were a few K-II hits, but no pattern of responses occurred and with the baseline EMFs being off the charts they were most likely not a response. The smell of cigar smoke was smelled by one of the investigators, but not by any of the others. Christine is heard asking a couple of questions. “I would love to find out what you performed as here. Where you a dancer? Did you sing?” After a few seconds, a light whisper is heard, and then followed immediately by Carol’s saying “Maybe she did it all.” It cannot be understood what the whisper is saying.
While investigating there was a break between questions, during which this recording captured a loud bang at the 8 second mark. It sounds close to the recorder. Immediately after the noise Carol, Stu, and Christine all react to it.
Next Team A moved into the Auditorium, while Team B moved down into the Greenroom. Again, due to the overwhelming size of the area Team A broke up into two groups to cover of the area as possible. Jason, Ron went up into the upper balcony. While Lesley, Craig, Rick remained on the main floor. They all spread out into different areas of the seating. Earlier during setup, Lesley and Jason placed a couple of balls in the upper balcony. In this area there have been reports of the small figure, possibly a child, running around. They checked the balls to see if there had been any movement, and there had not been. Ron did a sweep with the thermal cam and found a warm spot on a single chair on the upper balcony, Aisle L Seat #207. Jason was witness to the image on the camera, then preceded to the chair for further investigation. Ron watched the spot dissipate. The team sat down to start their EVP session. During this time some of them thought they heard some whispering. Jason’s recorder was located in Aisle Q Seat212, which is located near the entrance to the door of the upper promenade, near the equipment/lighting/camera room. Jason was sitting down at the time of this recording, while Ron was at the opposite end of the balcony. Lesley and Craig were talking, about the 9 second mark Lesley says “Oh, got it, ok.” Immediately after her speaking, you hear the sound of someone walking can be heard.
During the same time, Lesley’s recorder, which she had on the main floor seating area, also captured not one, but two separate additional recordings of footsteps. These were recorded at different times from Jason’s recording. During this time everyone was seated. At about the 12 second mark Lesley says “that will be really cool,” then the sounds of footsteps are heard. They seem to be moving away from her. No one reacts to this during the time of the investigation.
A short time later, Lesley’s recorder picked up another set of footsteps. She says, “Are you in here?”, at approximately the 4 second mark, additional footsteps are heard coming closer to where the recorder is. In the same recording, at the 7 second mark, a very distant yell can be heard following the footsteps. Jason is heard reacting to it. An interesting point about these three footstep recordings are that they all sound like hard soled shoes on a hard floor. However the majority of the floor in the Auditorium, on both levels, is carpeted except in the aisles.
While Team A was in the Auditorium, Team B was in the Greenroom conducting an EVP session. Our team next did the green room under the stage and the make-up room next to it. The Green Room’s refrigerator door has opened on its own. People have also reported hearing voices in the room. There is a high noise contamination from machinery and the electrical box. We minimized what we could, such as unplugging the refrigerator, but the electrical box (for the whole theater) hums. So the EVP sessions were difficult. Due to the noise levels we split out time and did sessions in the make-up room, which is all mirrors. A child once saw something in the make-up room which made him not what to go back. We are not sure what it was. While in the make-up room a toilet flushed upstairs and the water made its way through a large pipe in the room. We do not know who flushed the toilet, but toilets flushing on their own in the upstairs men’s room do happen.
Team A headed to the Stars Dressing Room and began their EVP session. The area is one of the smaller areas that the team investigated. During this time the EMF readings were consistent with readings holding around 2.0. However, there were several times when the readings spiked into the 20s. It was during this time we were able to capture two different EVPs. Jason asks, “How about the bathroom door right next to me, can you close it?” Immediately following the question is a whispered response. It is not clear what is being said.
The final EVP was recorded when Craig asks. “If you’re not an actress or an actor”… Interrupted by a spirit murmuring… then Craig continues, “What position did you hold in the theatre?” In-between his two sentences you will hear what appears to be some whimpering.
During this time Team B went into the Auditorium to conduct their investigation.in this are there has been sightings of apparitions, shadows, and unexplained noises. They started by taking photos throughout the vast area. They then spread out and did an EVP session with Christine asking questions. They did not get any definitive responses during the investigation of the Auditorium.
Finally at the end of the investigation the two teams met up and ended the night in the lower Promenade area to do conduct a ghost box EVP session. There was no communication to be noted that they could hear with their ears during this time. The only noteworthy occurrence was that Jason’s recorder went dead at about 10 minutes in to the session. His batteries were full at the beginning of the session. The recorder was sitting in the same area where he had seen face in the door earlier in the night.
The investigation was concluded. We broke the equipment down and thanked the Rialto Square Theatre staff for having us out. The individual review began immediately. A few short days later the team met to discuss the investigation and our findings. We were able to dismiss several possible pieces of evidence and collectively agree with presenting our finding to the Rialto Square Theatre staff.
Senior investigators Christine Randall and Paul Schmidt met with the Rialto Square Theatre staff members to disclose our evidence. The disclosure went extremely well.
In the opinion of the Will County Ghost Hunters Society the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet is definitely haunted by several spirits and most likely will remain so for some time. We look forward to investigating the theatre again in the near future.