Spirited Ghost Tours of Rockford’s Coronado Theatre offered Oct. 27, 30-31

Staff Report

The Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society (LOLTOS) invites you to join them for a spirited Ghost Tour from 7 to 9 p.m. on one of three different dates at the historic Coronado Theatre, 314 N. Main St., Rockford.

Tours will be offered Saturday, Oct. 27, Tuesday, Oct. 30, and Halloween, Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Tickets are $10 per person; advance reservations are required. Call (815) 968-0595 to reserve a place. Arrive at 6:45 p.m. All tours will begin promptly at 7 p.m. No one will be admitted after 7:15 p.m.

The tour includes: Coronado’s Grande Barton Theatre Organ, Atmospheric Show, organ chamber, Van Matre — Owner’s apartment circa 1932, stars’ dressing rooms, on stage and under the stage, audience chamber and public areas in the theater.

Ghostly happenings in the theater

The Coronado Theatre opened Oct. 9, 1927. It was built by Willard Van Matre and the officers of the Schumann Piano Co., which had come to Rockford in 1904 and had been very successful. In the 1920s, with the invention of radio, families could sit around the radio and listen to their favorite programs, so the piano stood neglected. The Schumann Piano Co. was losing business.

The men of Schumann decided to build an atmospheric theater, but they had just lost one business. With the new structure, they included five stores and 18 apartments so as to ensure a good income every month whether the theater was successful or not.

Late in construction, Willard Van Matre and his wife, Erma, chose to live in the theater. They took two apartments that were planned over the front lobby and combined them into one large apartment for their residence. It was done in a new style, Art Deco, and included a pink marble fireplace. They moved into the apartment in 1932.

Mr. Van Matre was proud of his theater and enjoyed greeting guests in the lobby whenever it opened. He died in 1953, and his wife lived in the apartment and managed the Coronado until her death in 1969. It was after1970 that some strange happenings began to be recorded. Briefly, these were a few of the unusual events recorded by staff and visitors.

In the auditorium, Duane, the LOLTOS technician, was working on the organ after the patrons had left for the night. He turned on the overhead spotlight and his own trouble light. The lights in the auditorium were off. The house manager told Duane that all was secure and left for the night, locking the door. As he worked, Duane couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being watched, even though he knew the theater was closed and locked. Finally, he looked into the darkened auditorium and, on the west side of the balcony, he saw a woman in a white gown watching him. Then, she seemed to float to the center of the balcony, where she disappeared. Duane packed up his tools and also made a quick exit.

Do you hear a dog?

On the west stair to the men’s lounge, Duane and Bob T. both witnessed a large dog in the lounge. It appeared and disappeared daytimes and evenings, but was never found in the theater. No one could identify the dog or its owner. One day, a LOLTOS member brought his large dog along while he was working at the theater. Heading for the restroom, the man started down the west stairs with his dog on a leash. The dog refused to move from the top of the stairs, raising the hair on its back and growling. On another occasion, a lady named Janice heard a dog barking. There was no dog inside or on the street in front of the theater. This happened shortly after The Wizard of Oz was shown at the theater, and there were two dogs (Totos) used in the production. Janice was told that often after a dog appears in a show, barking is heard in the theater.

The mirrored wall

Marshall was the Coronado “Mr. Fix-It” for many years and could repair and do anything that was needed. He was recovering the auditorium seats, which varied in width from 17 to 22 inches and had to be cut and fitted individually. He set up three work tables in the main lobby in front of the large mirror. The tables held his supplies, tools, a work light and a radio. He and Bob S, the manager, were good friends who often went to lunch together. Before they left, Marshall would put his tools in order and turn off his work light and radio.

The theater was locked as they left, and no one else was in the building. When they returned, Marshall would find his work light and radio turned on and his tools in disarray. This happened several times.

In 2009, a group of paranormals visited the theater for a tour. The tour guides and paranormals met before the tour and again after the tour in the auditorium. The two ladies in charge announced that they had a new piece of equipment that could help communicate verbally with spirits. They tried for several minutes and got only static. Marshall went to the front and talked into the equipment, mentioning his light and radio being turned on and his tools rearranged. He asked, “Was that you?” After a brief silence, a male voice said loudly and clearly, “Yes.” Marshall and everyone in the audience were startled. They had no explanation.

Scent of perfume on the mezzanine

A distinctive scent of perfume has appeared not only on the mezzanine, but in the elevator, the owners’ apartment, the auditorium, on the stairs, etc., as noted by staff and visitors. In many places, the scent suddenly appears and then disappears just as quickly. It has been identified as “Evening in Paris,” a popular perfume from the 1920s and ’30s, and is most frequently noted near the former secretary’s office. Originating in France, distribution to the U.S. was stopped when World War II began. The cobalt blue bottles are now collectors’ items.

Marty obtained a bottle from the Vermont Country Store, a mail-order firm that obtains hard-to-find items. When the bottle arrived, people identified it as the scent they had smelled. Marty and Jean joked about putting some in the planter near the offices. It was then locked away in the archives.

The evening of the 2009 ghost tours, Marty had a large group finishing their tour by coming down the west balcony stairs. Suddenly by the office doors, everyone noticed the unmistakable scent of the perfume, very strong. Marty thought Jean had put some in the planter, but Jean was just as surprised. They made a quick trip to the mezzanine, but there was no smell there.

Later that evening, the guests were gone, and Matthew was waiting while his father visited. Marty was standing by the front door with a complete view of the lobby. Matthew came to her and said he was going back to the mezzanine to see if he could smell the perfume again. After a while, he came back to say he had smelled nothing on the mezzanine, but as he was coming down the west stairs, the strong scent of the perfume was there and gone as if someone had passed him by.

Melanie, a new tour guide, was in the owners’ apartment for the first time during an evening tour in July 2010. The group was standing in front of the chinoserie desk when Melanie reached out and touched it. Suddenly, there was the scent of the perfume, and members of the group smelled it. Just as suddenly, it was gone. Melanie was just as startled as members of the group.

No smoking allowed!

During a recent paranormal investigation, Dee took her group into the owners’ apartment and immediately smelled cigarette smoke. She asked the two paranormals who were stationed there if they had been smoking, but both said “no.” (The theater is a non-smoking facility.) Then she thought she had just passed someone who had come in from smoking outside. However, the smell was not only in the living room but also the bedroom. The strong odor stayed the entire 20 minutes she was in the area, so much so that some got a headache and sore throat. A cigarette-burned table had recently been refinished and returned to the apartment. Did this account for the ghostly experience?

Recently, a guest from California was touring the Coronado. She was sensitive to ghostly happenings. As she and the guide walked into the owners’ apartment, she said she saw Mr. Van Matre, the owner, sitting in the chair in the corner, smoking. He seemed annoyed as they entered the apartment and got up and left. Mr. Van Matre’s smoking stand has been restored and stands by his chair. A sign is placed in it saying, “No Smoking, except for Mr. Van Matre.”

If you sign up for one of the upcoming theater tours, you might be able to report your own ghostly experience — you never know what might happen!

From the Oct. 24-30, 2012, issue

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