(Lincoln Square Theater)

141 North Main Street, Decatur, IL

Status: Disaster Site; Vaudeville Theater; Historical Theater



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The first building on this site was the Priest Hotel which opened in 1860. The hotel went through a number of owners and name changes until 1892 when Augustine Wait took over and changed the name to the Arcade Hotel; later the Decatur & Arcade Hotel.

In 1904 a fire completely destroyed the building; but it was rebuilt. It is unknown how many fatalities occurred in this first fire. On April 21, 1915 another fire broke out and again completely destroyed the building. This time the official death toll was 2 men whose bodies were found in the rubble. There was also a number of guests unaccounted for who probably were burnt to ashes in the fire and thus their remains were never recovered.

In 1916 the theater was built over the same location the hotel burned down in. Due to the 2 fires at the hotel, as well as many other public buildings, one of the biggest features of the theater was that it was guaranteed 100% fire proof – which is, of course, impossible – but great advertising. To accomplish this the boilers were in another building and separated from the theater by a firewall.

Some of the most famous acts of the early to mid 20th century played here including Ethel Barrymore, Bob Hope and Al Jolson. Legend says even Harry Houdini performed here before he became famous. It is known that Blackstone, another famous illusionist and Houdini’s rival, did perform here multiple times.

By the 1940’s moving pictures had replaced live acts.

In both 1942 and 1960 the “fireproof” claim was tested by major fires in surrounding buildings. On both occasions the theater was not damaged and lived up to it’s claim.

In the 1980’s the theater was leased by a corporation who stripped it of everything valuable and left the building to rot. By the 1990’s it wasn’t safe for anyone except the bats who roosted in it.

Thankfully a restoration company took ownership and has been working on the building ever since. You can even donate toward their efforts on their website (link above).


Paranormal Activity

Reports of paranormal activity in the theater date back to the 1930’s.

Many believe the entire city of Decatur is built on an ancient Indigenous burial ground.

Many consider this location the most haunted theater in the State and one of the most haunted buildings in the entire Country. One of the reasons thought to be the cause of so many spirits being here is that the theater was built, essentially, on the resting place of those burned to ash in the hotel fires.

The most famous ghost is that of Red who was a stagehand in the theater during the vaudeville era. The dramatic story says one night, during a performance, Red fell from the catwalk. After catching himself on the curtain hooks – and losing an arm – he crashed to the stage dead.

Truthfully, he lost his arm fighting World War I and died of natural causes in the theater while taking a nap.

Red is blamed for phantom footsteps and other strange noises that echo through the building.

There is also a hazy apparition of a woman who is seen up in the balcony often seeming to be watching the shows. People in the balcony have seen her as well – usually out of the corner of their eye – or had her brush past them in the aisleway.

The most haunted part of the theater is said to be a rickety metal spiral staircase in a back corner of the backstage. People have heard someone coming up the stairs behind them only to find the stairs empty below, disembodied whispers are frequently heard both around and on the stairs. The shadowy apparition of a man is seen on the stairs as well; usually by people on the ground looking up the staircase.

There are numerous other stories of people seeing someone duck into a doorway, or behind some curtains etc only to realize there was no one there.

Frequently the seats in the theater lower themselves as if someone unseen is taking a seat.

Other Activity: touches, tugs and pulls by unseen presences; cold spots; objects moving on their own; unexplained noises; electrical disturbances; light anomalies and feelings of being watched and not being alone.