Biograph Theater

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Spectral Movie enthusiasts enjoy the films shown.

A well-known bank robber found peace inside before meeting his end.

This alley outside has its own paranormal activity.

 

 

DESCRIPTION

The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater is a state-of-the-art” performance venue that is home to several theatre companies that are very different from each other: About Face, Eclipse, MPAACT, Remy Bumppo and Shattered Globe.

While the inside of this 1914 brick building was renovated to give it new life for the performing arts community, the outside still has the original 1914 decorum, restored to its original beauty. Despite the changes inside, it still has remained on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. It was added to the Designated  Cultural Landmark list in 2001.

The original beauty is described by one source: “The Biograph has many of the distinguishing characteristics of movie houses of the period, including a storefront-width lobby, recessed entrance, free-standing ticket booth, and canopy marquee. The building is finished with red pressed brick and white-glazed terra cotta.”

The outside of this theater was given assistance to restore the 1934 facades in 2009. “The facades of the theater and adjoining businesses were redressed to appear as they did in 1934 for the 2009 film Public Enemies.”

In order for a historic building to be saved and be useful for the owner, and pleasing for the public in order to stay in business, it often needs to be renovated to meet the needs. Many theaters listed on haunted houses.com have been transformed from film theaters to stage theaters in order to bring in more funds to keep the boat floating.

Inside this historic building, one finds a new 299-seat modified thrust main stage theater, (complete with balcony and limited fly system), with two dressing rooms and a green room behind the stage.

Going up the restored grand staircase to the second floor, the performance enthusiast will find “a 130-seat studio theater, as well as a rehearsal hall and space for special events.”

Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater has postponed the entire 2020/21 Season to protect their artists, staff, and community.  They hope to start up again with live performances  for the 2021/2022 season.

Meanwhile, they are offering free “digital content,” such as First Friday Online Open Mic Series  on Instagram and Facebook Live, starting January first. It is stated on their website; “Artists of all persuasions and ages are welcome to share 3-5 minute pieces. Each month will focus on a central theme or group of performers.”

 

HISTORY

This historic 1914 brick building, designed by architect Samuel N. Cowen, originally was known as The Biograph Theater, and was one of at least four movie theaters which opened in Chicago during 1910-1914.

It had a large stage and auditorium, complete with a balcony in the style of the time, with lovely decorum inside. The Biograph Theater premiered D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION, and continued on as a grand movie theater through the Depression,  two world wars, and the 50’s and 60’s.

In the 1970’s, as was the custom in many parts of the United States, this 60 year old grand theater, in need of renovation, was converted into a four screen “multiplex,” so four movies could be shown at a time, increasing the profits but unfortunately destroyed the original inside decor. The outside fortunately was left alone in its original design.

In the early 2000s’, it was obvious that The Biograph once again was looking long in the tooth, in need of major renovations, and it was put up for sale.

The non-profit, theater group, Victory Gardens, which specializes in promoting new American theatrical works, bought the building from Larry Edwards for $2 million dollars. The building underwent a total of eleven million dollar renovation effort, thanks to the major contributions of generous citizens, a grant from the state of Illinois, who wishes to encourage the renovation of old buildings, and funds given from the city of Chicago, who was interested in having more available theatrical stages in the city.

Further details of this renovation were provided by another source; “Completely renovated by architect Daniel P. Coffey,  a proscenium-thrust stage and seating for 299 people were constructed on the first floor; making this theater able to have live performances of all kinds.

The original grand staircase, that had been used for years was restored and once more leads lead up to the second floor studio theater that can handle 135 people and an adjacent rehearsal/multiple-use space as well. This renovated /restored performance and film theatre had a new name; Victory Gardens at the Biograph,and opened for business in the fall of 2006.

Renamed Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, this complex opened for the public’s entertainment in September 2006. This theater is the new home for a variety of theater companies that feature new American Theatre works: About Face, Eclipse, MPAACT, Remy Bumppo and Shattered Globe.

 

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

Nothing stirs up hauntings like building renovations!

Eldridge Hotel, KS (The spirit of Col Eldridge is very happy with the new renovations and the restoration projects being done to keep the hotel competitive).

Padre Hote, CA (The spirit of Milton “Spartacus” Miller was not pleased with the renovation efforts and wasn’t afraid to show it. Plus, the ultimate betrayal; The new owners had gone into partnership with the city of Bakersfield; his sworn enemy! NO!).

The Chimneys, VA (Spirits who loved the house as it was originally built as a family home, became active when the first floor was turned into a restaurant which was very unpleasing indeed).

BIOGRAPH THEATER, IL (After the 1970 comprehenive, major gut-wrenching renovation, people had begun seeing paranormal activity that wasn’t occurring before the renovation in the alley).

Places where people have enjoyed themselves while alive, often become a favorite after-life hangout!

Wabasha Street Caves, MN (Spirits who loved this place where they partied or had romantic dinners, or experienced times of enjoyment still come here; sometimes photo-bombing social events held today).

Music Hall, MO (Spirits of patrons, both polite and rude still love to come and see shows for free).

Biltmore Hotel, FL (Spirits still come here to party in the penthouse and some still waltz around the ballroom)

Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, IL (This building has been the source of entertainment since 1914, offering films for the audience’s enjoyment for around 99 years, and theater productions since 2006. The second major renovation and restoration to this 1914 building that turned this cinema theater into a performance theater attracted even more former patrons in spirit form who were very pleased indeed).

Sometimes spirits revisit the hours before their death, trying to make it have a different outcome where they don’t die. They don’t want to accept that they lost their lives.

Albany State Capitol, NY (Spirit of Sam Abbott was the night watchman who got everyone out of the building when a fire broke out, but he couldn’t quite escape himself, dying not far from the door. He now is a watchman 24 hours a day, and still tries to outrun the smoke that killed him).

Palace Theater, NY (A spirit of a Trapeze artist tries and tries to complete his show, but he always slips and falls to his death).

OK Corral, AZ (The spirit of outlaw Billy Clanton is stuck in the moment or hours before his death, trying to accomplish what he and his gang failed at doing; seeing if he can change the outcome).

Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, IL (The alley which runs next to the theater building marks the spot probably where the notorious, hardened bank robber and killer, John Dillinger, or perhaps his look-a-like Jimmy Lawrence, met a violent demise at the hands of FBI agents).

History of John Dillinger, and how he wound up dead at the age of 31.

Born in 1903, John was raised in Mooresville, Indiana. He joined the navy at 18, but was AWOL in just a few months. After getting a dishonorable discharge, he came home and married his sweetheart. Problems developed when he couldn’t hold a job and he wound up divorced. Seemed to be a big failure in living the regular life of an American.

John Dillinger’s foot first slipped into the life of robbery when he was in his early 20’s. After robbing his neighborhood grocery store, he and his partner in crime were caught. Not able to afford a lawyer, John confessed his crime and served 9 years in stir, at the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City.His accomplice, who had talked him into it in the first place, could afford a lawyer and was only in jail for a little over two years.

This fact made him bitter, angry and resentful, and pushed him completely over to the dark side. While inside the joint, John learned all about planning and carrying out robberies from some of the professionals in crime. Instead of turning over a new leaf when he was released on parole on May 22nd, 1933, he began a crime spree, holding up 3 banks, taking in 40,000 dollars. For his accomplishments in crime, he wound up in the slammer yet again in Lima, Ohio, just 4 months into his parole.

However, within 3 weeks of Dillinger’s becoming a guest of the state of Ohio, 3 fellow inmates from his first incarceration experience violently sprung him, and they robbed a bank to celebrate! Dillinger and his gang began their short-lived life of being hardened gangsters.  Though it was said that they did give some of their money to the poor, which gave Dillinger the reputation  among the public of being a modern-day Robin Hood, Dillinger and his posse also caused pain and calamity to others, while becoming a deadly pain in the neck to law enforcement, earning public enemy number one status.

In a little more than a year, John Dillinger and his gang held up 6 banks, killing two police officers, two FBI agents and one innocent by-stander who got in the way. He not only escaped jail in Lima, Ohio, but also from the Crown Point Jail in Indiana, knowing that he would probably get an appointment with the executioner for killing the policeman, William P. O’Malley.

After narrowly eluding or shooting his way out of at least 6 clever traps set by law enforcement and the FBI, Dillinger was perhaps tired of being a “jackrabbit”, and had plastic surgery done by a lowbrow doctor, fixing tell-tale physical features and characteristics and nuking his finger prints somewhat.

One version of what happened next: Feeling very safe with a transformed face, a weary John Dillinger took a holiday from causing havoc and went to the Biograph Theater in July of 1934 with two girl friends to enjoy the film,  “Manhattan Melodrama.”  However, it is thought that one of the women he went with who was dressed in red, had betrayed him and told the FBI that he would be there, in exchange for help in staying in the country. Others say that the FBI found him on their own by casing his girl friend’s house.

While leaving the theater via the alley, FBI agents told him that he was under arrest. He turned to run, trying to pull a hidden gun, which was hard to get at quickly, but was shot dead by an agent before he could have yet another shoot out. It was reported that he fell at the feet of a theater patron, a woman who had known him as a young man.  She was interviewed by the newspaper, where she repeated his last words, “They finally got me.”

2nd version of the story: This woman in red really double-crossed the FBI. Instead of going with John Dillinger to the movie theater, as she had told them, the two women invited a small-time hood, Jimmy Lawrence, who was a dead ringer for the likeness of Dillinger. Jimmy Lawrence was the one who was killed, allowing John Dillinger to escape once again.  It is claimed that the autopsy report proved that the man killed wasn’t John Dillinger.

Discrepancies in the autopsy report are attributed to the plastic surgery that Dillinger had done, law enforcement claimed. They also were able to get partial sets of postmortem fingerprints from the body. Though scarred with acid, the finger prints were still readable, identifying the body to be John Dillenger’s. His sister also identified him as her brother, from a scar on his leg.

If this 2nd version is correct, one wonders, “Where did John Dillinger go? ”

It is thought in some circles that John Dillinger slunk off to Oregon and quietly retired, forever cured of being a hardened gangster, and perhaps becoming a model citizen, living a new life. Right! I don’t think so! Somehow, I don’t think a hardened criminal who wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack like John Dillinger could easily disappear, leaving evil doing behind and not return to crime, because of his inability to stick with a regular job, his twisted psychological make-up, and his bitterness and need for revenge against the law. Sooner or later he would’ve returned to what he knew best; robbing banks.

I do have another possible theory as to what happened to Dillinger, if he wasn’t killed at the Biograph Theater. John Dillinger with or without plastic surgery, was killed beforehand by a hit man for the mob, perhaps because Dillinger had a lot of law enforcement on his tail, possibly bringing a lot of heat on not only him, but the rest of the underworld establishment in Chicago, as an unintended consequence. To cover up Dillinger’s murder, perhaps hapless small-time gangster Jimmy Lawrence was set up unknowingly to take the fall, covering up John Dillinger’s murder. After the shooting, it is true that Jimmy Lawrence disappeared off the face of the earth.  Possibly, the real John Dillinger suffered the fate of Jimmy Hoffa! Nice theory, but no evidence!

Though, I strongly suspect that it was John Dillinger who died there, especially if the body had signs of having recent plastic surgery. Also, the police claim that they were able to take actual partial fingerprints from the body, because the plastic surgery didn’t completely wipe them out.

There will always be some who wonder who it was who really “bought the farm” in this location, and who is haunting the theater and alley way.

 

MANIFESTATIONS

Inside the Theatre

Some sources say that the theater itself is not haunted. Other sources disagree.

Some report that inside the theater, cold spots have been felt by the living.

Perhaps this is either the entity of John Dillinger or Jimmy Lawrence, haunting the last place they had fun, finding momentary peace from the world.

Spirits of Theater Enthusiasts

Film and theater enthusiasts in life sometimes choose to not go on to the next world, when they die, but instead choose their favorite theater to spend their after-life; not quite ready just yet to leave his world.

Others have witnessed some ghostly theater patrons, enjoying the show currently running on stage.

Haunted Alley next to the Theater

Around 1970, during the first major renovation, witnesses began to see a blueish male apparition run down the alley beside the theater, stumble, fall and then disappear.

In the alley, cold spots have been felt and an uneasiness has been picked up by sensitive individuals.

Again, This is probably the entity of John Dillinger reliving his death, or perhaps it is the entity of Jimmy Lawrence in his final moments, depending on what story you believe.

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

Personal experiences with the spirits who love the arts and stay here for free entertainment have been reported for years.  The attempts of the spirit in the alley to outrun his fate have been witnessed since 1970.

Apparition & Paranormal Investigation Society conducted a paranormal investigation and caught some evidence.

The Ghost Society – Paranormal & Cryptozoology – A group of researchers, led by  paranormal investigator John Cache, state that the alley definitely is haunted.

 

STILL HAUNTED?

Yes indeed!

Apparently, the powerful draw of the arts on stage is an irresistible  environmental trigger object for spirits.
The spirit who was gunned down in the alley is still trying to escape.

Paranormal investigation groups have caught some evidence that proves that the alley is still a paranormal hot spot. Other people have actually seen spectral patrons enjoying a production on stage.

 

LOCATION

2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
773-871-3000

SOURCES INCLUDE

  • John Dillinger Wikipedia page
  • metromix.chicagotribune.com
  • Chicago Haunts, Ghostlore of the Windy City
    by Ursula Bielski : Lake Claremont Press 1998
  • Haunted Places: The National Directory
    By Dennis William Hauk : Penguin Books 2002
  • prairieghosts.com

 
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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