Landers Theater

More From Missouri

A possible murder victim, a former employee who
may have died on the job, a young accident victim, a few actors, and
crew retired from this world keep the place hopping with activity.

 

DESCRIPTION

The 1909 Landers Theatre is a four story, red and white  multi-styled beautiful brick, 525 seat theatre that is much beloved by the people of Springfield because of the years of entertainment it has brought to generations of folks. The Landers Theatre offered non-stop entertainment throughout the eras, that took people away from their troubles with top name entertainment and wonderful films.

It has the honor of being the second oldest and largest civic theatre operation in Missouri. Its stage is huge, with plenty of room for any stage performance, including ballet and orchestra concerts. In 1977, it was easily placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The design of the building, created by architects John and Carl Boller, is a combination of several architectural styles, including Baroque, Renaissance and Neoclassical/Napoleon. It is very ornate inside and outside, reflecting “Napoleon’s 111’s Baroque and Renaissance architecture; including architectural features that look like screaming devils.”  Oh my!

Now owned and run by a non-profit organization, Springfield Little Theatre operate the theatre according to their mission statement. “Springfield Little Theatre strives to entertain, educate, and involve the community in live theatrical productions with opportunities for adults and children.

The theatre can be rented for outside theatre companies’ productions. The Landers Theatre “features orchestra and balcony level seating, a proscenium stage, a fly system, an orchestra pit and robust sound and lighting equipment. The theatre has two mezzanine balconies, rooms on the fourth floor, and a basement below the main floor.”

Renting the Landers Theatre has its perks as well. “SLT produces roughly eight mainstage shows a year, collecting and building props, sets and costumes for each performance. Outside productions who want to rent the theatre can also rent costumes and set pieces as well as the facility.”

CONCERNING THEIR AUDITIONS:”Springfield Little Theatre strives to entertain, educate, and involve the community in live theatrical productions with opportunities for adults and children. All auditions are free of charge and open to any interested community member, regardless of experience or background.”

Starting in May through July of 2021, the following shows will be very entertaining indeed, to be seen on The Landers Theatre stage: “Nonsense,” SLT’S ELEMENTARY YOUTH PERFORMANCE TROUPES SHOWCASE; “Try Everything,” The Middle School Troupe Showcase;”We’re All in This Together,” Springfield’s Little Theatre presents Matilda: The Musical,” and “Grease School Edition,” and ending with “DISNEY’S DESCENDANTS THE MUSICAL.”

There are many programs run here that benefit the community that make great use of the Landers Theatre.

“Springfield Little Theatre is proud to partner with the Kennedy Center’s program Any Given Child, a program that ensures that children in communities across the country receive arts education and experiences throughout the year.”

They offer 6 week classes for adults and children: Competitive Story-Telling for Adults, Year Round Youth Classes, Education Series, Schools Out workshops, Youth Performance Troupes, Illumination Dance Company, Film Lab, SLT Studio Theatre, Queen City Comedy Training Center, Summer Youth Programs and Education Outreach.

 

HISTORY

The Landers Theatre was the result of a dream held by John Landers, a businessman who owned a lumber company. John Landers wanted to build a beautiful, ornate theatre for the arts.  His son, Douglas J. Landers, R.N. Stewart, E.E.R. McJimsen and George Olendorf also joined John Landers in financing this project. They hired architects John and Carl Boller. John Landers and the other investors were not disappointed with the blueprints for the Landers Theatre.

On September 18th, 1909, The Landers Theatre began its long history as being a source of entertainment for people by hosting vaudeville shows and tabloid shows, joining the Orpheum Circuit; with a new show offering every week. After joining the Orpheum Circuit, The Landers Theatre was known as The Landers Orpheum Theatre. Their first stage production was a vaudeville performance of “Golden Girl”.

Vaudeville performers stayed in the fourth floor apartments while performing at Landers Theatre. High profile thespians and performers that loved to show their talents here include The Weaver Brothers, and Elviry; during their pre-film years. Also George Cohan, Lon Chaney, John Philip Sousa and Lillian Russell performed here as well.

In 1915, what was offered as entertainment at the Landers was expanded when a silent film, “Birth of a Nation” was shown to rave reviews by their patrons. Silent movies became a main feature, with  musical or drama stage performances between the films being shown.

A fire broke out on December 17, 1920. “The fire started at 12:45 pm in the basement, and for a time it was feared that it would destroy the entire block.  The cause was believed to be an explosion in the boiler, which set fire to a large pile of coal. Fire damage was contained to the stage and dressing room, and the auditorium sustained smoke and water damage.  Losses included a pipe organ valued at $7500 and 50 tons of coal.” Ouch! (ksmu.org)

It could’ve been much worse; the Landers Theatre was quite lucky. “The fact that an asbestos curtain was lowered when the fire was first discovered saved the auditorium from greater damage.” (ksmu.org)

The damaged theatre was rebuilt according to the original Boller architectural plans, by Ensley Barbour. It reopened in 1922. As the popularity of Vaudeville was waning, throughout the 1920s, the Landers Theatre became more and more a movie house; switching its venue. Silent movies were very popular indeed. In 1928, after the release of the first “Talkie,” The Landers Theatre made the jump to showing films with sound. “It was the 35th facility in the world to play talkies, the first talkie movie to play at the Landers Theater was ‘The Jazz Singer’.”

During WW2, this movie house theater closed for a few years during the mid 1940s, but opened up once again after the war. Midwest Amusement Corp. owned the theater that continued to be a movie house throughout the late ’40s, ’50s and 1960s.   The Landers Theater operated as a first run movie theatre until the late-1960’s. During the 1950s’, it has been described as being ” a first-run double-feature movie house specializing in action-adventure, western and monster movies.”

In 1959, the Theatre also was the home studio for live broadcasts of FIVE STAR JUBILEE, a national NBC-TV show.

While this Theatre was in continuous use since it was built, it was well-maintained structurally; never allowed to become deplorably run-down and creaky. In 1970, The Landers Theatre was in need of restoration and renovation to modernize it a bit. Rather than let it slip into being a real fixer-upper opportunity, it was put back out on the real estate market for sale, hoping someone in the community who loves this structure would buy it and do the necessary renovating to make it  an up-to-date theater once again.

Sure enough, the non-profit Springfield Little Theatre Organization, formed in 1934, snapped it up and bought the building. They worked hard, undertaking major restoration projects, restoring the grand old Landers Theatre back to its former 1909  theatre performance splendor. Renovations were also done; adding needed modern theatre equipment to bring it up to 20th Century standards. The total price tag was $500,000. I bet they raised the funds through grants and fundraising campaigns.

Since the 1970s, The Landers Theatre, the oldest and largest civic Theatre in Missouri, has offered as artistic entertainment many civic stage shows. Their first play on stage was “The Importance of Being Ernest ”

It also was the home base for Springfield Opera, Springfield Ballet and the Springfield Symphonic Concert series, before all these professional performance groups moved into their new concert hall, The Creamery Arts Center.

A full range of community educational programs offer after-school classes and summer workshops to students of all ages. What is offered to the puvblic is listed above under the Description section.

Elementary and Middle School Troupes are able to have their play performances on the Landers stage which is quite an experience for perhaps future thespians. Some children may be bitten by the acting bug and continue to seek growth and development of their skills.
Adult Community Theatre also has a home here, offering adults a chance to perform on stage.

Whoever is on stage, seems to be performing to not only living audiences but theatrical spectral enthusiasts!

 

HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS

Fires that result in deaths can cause restless spirits; not willing to accept that they died in such a painful way. While still reliving their deaths, they also continue to do what they most enjoyed doing while alive.

Albany State Capitol Building, NY (A security guard who perished in the smoke from a fire still tries to outrun it for a different outcome while also still continuing in his job as a security guard).

Katie’s of Smithtown, NY (Several spirits that visit or stay in this tavern may have been killed in the fire that burned down the Trainor Hotel, that was the building that originally stood where Katie’s of Smithtown now is located).

USS Lexington, TX (Spirits of sailors who perished in a fiery explosion caused by a kamikaze pilot, still relive their deaths. Some also still try to go back to their lives aboard ship before they died).

The Landers Theatre, MO (Some claim that the major fire here killed a janitor who was trapped inside by fire and smoke. Others say that no one died in the great fire. Whether this is true or not, the janitor stays to enjoy the actors performing on stage).

Accidents that happen in theatres that cause death can cause restless spirits as well because of the emotional trauma it caused and because death was so sudden that the deceased wasn’t ready to go just yet.

Boulder Theatre, CO (A Theatre manager accidentally hung himself in 1944, while working above the stage area, trying to fix a lighting rig by himself with no assistant).

Rialto Theatre, Il (An actress and an actor were killed in an accident in the theatre, before being able to audition).

Sacramento Theatre, CA (A male spirit, known as Louie, was a stage hand who died from a fall in the theatre).

The Landers Theatre, MO (A tragic accident occurred when a baby fell from the balcony to its death, much to the horror of its mother).

Murders that happened inside or outside theatres can also the cause of restless spirits.

Victoria Theatre, OH (An actress, known as Vicky, was a touring thespian in the early 1900s who went to her dressing room to change for Act two. After leaving to perform, she had to come back again to the dressing room because she had forgotten her fan; never to be seen again).

St Johns Twin Cinema, OR (A vaudeville actor was killed in the alleyway behind this structure. His spirit has joined the St Johns Twin Cinema Theater team).

Orpheum Theatre, South Dakota (A spirit known as Larry was killed in the balcony by the jealous husband of a woman he was having an affair with).

The Landers Theatre, MO (During the 1920s, legend says that a man was knifed in the second balcony; “the colored section”, and died there. Others claim that this is a made-up story to thrill visitors. However, a spirit still watches from the old colored section).

Spirits of both thespians and theatre support workers may decide to spend their after-life in their favorite place to work on stage and off stage.

Riverside Theatre, WI (Spirits of thespians and other theatre workers cheer on living thespians while having some fun with the living as well).

Pittsburgh Theatre, PA (Spirits of performers, thespians and behind the scenes workers all still love to be here).

Mantorville Opera House, MN (Prevalent, consistent paranormal activity point to spectral thespians who love the world of performing).

The Landers Theatre, MO (A spirit of at least one actor, a spirit of a past theatre support worker as well as the janitor mentioned above still enjoy their favorite theatre).

MANIFESTATIONS

Performers on stage must have to focus on what they are doing, as they have plenty of spirits watching them, which can be distracting! Apparently, all the spirits love the Landers Theatre and find peace watching what is going on down on the stage.

Spirit of Ned

People were playing with a Ouija board;(which can be very dangerous), in the balcony reported that the entity’s name was “Ned”.

In his after-life here, the spirit of this janitor enjoys watching the actors rehearse on stage.

These actors have seen him way up in the balcony, watching them with much interest.

Spirits of Baby and Mom

A baby’s cries can be heard, as well as its mother trying to comfort it.

Performers have seen an apparition of a baby falling from the balcony during rehearsals, which could be upsetting.

The spirit of the mother may also enjoy watching the rehearsals when she isn’t reliving her horrific event.

Another Spirit in Balcony

This spirit, possibly a murder victim or not, is described as being a green orb, or phosphorescent haze, about 5 feet tall.

This spirit is seen in the second balcony and on the landing between the first and second balconies.

He or she too, likes to watch the rehearsals.

Spirit of Thespian

Part of the fourth floor in the past used to be apartments, which housed touring actors and actresses.

On the street in front of the Theatre, people have observed a tall apparition of a long-haired, blonde man, dressed in Elizabethan clothes peering at them from behind a curtain on the fourth floor in a room which is now a costume room.

This spirit may be the one who playfully follows folks around and pokes them.

Spirit of Male

This spirit could be an actor or a spectral crew member.

This spirit was described as being nearly 6 ft tall, with long hair and a black and gray-peppered beard, a big nose, full lips, and bushy eyebrows.

There are two stories about this spirit, told by two different people.

Story One: Seen in Auditorium

A middle-aged male apparition appeared as a solid form; looking very life-like, in the middle of the auditorium before the lighting and technical director as he returned from the basement, to make the security system work, as the theatre was closed.

Thinking that this apparition was a living man, the director asked the spirit if he could help him.

This apparition went behind a pillar and disappeared.

Story Two: Seen in Lobby

A stage designer and co-technical director for Springfield Little Theatre, was at the Landers in the 1990s working late one night when he saw someone standing in the lobby.

“Thinking it was someone who was able to get in through the front doors, he approached the man to ask him why he was there.

‘He just kind of stood there and stared at me’, and I said, ‘Sir, the building’s closed, I need to ask you to leave,’ and he just stood there, so I started walking towards him, and as I walked towards him, he turned around and walked towards the auditorium in which case I got a little angry that somebody was in there, so I followed him, and I went right around the corner to confront him, and there was nobody there.'” (KSMU.org article)

I’m Here!

Spirits like to let the living know that they are in the theatre.

People in the Landers Theatre building report that they sense a unseen presence following them.

Sometimes people are playfully tapped on the shoulder.

Sometimes, the living can smell bacon cooking.

Ready to Hunt Bear

A crabby female unseen presence stomps through the lobby in high heels in a snit about something.

Beth Domann, Springfield Little Theatre’s executive director shares; “She hangs out in the lobby, and it feels like she’s kind of an angry kitty, yeah.”

“I don’t know what happened to her, but she’s not a happy camper, cause the energy changes pretty quick, and you can hear these high heeled shoes walking–the clicky, clicky, clicky of high heeled shoes, which that’s enough to make anybody angry–wearing high heeled shoes,” she said.(KSMU.org article)

PARANORMAL FINDINGS

People who spend time in this theatre working, rehearsing and directing have had boatloads of experiences with the resident spirits who are here for a variety of reasons. What they have in common is love for stage performances, with perhaps one exception; the crabby one in the lobby who can’t let go of her foul mood.

Some paranormal investigations must of been held here, because temperature readings  have been done in the balcony. They are much colder in the spots where spirits make their appearances.

The Landers Theatre did have ghost tours during the months of September and October. Some hard evidence may have been caught but it wasn’t shared on-line.

 

STILL HAUNTED?

Yes Indeed!

Living thespians of all ages who are rehearsing on stage in the glorious auditorium, have their own spectral admirers who loved this theatre while alive and have chosen to spend their after-life here. Three spirits may be restless and upset because of trauma they suffered while alive here, but even they enjoy watching performances done by the living.

 

LOCATION

311 E. Walnut
Springfield, MO 65806

SOURCES INCLUDE

  • HAUNTED HIGHWAY; The Spirits of Route 66, by Ellen Robson and Dianne Halicki.
  • www.ksmu.org
  • library.org
  • cinematreasures.org
  • Springfield’s Landers Theatre Said to be Haunted By MICHELE SKALICKY (2014)
  • Web-Sites of The Springfield Little Theater and Legends of America

 
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in Missouri