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.




The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater is a state-of-the-art performance venue that is home to several theatre companies: 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 decorum. Despite the changes inside, it remains on the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been since 1984. It was added to the Designated  Cultural Landmark list in 2001.

ChicagoAccording to 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 the theater was restored to its 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.”

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 Biograph has postponed the entire 2020/21 Season to protect its artists, staff, and community.  They hope to start up again with live performances for 2021/2022.

Meanwhile, they are offering free “digital content,” such as the 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.”



The Biograph Theater was designed by architect Samuel N. Cowen, 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. It premiered D.W. Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation, and served on as a grand movie theater through the Depression, two world wars, and into the 50s and 60s.

In the 1970s, as was the custom in many parts of the United States, it was converted into a four-screen multiplex. Profits increased, but unfortunately the original inside decor was destroyed. The outside fortunately was left untouched.

In the early 2000s’, 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 for $2 million dollars. The building underwent an eleven million dollar renovation effort, thanks to the contributions of generous citizens, a grant from the state of Illinois, and funds given from the city of Chicago, which was interested in having more available theatrical stages in the city.

The original grand staircase 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. The restored theatre had a new name: Victory Gardens at the Biograph, and opened for business in the fall of 2006.



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 Hotel, 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 displeasing indeed).

Biograph Theater, IL (After the comprehensive 1970 renovation, people began seeing paranormal activity in the alley).


Places where people enjoyed themselves in life, often become favorite afterlife hangouts!

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).

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 a source of entertainment since 1914, offering films for the audience’s enjoyment. The second major renovation, which turned this cinema theater into a performance venue, attracted even more former patrons in spirit form).


Sometimes spirits revisit the hours before their deaths, in a futile effort to change the outcome. They don’t want to accept that they have lost their lives.

Albany State Capitol, NY (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. Now his spirit is a watchman 24 hours a day, and still tries to outrun the smoke that killed him).

Palace Theater, NY (The 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).

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


The 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.

He slipped into the life of robbery when he was in his early 20s. After robbing his neighborhood grocery store, he and his partner were caught. Not able to afford a lawyer, John confessed and served nine 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. In the joint, John learned all about planning and carrying out robberies from hardened criminals. Instead of turning over a new leaf when he was released on parole on May 22nd, 1933, he began a crime spree, holding up three banks and taking in 40,000 dollars. For his trouble, he wound up in the slammer yet again, in Lima, Ohio, just four months into his parole.

However, within three weeks of his becoming a guest of the state of Ohio, three fellow inmates from his first incarceration violently sprung him, and they robbed a bank to celebrate! Dillinger and his gang began their lives as hardened gangsters.  Though it was said they gave some of their money to the poor, briefly giving them the reputations  as a modern-day Robin Hood, Dillinger and his posse also inflicted pain and calamity on others. They also made themselves a deadly pain in the neck to law enforcement, earning them public enemy number one status.

In a little more than a year, Dillinger and his gang held up six banks, killing two police officers, two FBI agents and one innocent bystander. He not only escaped jail in Lima, Ohio, but also broke out of the Crown Point Jail in Indiana, knowing that he would probably get an appointment with the executioner for killing policeman William P. O’Malley.

After narrowly eluding or shooting his way out of at least six clever traps set by law enforcement and the FBI, Dillinger was perhaps tired of being a “jackrabbit”, and had plastic surgery done by a shadowy doctor, fixing tell-tale physical features and altering his fingerprints.

One version of what happened next: Feeling more at ease with his transformed face, a weary John Dillinger took a holiday and went to the Biograph Theater in July of 1934 with two girlfriends to enjoy the film,  “Manhattan Melodrama.”  However, it is thought that one of the women, who was dressed in red, had betrayed him and to the FBI, 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 confronted him. He turned to run, tried to pull a hidden gun, which was hard to get at quickly, but was shot dead by an agent. 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.”

Second version of the story: The 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 Dillinger. Lawrence was the one who was killed, allowing 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 from acid, the 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 second version is correct, one wonders, “Where did John Dillinger go? ”

It is thought in some circles that heslunk off to Oregon and quietly retired, forever cured of his hardened gangster ways, perhaps becoming a model citizen, living a new life. Right! I don’t think so! Somehow, I don’t think a hardened felon like Dillinger, who wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack, could easily leave evil-doing behind and not return to crime. His inability to stick with a regular job, his twisted psychological make-up, and his bitterness and need for revenge against the law would all work against him. 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. With or without plastic surgery, he might have been 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 on 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. After the shooting, it is true that Lawrence disappeared off the face of the earth.  Possibly, the real John Dillinger suffered the fate of Jimmy Hoffa! Nice theory, but no evidence!

Still, I strongly suspect that it was John Dillinger who died at the Biograph, especially if the body had signs of 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.



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.

The Spirits of Theater Enthusiasts

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

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

The 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.


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.

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

The Ghost Society – Paranormal and Cryptozoology – A group of researchers, led by  paranormal investigator John Cache, state that the alley definitely is 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 evidence that proves that the alley is still a paranormal hot spot. Other people have actually seen spectral patrons enjoying productions on stage.



2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, Illinois



  • John Dillinger Wikipedia page
  • 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

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Our Photos are copyrighted by Tom Carr

Visit the memorable… Milwaukee Haunted Hotel



John Dillinger Died Here at the Biograph Theatre

The Biograph Theater: Then and Now


Haunts in Chicago Haunts in Illinois