The Avon Theater officially opened in November
1916. It was a unique place in that it was a large, grand theater,
on the scale of the Empress or the Lincoln, but yet the Avon had
been constructed for showing moving pictures only. There would be
some live entertainment and music later on, with hosts appearing for
the parade of films to follow, but this theater was a folly to many.
It could never succeed they thought, believing that moving pictures
were simply a passing fad and would never last.
|Over the years, the American film industry has
defied the odds and has endured. Fortunately, even after
a number of near disasters, the same can be said for the
Avon. After a bright beginning, a number of rough spots
and years of success, the theater was closed down and
abandoned and most feared that it would be lost. For
several years, it was said that the Avon would soon join
most of the other old theaters in Decatur and would be
destroyed. Such an end would have been tragic on many
counts, but there is one thing that sets the Avon apart
from most of the other "lost" theaters --- the Avon is a
very haunted place.
But the theater still remains today. Believe me
when I tell you that the end came calling for the Avon many times
and yet somehow, destruction was avoided time and time again. It
might be said that someone was watching out for the place, but who
knows? Regardless, thanks to public interest, creative planning,
innovative thinking and a lot of hard work, the Avon is once again
open and thriving in downtown Decatur. It's a matter of great celebration in the entertainment circles, and hopefully we can push to the point where people are booking the cheapest airline tickets in from outside Decatur alongside their tickets for the night. It's a place that's been rescued by fate, and may the good luck continue, right?
For a long time, I wondered what would happen to the ghosts of the
theater when the wrecking ball came for the Avon? I don't have to
ponder that any longer. The ghosts, and the theater, are still
around and look to remain that way for many years to come.
The Avon's Early Days
Imagine for a few moments that you can travel back in time and
relive an evening from another day in the past. That date is
November 28, 1916, just a few days after Thanksgiving, and you are
walking along Decatur's North Water Street. Ahead of you, along the
east side of the street, a display of lights seems to set the night
sky on fire. A crowd of people spills off the sidewalk and into the
street and you crane your neck to see what all of the excitement is
about. The crowd has gathered tonight to see the Avon Theater as it
unlocks its doors for a grand opening.
The audience begins to enter the theater as you approach and you get
your first real glimpse into the new lobby. Mrs. C.O. Knapp of
Bement, a local artist, created the original artwork that decorates
the walls. The designers of the theater paid no small amount of
money for these canvases, making the Avon one of the most
expensively decorated moving picture houses in the entire country.
quality photo shows the Avon’s packed auditorium for the
opening night film. Unfortunately, the original print
was destroyed several years ago when the Decatur Herald
& Review threw out hundreds of historic photos. This
murky reprint was obtained from a 1916 newspaper copy.
(Restored by Miles Galfer)
The ornaments and decor inside of the
theater are said to even rival the twin, seven-foot-tall
monuments on the posts outside of the building. A third
statue, having arrived only weeks before the opening, is
located just above the curtains. It is of a woman,
reclining in the nude, and holding a wreath outward
toward the audience. On a parallel with this figure,
circling the entire auditorium, are base-relief casts of
women's heads. They are only matched by the lion's heads
that circle the theater below them, the eyes of these
creatures glowing with brilliant light.
The entire scene is almost
breathtaking. There has never been another theater like
this one in Decatur, as all of the other movie houses
are cramped and narrow with only a few seats and poor
Only the larger theaters even resemble the Avon
and they were built for live performances. Many in the city believed
the investment needed to build the Avon was wasted money and that
the theater would never last.
The artwork and the decor are not the only things that make this
theater special. The screen is the largest and best designed in the
city. Dozens of hours were spent whitewashing the rear wall of the
theater in an attempt to make it as smooth and as clean as possible.
The new film projectors are the best models available and an
orchestra is scheduled to appear on a regular basis to provide
musical accompaniment for the films. In addition, the theater is
also equipped with a giant pipe organ that is electrically
controlled. It is located in three different parts of the building
so that it will be acoustically correct for the entire audience.
You can do little more than stare as the opening night audience
begins to take their seats. You hurry to find an empty seat near the
front, where only a few remain, because otherwise the theater is
packed. The audience is then treated to a few words from Decatur's
mayor, Dan Dineen, who expresses his appreciation for the theater.
He states that it is "unquestionably the handsomest and largest in
the state of Illinois devoted exclusively to moving pictures." He
also boasts that, thanks to new businesses like the Avon Theater
opening up, Decatur can finally take its place in the ranks of real
The audience is then introduced to the owner of the theater, Joseph
Allman, who is taken by surprise at being asked to speak. The mayor
explains, with good-natured ribbing, that Allman plans to be married
in a few days. The new owner proudly welcomes the audience and
thanks the crowd for their patronage, promising that he will make
every effort to provide good films and exemplary service.
Moments later, the strains of orchestra music fills the air and the
remaining theater lights flicker and grow dim. Light appears and
floods the theater's rear wall. Soon, the opening credits of The
Fall of a Nation begin to appear on the screen.
The Avon became known as one of the most beautiful theaters in the
Midwest and prospered for many years. It would not hold onto its
crown though and the years were not kind to the place. After some
extensive remodeling that was done in the 1950's, the theater never
again had the elegance of its early days. For several years, the
building was closed and there was thought to be no chance that the
Avon would ever welcome theater patrons through its doors again. The
lobby and auditorium fell into poor condition and the last attempts
to restore, or at least to salvage the theater's dignity, met with
indifference and a lack of enthusiasm ---- until recently, when new
occupants began restoring the old building, stirring up years of
And have the new owners stirred up other things as well? It's
possible, because one thing is sure, there are many secrets still
hiding within the walls of the Avon Theater!
When the announcement came that a new theater was going to open in
the city of Decatur, people became very excited. There were already
a number of theaters operating in town, especially along North Water
Street, but there was always room for more entertainment. Besides
that, rumor had it that this theater was going to be different than
In the spring of 1916, Joseph Allman (as he was officially referred
to in all records, despite misprints as "James" in several articles)
began to release the architect's plans for the theater that he
planned to build next to the new Scovill-Warnecke Building on North
Water Street. The design for the new theater was created by R.O.
Rosen and would boast main floor and balcony seating for a total of
1,080 people. Private seating boxes were to be installed on either
side of the motion picture screen. The original plans also called
for an artist to decorate the interior and for a copper, wire and
glass overhang to be created over the sidewalk. There was to be a
restroom for women on one side of the lobby and a soda fountain on
the other. The new theater was slated to open by late August or
early September 1916.
By July, the plans were completed and construction began. The
contractor in charge of the project was A.W. Hendricks and the
structure was of white enamel brick with white terra cotta.
According to newspaper reports, "special care is to be taken in
making the theater safe and sanitary." The estimated cost of the
project was $40,000.
Later that same month, the builder and owner of the new theater,
Joseph Allman, announced a contest by which the name of the theater
would be chosen. "I cannot name it myself," Allman said. "Leave it
to the people of Decatur. It will be their theater anyway, let them
name it. I will give a season ticket to the person making the best
suggestion." Over 700 people entered the contest and flooded the
judge's panel with a variety of names for the building. The winning
name, the "Avon", was chosen in August 1916. Thomas Ronan of Decatur
had submitted it. Ronan, who claimed to be a theatrical man himself,
was presented with a season pass for the theater. Allman was happy
with the judge's decision and announced that the attractive name
would surely conjure up images of William Shakespeare as it was on
the banks of the Avon that the great playwright had been born.
Allman also took the opportunity to announce what he considered to
be the "crowning feature" of the new Avon. He secured the permission
of his sister, Mrs. C.O. Knapp of Bement, to use some of her
original paintings for the interior decorations of the theater. He
was also able to convince a friend, who was a student of Lorado
Taft, to furnish statuary for the niches in the walls of the
theater. Unfortunately, the name of this sculptor has been lost over
the years, as have the statues that once decorated the building.
Mrs. Knapp was apparently a graduate of the art school at St. Mary's
of the Woods in Terre Haute, Indiana and had studied extensively in
Europe. It was said that her best-known work was a life-sized oil
painting of St. Cecile, for which she had been offered large sums of
money. Instead, she allowed her brother to display it in the Avon,
along with a number of foreign landscapes with names like "The
Poison Chalice", "Egyptian Moonlight" and others. This array of art
made the Avon one of the most expensively decorated movie houses in
all of America! Tragically, these paintings have also been lost over
By middle September, the theater was still not open. What may have
caused the delays to the original schedule is unknown, although it
has since been suggested that not all of the financing appeared as
Allman assumed that it would. Newspaper reports in October 1916
stated that decorators were just then frescoing the ceilings and
walls of the Avon and that although the plasterwork was completed,
the finished work would be started within a few days. Another report
from a week or so later announced that the interior was complete,
although the pipe organ that was to be installed would not be ready
for the theater's opening.
"A striking feature of the interior is the roominess," the newspaper
report went on to say. "The aisles are spacious and the rows of
seats are placed far apart. An excellent view of the curtain can be
had from any seat in the house. The foundation of the ventilation
system is a large suction fan placed directly over the center of the
The report also went on to describe the rooms that had been built on
the front of the theater. These rooms would have been located in
(and above) where the present-day lobby is now located. There were
two rooms upstairs and two downstairs. One of the lower level rooms
was the women's rest room and the other (which was originally
supposed to be a soda fountain) was turned into the Avon Flower
Shop. One of the upstairs rooms became Joseph Allman's office and
the other was going to be rented out when the theater opened.
The Avon Flower Shop was operated by R.J. Dills and opened on
November 28, the same day as the theater itself. Dills used velvet
draperies on the doors and windows to provide the illusion that the
shop was actually part of the theater. His idea, he stated, was to
make the place look as much like a "parlor of flowers" as possible.
Older photos of the Avon will show an entrance to the shop on the
right side of the theater. The door was located where the
present-day box office is now.
On November 26, just two days before opening night, Allman announced
that he had already received 150 reservations for the showing of
Fall of a Nation, which he called "the best Thomas Dixon has
written." He planned to follow this film with the E.H. Sothern
picture The Chattel on December 3 and 4.
After the announcement on Sunday that 150 seats had already been
filled for the Avon's opening night, Monday morning saw a rush on
the theater's business office by patrons who were eager to fill the
rest of the auditorium. By that evening, the Tuesday night showing
of Fall of a Nation had been filled to capacity. They had
even sold tickets to showings of the film that were scheduled for
later in the week. Fall of a Nation was booked at the Avon for four
days with the Cairns Brother's eight-piece orchestra furnishing the
music for the picture.
In late December, the much touted pipe organ was finally installed
in the theater. The instrument was a Heiner Organ, from Peoria, and
was located in three locations inside of the movie house. Several
miles of wire were used to make all of the necessary connections.
The organ pipes called the "swells" were located on the north side
of the screen and the great organ was on the south side. The echo
organ was located in the extreme rear of the auditorium, making the
Avon the first theater in Decatur to install a "surround sound
system" of sorts. The organ and the player were both kept hidden
from the audience.
In the months that followed, the Avon hosted dozens of well-received
films, musical performances and even style shows that were put on
Gushard Dry Goods Co. and the Gebhart store. Occasionally, the
theater would also host the stars of some of the films that were
shown, especially those from the Essanay Studios in Chicago. In
March 1917, during a run of a film called Skinner's Dress Suit,
the star of the film, Bryant Washburn, visited the Avon. The film
was show three times and both evening performances played to packed
houses. For the final showing, the Avon's ticket window was closed
and a number of people were turned away. Washburn good-naturedly
watched the movie with the excited audiences and then shook hands
with over 3,000 people as they left the theater. The Avon's owner,
Joseph Allman, held a dinner in the actor's honor at the Hotel
Orlando after the last showing of the film. In April, another star
from Skinner's Dress Suit, Hazel Daly, also appeared at the
Avon and a dinner was also held in her honor in the hotel dining
By this time, Joseph Allman had hired a manager for the theater, J.A.
Carrier and has stepped away from most of the daily responsibilities
of the business. To the general public, things were going quite well
with the Avon, but behind the scenes, the theater was a financial
disaster. The cost of building the theater had nearly bankrupted
Allman and he was soon forced to seek opportunities in addition to
his beloved movie house. Even the best films, the music shows and
the personal appearances couldn't save the Avon. In August 1917, it
Later that same month, it was announced that an "outside firm" had
leased the Avon from Joseph Allman. The former owner would still
retain control over the building, but the business would be leased
and operated by someone else. The new company announced that the
Avon would remain dark until a "general overhauling" could be given
to the place.
During this brief period, there was much taking place out of the
public eye. The "outside firm" that was taking over the Avon was
Carrier Amusement Co., which was owned by C.E. Carrier, the brother
of the Avon's manager. What actual business arrangements were
involved remain mysterious to this day and it has been suggested
that some underhanded dealings may have taken place in regards to
Joseph Allman. All that is known about the building's owner is that
after Carrier Amusement Co. took over the theater, he retired
quietly to his farm in Monticello. He was never involved with
Decatur entertainment again. The official word was that the Carrier
Amusement Co. made it a practice to take over theaters that were in
financial trouble and then to make those theaters attractive to
Carrier's company, which was based in Chicago and also operated five
other theaters in Illinois, wasted no time in moving into the Avon.
They announced a number of plans for the near future, including some
additional remodeling. The interior was redecorated and the Knapp
paintings were removed. They also installed the first real lobby in
the theater and lined a portion of the walls with marble and the
rest was painted in old rose with cream trim. They also removed the
center doors to the theater and replaced them with a box office that
would allow tickets to be purchased from the street or from two side
windows in the lobby. This box office would remain in place until
The Carrier brothers also announced that they would be making some
changes to the theater's programming as well. Like most of the other
venues in Decatur at that time, they would begin offering vaudeville
shows in addition to the films. The new policy would present two
"quality" acts of vaudeville in addition to the films. The
performances would be changed two times each week, on Sundays and
Thursdays, and the films would be changed four times.
The Avon was scheduled to re-open on September 2 with the film
The Flame of the Yukon, the latest Keystone Comedy, and
vaudeville performers the Cleora Miller Trio and Eddie Carrier, the
owner of the theater, who was also billed as the "Ragtime
In March 1918, the Carrier brothers erected a new stage for the Avon
and added small dressing rooms on either side of it. They hoped to
lure larger vaudeville acts to the theater by removing the old stage
(which was only ten feet deep) and putting in a new one that was
63-feet long and 28-feet wide. It was constructed from brick,
concrete and steel and cost around $1,600.
But the Carrier's would not remain in charge of the theater for
long. Although they would continue their lease, the management of
the Avon was taken over by R.J. La Voise, who had previously been
the Carrier's house manager. His immediate boss, J.A. Carrier, had
gone into the Army and was preparing to leave for Europe. In April
1918, he would officially take over the theater's reigns and would
remain in that position through what may have been the Avon's most
troubling period --- the time of the Spanish Influenza outbreak.
The epidemic had a damaging effect on local theaters. Bans were
placed on public gatherings and schools, churches, dance halls,
billiard rooms and taverns were closed down. While all of these were
hurt by the new restrictions, the hardest hit in Decatur were the
theaters. The owners of the theaters were losing hundreds of dollars
a day by being closed and were also stuck with rent to pay on empty
buildings and film rentals for movies that were contracted for but
now could not be shown. Over the next few weeks, thousands of
dollars were lost.
Finally, on November 8, the ban was lifted and theaters were allowed
to open again. Reports of new outbreaks of the flu had dropped
significantly and it was believed safe for the public to gather once
more. The Avon wasted no time in getting things started and
announced the showing of the film The Prussian Cur, a
propaganda film about the evils of Germany. In their newspaper ads
for the film they announced that the theater was "newly decorated
and fumigated and is perfectly safe to attend."
In March 1919, J.A. Carrier returned from Europe and announced that
he would be selling the lease to the Avon Theatre to a theatrical
company that consisted of theater manager R.J. La Voise and a number
of local and outside men. The lease, the equipment and the goo will
of the theater was transferred to the new corporation and while the
names of the new owners were not being released, the newspaper
assured its readers that the company would "mean much to the city
theatrically as it is prominent in the motion picture theater
business." A month or so later, Carrier announced that he was
leaving Decatur and was taking over the management of the Pershing
Theater, located on the west side of St. Louis.
On an unrelated (yet interesting) note, the Avon Flower Shop,
located in the theater, closed on May 9, 1919. The space was taken
over by H.P Silverman and turned into an exclusive lingerie and
blouse shop. The shop later closed and the space was used for
several different businesses until the theater was remodeled in
Into the Modern Era
The company that took over the Avon was the Mid-West Theater
Corporation and for the next several years, it operated the Avon
without incident, continuing on with the business plan first
instituted by the Carrier brothers. Programs at the Avon continued
to be divided between films and vaudeville entertainment.
In April 1924, an announcement was made when the Mid-West Theater
Corporation merged with another company called Balaban & Katz. The
combining of these two companies brought together 50 theaters in
Illinois and the Midwest (including the Avon and the Lincoln Square
theaters) under one management group. Louis St. Pierre, the general
manager of the Mid-West group of theaters stated that over $35,000
would be spent to upgrade the Avon Theatre and that he was certain
Decatur would be able to see better motion picture presentations
than many larger cities. The Balaban & Katz company, which owned
five of Chicago's largest theaters (the Chicago, the Tivoli, the
Riviera, the Roosevelt and the Central Park) planned to bring the
type and manner of presentation used in the Chicago theaters to
Work on the Avon Theatre was scheduled to begin on June 1 and would
include the leveling of the floor, redecorating the building and
other "important changes". H.J. Wallace, who had been transferred to
Decatur the previous winter to manage both the Avon and Lincoln
Square theaters, was to remain in charge under the new arrangements.
On June 3, 1924, the Avon was closed in preparation for the
"elaborate improvements" that were to be made by Balaban & Katz. It
was to remain closed for several weeks while the work was carried
out. As it turned out, the theater was dark for nearly two months
and when it re-opened, everything about the theater had changed.
Despite the extensive plans made by the Balaban & Katz Company, a
small item appeared in the Decatur Herald newspaper on July
22, 1924. Apparently, Balaban & Katz had begun to have second
thoughts about the viability of the Avon. Rumors were flying that
W.N. VanBatre, the owner of the company, had traveled to Decatur
from Rockford to meet in secret with the managers of the Empress
Theater, Gust and Christ Constan. It was said that the brothers were
possibly interested in the theater and that negotiations were
pending. On July 21, Gust Constan left for Chicago and it was
reported that the deal had been finalized, however Christ would not
verify this. He only stated that he himself had not signed the
The following day though, the rumors turned into fact. Balaban &
Katz had abandoned their plans for the Avon Theatre and had turned
over the operation to the Constan brothers, Gust and Christ, and
their cousin, George Stevens of Chicago. The brothers had previously
operated the Butterfly Confectionary 211 North Water Street, had
been part owners of the Empress Confectionary, across the street
from the Avon Theatre and had also managed the Chocolate Shop.
George Stevens was an unknown name to Decatur audiences but had
apparently been involved with his cousins in the theater business
before coming to Decatur. The family had hired Leo Yancy as the
house manager of the Avon and under the Constan's supervision would
continue with the painting and redecorating that had been started by
Balaban & Katz. They announced that the theater would be opened
again in mid-August and from that point on, there would be no more
vaudeville performances. The Avon was strictly a movie house again.
The Constanopoulos brothers were Greek immigrants who became
familiar fixtures in the Decatur entertainment business. During a
more than 40-year span, they would manage and operate the Avon, the
Rogers, the Varsity, the Castle Theater in Bloomington and the Times
Theater in Danville. The four Constan (as the name was shortened to)
brothers, Angelo, Gust, Christian and Theodore became very involved
with the Avon (especially Gust) and truly moved the theater forward
into the modern era. Their tenancy in the theater lasted the longest
and had the greatest effect on what the theater has become today.
The Constanopoulos brothers included Angelo, Theodore, Christian and
Of all of the brothers, the most actively involved in Decatur
theater (and especially with the Avon) was Gust. Born in January
1891 in Tripolis, he was the oldest of the brothers and he came to
American in 1912. In 1913, he moved to Decatur and opened the
Butterfly and the Chocolate Shop confectionaries. In 1924, he was
instrumental in getting the family involved in the lease and later
the purchase of the Avon Theatre. He would remain active at the Avon
(and with the Rogers and Varsity theaters) until his death in 1965.
In the past, I had previously reported that Gust was still alive
when the Kerasotes brothers of Springfield leased the Avon. Local
legend has it that Gust Constan loved the theater so much that he
kept a private office here for many years. When the time came for
him to move out, after the Avon had changed hands, he simply refused
to leave. Employees of the new owners were forced to remove
everything from his office and they literally threw it all into the
street in front of the building. This became one of the most often
repeated stories of the theater and while I have since discovered
that it isn't true, it has been told for many years regardless.
The truth of the matter is that Gust's death in 1965 was one of the
determining factors in the retirement of Christ and Theodore and was
most likely the reason that they decided to lease out the theater
and step away from operating it. As Gust had always been the one
most involved with the Avon, his passing must have left a great void
in the theater's management. Those who have corrected the version of
events connected to Gust's death have also told me that they do not
feel that he would have been happy having someone else running his
theater though. For more than four decades, the Avon was linked
directly with the Constan family. If this is true, then it might
still explain why Gust is still reportedly haunting the Avon today!
The Avon opened again on Saturday, August 16, 1924. For the next
nine years, the theater prospered into the "talking films" era and
the Constan brothers enjoyed much success in the city. In 1935, the
theater closed again, but only for renovations as the financial
troubles of the past seemed to be over. This period of remodeling
marked the first major changes that had been done to the building
since the Carrier brothers had taken over years before.
Prior to 1935, the Avon's lobby had opened from the front doors and
in the center of the room, the ceiling had risen to the height of
the second floor. This open area was decorated with a large hanging
light that would have been centered above the present-day concession
stand. On the right side of the lobby was the small shop area and on
the left was the women's rest room. The second floor had offices on
each side of the open space and was accessed by the stairs that led
up to the balcony.
During the 1935 renovations, the balcony of the theater was
completely rebuilt for the price of $2,500. In addition, the open
space above the lobby was filled and offices were added behind the
round windows that can still be seen on the exterior of the theater.
Prior to this, the hanging chandelier could be seen through the
windows. Across the hall from the new offices, and behind the new
balcony, was the location of the men's restroom. It had always been
a small, cramped space but was slightly enlarged and remodeled
during this period. Later on, a men's room would be added
The new balcony became perhaps the Avon's biggest problem during the
era of the Constan family and while the situation was not realized
at the time, it has left a lasting impression that is still being
felt in the theater today. Visitors who now come to the Avon and who
climb the steps to the balcony will always notice that the center
seating section is roped off and that patrons are asked not to sit
here. Most people think that this is because the balcony is in some
way structurally unsafe, but that couldn't be further from the
truth. The reason that the section is blocked off dates back to
Shortly after the new balcony was constructed, and the theater
opened again for films, it was realized that the new design of the
structure made it impossible for anyone to stand up when a film was
being shown. Any person who left his or her seat in the balcony
would block the light from the projection booth and cause a shadow
to appear on the screen below! Why this was never rectified is
unknown, but I can still remember visiting the theater as a child
and seeing black shadows appear on the screen when someone in the
balcony stood up and made a trip to the concession stand or to the
Another major change was also made to the projectionist's booth in
1935. A door was finally added to this cramped space! Before this,
the projectionist had to go up onto the roof of the theater, open a
trap door and then climb down a ladder into the booth. This was all
done in those days to keep the patrons of the theater safe in the
event of a fire. During the silent era, movies were made using
volatile nitrate film and under certain conditions, it could combust
into flames. By not having a door on the projectionist's booth, the
theater hoped to protect the audience should such a fire break out.
The projectionist, I suppose, was considered expendable.
The next several years in Avon history were largely uneventful, save
for the outbreak of World War II and the death of Angelo Constan in
1942. The next set of changes for the theater came about in 1953,
when the Avon was again renovated to keep up with the changing
times. In addition to an expansion of the concession stand, the
theater also installed a new screen for showing wide screen and 3-D
films. And while 3-D movies, turned out to be a short-lived fad, the
wider screen was an innovation that put the Avon ahead of other
theaters in the city.
The new screen was 12-feet high and 24-feet wide and was 8 feet
wider than the previous screen. In order to install it, the old
private seating boxes that were located in the front of the theater
finally had to be removed. The new screen weighed over 300 pounds
and was coated with a silver-tone finish that would not absorb the
light. The screen was also perforated so that sound from the system
behind it could reach the audience. The owners stated that the new
wide screen "gives some illusion of depth and a great feeling of
audience participation". The first 3-D film to be shown at the
Avon was Fort Ti on August 15 and the first Cinemascope
feature was The Robe, based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas.
The End of an Era
In 1965, after a three-month illness, Gust Constan passed away.
Funeral services were held next door to the theater at the Moran
Funeral Home and Gust was laid to rest in Fairlawn Cemetery. The
Avon, the Rogers and the Constan's theaters in Bloomington and
Danville were closed on the day of the funeral. It was truly an end
of an era for the Avon Theatre.
|A few months later, on April 15, 1966, a 42-year
career in Decatur entertainment came to an end with the
announcement that Christ, Theodore and Gust's widow,
Vicky, were leasing the Avon and their other theaters to
the Kerasotes theater chain, based in Springfield,
Illinois. With this acquisition, the chain would include
53 theaters in Illinois. The small, family-operated
business had come to an end and the Avon had been
absorbed into another company. It was now just another
theater, and it would remain that way for the next two
The Kerasotes Company announced that there would be no
changes in personnel at the theater and that Harold
Peek, who managed the two Kerasotes drive-in theaters in
Decatur, would take over the management of the Avon and
The lease became effective at the date of signing and
with that, the Constan family ended their connection
with the operations of the Avon. However, they continued
to own the building until 1989, when Bob Lewis purchased
it. Over the course of the next two decades though, the
Constan's would have a relationship with the Kerasotes
chain that has often been described as "unfriendly", to
say the least.
The next major renovations at the Avon took place
in 1972. It was time, the owners decided, to update the theater's
look and bring it into the modern era. Gone were the days of the
old-time movie house (it was thought at that time) and audiences
were demanding a slick, modern look for theaters. With that thought
in mind, the old fixtures and decor were torn out of the building,
the walls were paneled over, new carpet was laid, new seats were
installed and the lobby was given a gaudy, 1970's look that has
remained ever since. The addition of the new seats also reduced the
capacity of the theater from 900 to around 700. The increase in the
size of the stage during the Carrier brother's management had
already reduced the number of seats from the original 1,080. The old
center-door box office was removed and a new one was installed in
its current location, where the Avon flower shop and the old
lingerie store were once located. The renovations also included a
men's bathroom on the main floor and so use of the facilities behind
the balcony was discontinued.
For the next several years, the Avon continued to enjoy success in
downtown Decatur, then in August 1980, the death knell sounded for
all of the old theaters in town. Some of them were not aware of it
quite yet, but the heyday of Decatur's movie houses was finally
coming to an end. It was in that month that the announcement came
that six movie theaters were being built at the new Hickory Point
Mall in Forsyth. The new multiplex was a joint venture of Kerasotes
Brothers, which would book the movies, and American Multi-Cinema
Inc. of Kansas City, which would operate the business. Placing a
number of screens into a single building was a fairly new idea at
the time and such theaters were popping up all over America,
following closely behind the infestation of shopping malls.
Business was already beginning to suffer for the
downtown theaters. The Lincoln stayed open until December 31, 1980,
when it was closed down at the end of the Kerasotes lease. Although
the theater remains standing today, it has not operated on a
continuous basis since. The Rogers was closed in 1984, even though
its lease actually ran until 1986. It was cheaper, according to the
Kerasotes chain, to simply close the place and continue paying the
rent than it was to actually operate it. As for the Avon Theatre,
said president George Kerasotes, "we have a lease that goes for five
and one-half years. We're obligated by our lease to keep it open.
Either keep it open or keep paying the rent."
The theater struggled to stay in business over the next several
years and in 1985, it converted to showing second-run movies and
changed its name to the Avon Cinema. By this time, the Kerasotes
chain had been split apart and George Kerasotes owned the Avon. In
April 1986, it turned out that second-run movies just wouldn't pay
the bills anymore. The Avon was closed down, just a few days after
the lease with the Constan family expired. This date would mark the
last time that the Avon was ever part of a theater chain.
Officials for Kerasotes declined to comment on the theater's
unannounced closure, stating that any questions had to be submitted
in writing. Theodore Constan, the last surviving brother, said that
he had not been told why Kerasotes had decided not to renew his
lease but could not have been surprised at the turn of events. The
Avon was the last of the downtown theaters and a shadow of its
former self. Since late 1985, it had been showing second-run movies
for a $1 admission and rarely saw more than a handful of customers
in an evening.
The glory days of the Avon Theatre were certainly a thing of the
past by the middle 1980's. It also marked the end for the North
Water Street district as well. Where there had once been shops,
theaters and eateries, nothing remained save for the Moran Funeral
home (which hasdalready announced its plans to move to a new
facility) and the Leath building, where A.G Edwards & Sons and the
Decatur Health Club were still located. It wouldn't be long before
those businesses would also leave, turning the block into a virtual
For the next several years, the theater remained
dark and empty. Finally, in 1989, an attempt to bring the place back
to life was announced by Larry and Sondra Wooley. With the formation
of Lake Land Productions, they leased the theater for one year from
Bob Lewis, who had recently acquired the building from the Constan
family. The Wooley's had previously operated the Lake Lander's
Country Opry from 1979 to 1984 at the Danceland roller rink, south
of Lake Decatur. They moved to the Decatur Civic Center in 1984 and
then closed in 1986. "We have been shut down since then but now that
we've had some R & R, we're ready to go back to work," Sandra Wooley
The opening show took place in September and in addition to a
reunion of the original Lake Lander's group, musical acts were drawn
from all over Central Illinois. While the Wooley's were preparing
for their performances, Bob Lewis was busy cleaning, painting and
doing general maintenance to get the theater ready for the
re-opening. While Lake Land Productions prepared for capacity
crowds, eager to hear country and gospel performances, Lewis had
plans of his own. He told the newspaper that he intended to restore
the theater marquee and to re-name the Avon the "City Plaza Theater"
or perhaps "City Plaza Hall".
But none of that ever came to be. Within one year, discouraged by
the lack of business, the Wooley's did not renew their lease with
the theater. The marquee was not restored and the Avon (as the
theater remained) was once again dark and deserted.
The theater remained closed until November 1993. It opened again as
a second and third-run bargain house, operated by Gary Carroll, who
also operated a theater in Vandalia. He had grown up in Decatur and
his father had managed Decatur's two drive-in theaters when Carroll
was a child. He had also run Taylorville's Twin Cinemas, owned by
GKC (George Kerasotes Corp.), from 1983 to 1991. His plan with the
Avon was to once again charge only a $1 admission for all shows and
also to divide the balcony of the theater from the main floor and
install another screen. This would essentially place two separate
theaters in the Avon building.
The theater opened again on Thanksgiving night of 1993 and while the
initial response was good, interest waned and eventually died out.
Carroll tried increasing the admission (still keeping the price far
below other theaters) but it was too little, too late. Public
support for the theater, Carroll said, was "only mediocre, at best."
In May 1995, the Avon was closed once again. "I thought with the
size of the population of Decatur it would do a little better than
it did," he said. "I really hate it. It was something that I wanted
to see work. Live and learn, I guess."
And some people did learn from past mistakes. As mentioned already,
the Avon re-opened again four years later and has become one of the
largest attractions in downtown Decatur. It re-opened in April 1999
with a six-day Christian music festival that was poorly attended,
thanks in part (organizers believed) to inadequate marketing. This
was an inauspicious start for the new management team, but the
festival was followed a short time later with a near sell-out crowd
that came to see the blues and rock group called Indigenous.
Although plans were to continue to bring musical acts to the
theater, that idea was scrapped in favor of the alternative films
that have become the Avon's trademark. The first film shown was an
invitation-only screening of Elizabeth and since that time,
the list of movies has continually grown and as of this writing, the
Avon continues to bring people back into downtown Decatur.
Remnants of Time Past
If you should have the good fortune to visit the Avon, you will find
the trip to be an interesting one if you know where to look. Most of
the decor that was described earlier in this chapter is now gone.
The lion's heads have vanished with time, as has most of the ornate
plasterwork and all of the original art. Remodeling was carried out
so many times, during so many different periods (and with such
tragic results in the 1970's) that most of the reminders of
yesterday were hidden or simply destroyed.
behind the screen
The only place in the theater that can
give you an indication of how things once looked is
behind the screen. In 1953, when the new wide screen was
installed in the theater, the area behind the screen was
left just as it was. It had already been ignored years
before when the first "real" screen had been installed.
At that time, the use of the whitewashed front wall of
the theater, the spot where the projectors cast their
flickering images, had been abandoned. When this work
was completed, the screen was moved about 10 yards from
the back wall of the theater. The area behind the screen
today acts as sort of a "time capsule" of how the
theater looked in the days when it first opened.
Directly above the heads of visitors is the
relief of the nude, reclining woman that once looked out over every
audience that came to the theater. She is in fairly poor condition
now, but the artwork and the design that went into her creation is
rarely seen today.
Just below her, and only inches above the air conditioning duct that
was added much later, is another example of the theater's artwork.
Here, mounted onto the wood and plaster wall, is a pair of angels
that are holding a metal shield between them. There is a letter "A"
ornately inscribed on the shield.
In addition, most of the original painted stencils remain on the
walls and ceiling here as well. The small dressing rooms also remain
on both sides of the original stage. The vaudeville performers and
the celebrities who came to entertain and announce the films that
played here once used them. There is detailed wood decoration around
the doorways and also around the doorways that may have led upstairs
to the private seating boxes. These boxes were once located in front
of the pipe organ mechanisms and they offered an unobstructed view
of the original screen. Other than these lonely doorways, no trace
of the boxes can be found today.
In a direct line from the old screen and stage is the balcony. This
seating area is entirely constructed of wood and is still capable of
seating a large number of patrons. A staircase leads up to the small
projection booth and outside of the booth is a skylight that was
once the projectionist's entrance to the booth. It was through this
skylight that burglars broke into the theater one night in 1952.
They cleaned out the office safe, and started to break into the cash
register behind the candy counter ---- until something frightened
them off. They mysteriously left an open drawer and untouched cash
behind. What could they have seen that night that terrified them so
This, of course, brings us to the Avon's ghosts....
The Haunted Theater: Ghosts of the Avon's
I have no problem with saying that I believe the Avon Theater to be
one of the most haunted places in the city of Decatur. In addition
to all of the first and second-hand accounts that I have collected
from the place over the years, I have experienced things here myself
that have defied all rational attempts to explain them away.
The stories of restless ghosts at the Avon go back many years, even
to the early days of the theater. There have long been stories of
not only spectral presences but of ghostly ushers and strange
sensations of being touched, cold spots and more. Many believe that
the ghosts who haunt the place may not be directly connected to the
theater itself. In earlier chapters, we explored some of the history
of the other buildings on the block and also the sites (like the
Race Mansion) that were here before the theater and which were
allegedly haunted. As ghosts are sometimes connected more to the
location than to the people who interact with them, it's not hard to
imagine that perhaps a few of the spirits of the past have ended up
inside of the Avon, a likely haven for the spirit world!
I first got involved in the ghostly goings-on here in September
1994. At that time, I was at work gathering material for my first
book about "Haunted Decatur" and advertised widely that I was
looking for ghost stories and reportedly haunted spots. The Avon had
opened again in 1993 and I was contacted by some of the staff
members who worked here. They asked if I would mind looking into
some of the strange things that they claimed were happening in the
While the first visit was rather uneventful, I was able to record a
lot of information about the alleged haunting. The theater manager,
and the rest of the staff, reported that things had started to turn
up missing in the theater, both small items and large. They also
told of hearing footsteps, laughter, applause and voices coming from
the auditorium after it had emptied for the night. The sounds of
people walking about in empty rooms and in hallways were common, as
was the feeling of being watched and being touched by ghostly hands.
One staff member even claimed to have been groped by an invisible
entity while working in the projection booth.
|That night, I took a walking tour of the place with
recording equipment and cameras and found the sensations
of some of the areas in the theater were very
disturbing. One of the most frightening locations was a
hallway that is located upstairs above the theater's
lobby. This hallway had been added to the theater during
the renovations in 1935 and now the theater's offices,
and a small bathroom, opened off this corridor. The
feeling that I had while walking down this corridor was
very disconcerting, and while I certainly don't claim to
be psychic, it was a strange experience. I became very
uncomfortable and sensed a chill in that spot that
didn't seem to be present elsewhere in the building.
I would soon learn that the theater staff felt the same
way and largely avoided the area when possible. There
had been many occasions when the sound of footsteps had
echoed in the corridor and those who looked to see who
was there, found it empty. This corridor would also be
the same location where more than one person would
encounter a ghost!
hallway above the lobby has long been the source of
strange encounters and ghostly reports in the theater.
Thanks to the frequent activity and at least one
face-to-face encounter with a ghost here, it is
considered the most haunted spot in the Avon! The photo
above was taken during a period when the building was
abandoned in 1995.
I would have an unnerving incident of my own take place
here in 2005!
Unfortunately, that one evening would be my last
chance to explore the Avon that year. I called the theater again the
following spring about returning, only to learn that the place had
closed down once more. Later that year though, I was able to return.
Ironically, Skip Huston, who now operates the theater, was part of a
group interested in buying it in 1995. The plan was to turn the
place into a movie-themed nightclub that would serve food and
drinks, along with films and live entertainment. The project never
came about, but I was able to spend quite a bit of time in the
theater doing research and prowling about the place. During this
brief period, there were a number of strange encounters that took
place and several incidents that were not easily explained. One of
the most frequent occurrences seemed to be the odd sounds that
plagued the theater. Several different witnesses independently
reported knocking sounds that seemed to come from upstairs and from
the auditorium. One person who was in the theater alone one
afternoon finally refused to stay the near the stage after
repeatedly hearing a tapping sound coming from the shadows. It was
later said that these sounds seemed to be trying to get the
attention of the people who were present.
And I had my own strange encounters during this period as well. Once
again, I was in the upstairs hallway one day, this time taking
photographs of the area. I had just passed the first office on the
left side of the hall when I felt something take hold of the tail of
my shirt. It distinctly felt as though a hand had sharply tugged on
it but (always the skeptic) I quickly turned around to see if I had
somehow snagged the cloth on something or if someone was playing a
joke on me. Not only was no one there, but I was nowhere near a door
frame or anything else that I could have caught the shirt on!
Needless to say, I didn't spend very much more time in the hallway
A short time later, I brought a friend (who has asked to remain
anonymous) into the theater to show her what the plans for the
theater were going to be if the nightclub deal worked out. Having
heard the ghostly tales that had long plagued the building, my
friend asked me to show her the hallway that I had already described
as being so strange. We climbed upstairs to the second floor and
were walking along the corridor when she cried out in surprise.
"What's the matter?" I asked, more startled by her shouting than by
anything that I had experienced myself.
"Did you just touch the back of my neck?" she demanded, not at all
amused by the possibility that I might be trying to scare her.
I said that I hadn't (and believe it or not, I really hadn't) and
asked her what had happened. She told me that what felt like an icy
cold hand had reached up and smoothed her hair and then had pressed
itself against her skin. It had vanished when she had yelled but she
could still feel the coldness of it. I touched the back of her neck
and she was right, the flesh there was still very cold. It would be
almost 15 minutes before she would begin to feel warm again. Even if
I had wanted to stay in the hallway that afternoon (and I didn't), I
could not have convinced her to hang around!
But of all of the things that happened that spring, it has become
known for one very bizarre event. You see, it was during this period
that Skip came face-to-face with one of the local haunts!
During the process of evaluating the building for the nightclub
project, Skip came down to the theater one rainy afternoon in the
spring of 1995. On this day, his trip to the Avon had a double
purpose. He was not only looking over the building, but was also
borrowing some marquee letters from the theater for use at an
upcoming show at the Lincoln Theater. Even though it was a "dark and
stormy" afternoon and he knew the theater was probably haunted, he
had no problem with going there by himself. In fact, he grabbed a
flashlight and a couple of garbage bags to hold the letters and
proceeded to the theater.
Skip made his way through the theater to the "letter room", which is
located off the previously mentioned hallway on the upstairs level
of the building. The room is a small office where all of the plastic
letters for the theater marquee are stored. Many of them were
ancient letters for a marquee that hadn't existed for years, while
others were the old letters from the Lincoln that had been donated
to the Avon when the Lincoln's own marquee had been restored. These
were the letters that Skip was seeking. After he entered the dimly
lit room, he used his flashlight to begin looking for letters and
checking them off the sheet he carried with him.
A few minutes after he started working, he distinctly heard a noise
behind him in the hallway. He turned around, but saw no one there. A
few minutes later, he heard it again. Were those footsteps? he
wondered, and looked out in the corridor. The hall remained just as
dark, but also just as empty. Skip shook his head and went back to
work, hurriedly filling one of the plastic bags with letters. Again,
he heard another strange noise and reflexively turned around --- but
this time, he found that he was not alone!
"A man stood in the doorway to the room," Skip told me. "My first
thought was that someone else was in the theater, perhaps a homeless
person hiding out there. He was of medium height and slender build.
His age appeared to be in his late '50's or early '60's. His hair
was close-cropped gray and black. He was not transparent or
wraith-like. He appeared solid. His face was nondescript and he
stared into the room, not looking at me, just staring.
"I started to speak to him and then he slowly turned and started
down the hallway. Recovered from my surprise, I darted to the
doorway to say something but all that I saw was an empty hall. I
grabbed the finished bag of letters and left the theater as fast as
my legs would carry me!"
That was certainly Skip Huston's most startling visit to the Avon,
but it would not be the last. Before the theater opened again,
another strange encounter took place in the fall of 1998. This time,
it was during the more likely setting of a "Haunted Decatur Tour".
For a number of years, both Skip and I had hosted these bus tours to
haunted sites in the city and on many occasions, weird happenings
took place during the tours. When I moved away from Decatur in 1998,
Skip carried on the tradition of the tours. It was during such an
excursion that one of the Avon ghosts made another appearance. And
this time it was in front of more than a dozen frightened witnesses!
Even though the theater was still closed down, and without
electricity, Skip managed to secure the building for the tour. He
thought it would make an appropriately spooky setting for the end of
each night's outing. On this particular night, a terrible storm was
raging outside. Skip remembered that it was the only rainy night of
the tour season and he was disappointed that the attendees had been
"rained out" of Greenwood Cemetery. He hoped that a longer version
of the haunting events at the Avon Theater would appease anyone who
felt the night had been too short.
After a re-telling of the events in the building, he asked if anyone
had any questions. Someone raised a hand and asked what the name of
the theater's former owner (and the resident ghost's) name had been.
At literally the same moment that Skip spoke the name of "Gust
Constan", a shout went up from someone in the crowd. This person was
frantically pointing up toward the theater balcony and everyone
turned in that direction. Skip would never forget what he saw there.
"It was a figure at the balcony rail!", he recalled.
He wasn't the only one who saw it either. He estimates that at least
15 people looked up and saw the shadowy figure on the balcony ----
and panicked! People were pushing, shoving, and climbing over the
seats to get out of the auditorium, only to run out into the lobby
and find the front doors locked. They were barely able to get the
doors opened fast enough and needless to say, that ended the tour
for the night! The incident left Skip's assistant so shaken that he
quit the tours that night and never came back.
"I've had a lot of people come up to me later and talk about that
night," he told me recently. "In fact, one day I was at the
supermarket and the young woman at the check-out said to me that she
was on the tour 'that night'. I didn't have to ask what she meant...
I knew exactly what night she was talking about."
My interest in the hauntings at the theater continued to be strong
and even though it was still closed down and was unlikely (at that
point) to be opened again, I continued to try and research the
building's history. I was curious about the idea that Gust Constan
might not be the only ghost in the theater. While his connection
with the Avon was certainly the strongest, the wide variety of
activity seemed to lead me to think that there might be other
spirits present as well.
Later on, after others began to report their own personal encounters
with the resident ghosts, this theory seemed to prove itself out. In
recent times, there have been sightings of a woman in a blue dress
and what appears to be a uniformed man in costume from the 1930's.
Who he may be for sure is unknown, but I have spoken to local
residents who feel that he was a man who was employed at the Avon
many years ago. They recalled that he took tickets in the lobby when
patrons entered the theater. These same older folks assured me that
the theater was haunted long before Gust Constan passed away in
1965, although they admitted that his ghost is likely to have stayed
around as well.
So, what does this mean for the stories still ahead ---- stories
that have taken place in recent months and years and events that are
still taking place today?
It means that the Avon Theatre is literally infested with ghosts!
The Haunting Continues
The theater re-opened about six months after the October "Haunted
Decatur Tour" when the figure was seen at the balcony rail and with
any sort of restoration work, a lot of time, money and hard work was
involved. The Avon had deteriorated badly during the time it was
closed down and initially; it looked as though opening the place
would be impossible. There were simply too many things wrong with
the old building and every time that one thing got fixed, something
else would break down. In addition, Skip had skeptics to deal with
among his partners and his staff. They constantly badgered him about
the so-called ghosts in the theater and poked fun at his belief that
the theater was haunted. "They started out as skeptics," he laughed
later on, "but they're all believers now!"
As the restoration and repair work began to shake loose the dust and
grime of the building, it awakened other things as well. It was not
long before everyone on the crew, including those who had been the
most skeptical about the haunting, began to report eerie incidents
they couldn't explain away. Nearly everyone talked of hearing
phantom voices in empty rooms and in the deserted auditorium. They
also complained of disembodied footsteps and inexplicable cold
chills that simply should not exist. Most easily convinced were
those who spent the entire night, either working or sleeping in the
building. They were soon coming to Skip and apologizing for ever
Later, as customers began to arrive at the re-opened theater, they
reported their own encounters. Many people spoke of feeling as
though they were being watched and of pressure of hands on their
backs and arms when no one was present. There were also reports of
apparitions and figures who were present one moment and then gone
the next. None of the incidents were particularly frightening. It
was more like the resident specters were simply trying to make their
One of the most common reports that I have received from people
involves what I have called the "phantom audience". I have received
nearly a dozen independent (and by that I mean that they came from
people who did not know one another and had no idea that anyone else
was reporting the phenomenon) reports of patrons spotting the hazy
forms of people sitting in theater seats. These "people" appear to
be watching whatever film is being shown but yet they are obviously
not actual, human figures. They are normally reported as being
transparent, or at least blurred, and they are often seen only from
the corner of the eye. They usually are sighted for a matter of
seconds before they simply fade away.
One theater patron was present during the showing of a film one
night and saw not one, but two distinct figures seated a short
distance away from her. "I happened to glance forward and a little
to my right during the movie and I saw what looked like a young
couple sitting in the seats, staring at the screen. They looked
completely ordinary but they were only there for a second, then they
were just gone," the woman told me.
I asked her if, when thinking back, there was anything unusual that
she recalled about them.
The only thing that she remembered was that they looked slightly
"unreal". They were slightly blurred, as though she was looking at
them through an old pane of glass. It was almost like, she attempted
to clarify, that she was looking through a smeared camera lens.
"Did it frighten you that they just vanished?" I asked her.
"Not really," she replied. "I suppose that I would have been scared
if it had happened anywhere else, but Skip and the rest of the
people here just seem to have such an open attitude toward these
things that it doesn't seem so weird."
Are the "phantom audience" members actual ghosts, or are they merely
impressions from the past that have been imprinted on the charged
atmosphere of the auditorium. It's hard to say because attempts to
pin them down and categorize them have failed. On one hand, the
witness accounts have stated that they figures appear and then
vanish in a matter of seconds. However, a few of the accounts
clearly say that the figures "turned and looked" at them, as if
completely aware of the presence of the living.
In the early part of 2005 (shortly before I moved back to Decatur),
Skip was nice enough to give me an office to work out of at the Avon
until I could get my operations moved here from Alton. One chilling
afternoon in March, I was upstairs in Skip's office above the lobby,
talking to a friend on the telephone. I was very comfortable in
Skip's chair with my feet propped up on his desk (don't tell Skip
this!) and just happened to glance up and see someone walk past the
door of the room, which was open just a few inches. I couldn't see
who this person was, or anything about them, just the form of
someone walking quickly past.
Assuming that it was Chris Barnett, who I often
bumped into at the theater during the day, I put down the telephone
and got up to speak to them. I left my friend on hold and told her
that I would be right back. I quickly opened the door and leaned out
to see who was there but saw no movement --- expect for the door of
the room next to the office. It was softly clicking shut and I
guessed that Chris, Gary or whoever it was had gone into the room. I
had gotten up too quickly for them to have gone anywhere else and
the door that led downstairs to the lobby was shut tight. I walked
down the corridor a few steps and opened the door of the next room
to say hello. But the room was empty….
I suddenly realized that whoever had been walking down the hallway
was not among the living! I hurried back into Skip's office, picked
up the telephone again, and told my friend what had happened. She
gasped. "What are you going to do?"
I answered that question as I was in the process of doing it. "I'm
closing the door to the office," I replied. "That way, if any more
ghosts walk by, I won't see them."
If the reader truly considers the place to be haunted (as I do),
then just how many ghosts are actually lingering in the Avon
Skip Huston wouldn't dare to guess, but during the initial
renovations, he came to believe that they were still around and
apparently were pleased with the activity that was going on in the
building. Skip feels they approve of the theater's re-opening and
that they may be responsible for the strange run of luck the
business has experienced, from the public response to the theater to
the mysterious way that seemingly hopeless repairs have been
One such incident took place during the theater's opening night. The
Avon had scheduled the Decatur premiere of the film Elizabeth and
support for the event had been overwhelming. People began pouring
into the theater early and it was almost guaranteed that it would be
a great night. Or at least it would be if not for one small problem
--- the projector refused to work! Staff members worked feverishly
on the machine but finally sent word to Skip in the lobby that the
movie was going to have to be canceled. They were unable to fix the
problem. Moments later, two separate and apparently (at that time)
unconnected events took place.
One of the staff members spotted a ghost in the small bathroom in
the upstairs hallway and another staff member, who was working on
the projector, heard a voice in his head. At the same time the ghost
was seen, something told Chris Barnett to try crossing two sets of
wires on the projector.
"We've already tried that," his co-worker protested.
"I know, but let's try it again," he replied. He was unsure as to
why it wanted to do this, but he later described the feeling as a
little voice that whispered to him. When they switched the wires,
the projector suddenly began working. The movie premiere was saved!
"I can't explain it," Skip Huston told me when I asked him to try
and explain why things seemed to be going so right with the Avon. "I
just think that someone is watching over the place."
Could that "someone" be Gust Constan, still watching over his
beloved theater? I'd like to think so. There can be no denying that
Gust was devoted to the Avon and would have never been happy with
the way that the place was run after he passed away. Coming from an
age of theater showmen, Gust would have been disappointed in second
and third run movies on the Avon's screen and the "big business"
mindset of the theater chains. He came from a time when the Constan
family, not some faceless corporation, privately owned the theater.
For this reason, I believe that Gust is happy with the way things
are at the Avon these days and he makes his presence known in a
variety of ways.
And if he is here, is he here alone? It is hard to ignore the
possibility that a number of ghosts may linger in this building,
from that of a ticket-taker from the 1930's, to a woman in a blue
dress, to perhaps Judge Race (see the earlier chapter about the Race
Mansion and the current Avon Twins theaters) and others.
I believe that something walks in the theater, be it Gust Constan or
any of these others. Whoever it is, the place is haunted! But don't
just take my word for it ---- go and experience it for yourself!
back to Haunted Decatur!
Copyright 2006 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.