12 Dec 2009
Genesee ghost hunters
Paranormal investigation this weekend
WAUKEGAN -- It was late one night in an office high above the main floor of the Genesee Theatre. An employee stopped by with her dog to check on some paperwork ... and, suddenly, the room went cold.
The dog -- normally docile -- bared her teeth, faced an open doorway and growled, all while walking backward toward her master, whose heart began racing. Then, just as quickly as the behavior started, the dog was calm. She hasn't acted that way before or since.
This tale from the recent past is one that can be added to years of lore about something just a bit beyond the norm inhabiting the halls and corners of the Genesee, from an unseen little girl taunting ushers to a long-dead theater honcho peeking from behind the stage curtain.
Inspired by the tales, a pack of ghost hunters is looking to hang out once the lights dim today and document what, if anything, is going on.
"We're not psychics. We're looking at it from purely a scientific standpoint," said Waukegan native Cheri Esperon of the Northern Alliance of Paranormal Investigators (NAPI), a group of about 13 Illinois and Wisconsin residents that uses audio/visual technology to try catching spirits in the act of haunting.
For tonight's proposed investigation at the Genesee, which is being arranged to start after a DanceCenter North performance of "The Magic of the Nutcracker," Esperon said, "We're going to use two DVR night-vision cameras, 12 audio recorders and eight or nine handheld cameras, so there'll be a lot to review."
Esperon added that there might be perfectly normal explanations for the sights and sounds that are said to roll through the theater.
"There are a lot of windows, it's on a corner in a downtown area ... We go in kind of looking to disprove things, and if we can't disprove it, it's something to look at."
The effort was sparked back in October when a NAPI member attended the annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival at the Genesee and heard Jim May of Spring Grove unleash a selection of Genesee ghost lore for the audience.
"I was the emcee, so while I mixed the stories in, I wove them in, during the evening while introducing the acts," May said Friday, explaining that he picked up the tales from various current and past employees at the 82-year-old building. Among the legends:
• Ushers, said May, will tell you about "hearing the pitter-patter of feet running down the aisle, and then they'll hear a giggle -- and then they'll look down and their shoelace will be untied." A telephone worker is also said to have reported the giggling to Genesee employees one day, wondering if a child was lost in the empty building.
• One of the trio of the Genesee's founders is said to haunt the stage area. May said he was told that the financier hanged himself to death at a dairy farm in the early 1930s, "but the apocryphal version is that he hanged himself from the water tower up on the roof of the theater. People have said they see him peeking around the curtains of the stage."
• A theater employee told May about seeing an apparition standing in a hallway that houses offices. "She was very blase about it," May said. "She told me, 'This one guy stood there all afternoon,' and I said, 'Maybe it was someone waiting (for an appointment),' and she said, 'Oh, no, no, no -- I could see right through him.'"
Officials at the Genesee seem to be taking the situation in stride. Special events director Rena Morrow said she took NAPI members on an informal tour of the building earlier this week, and arrangements were being worked on Friday to allow for the actual investigation.
"It's tentatively on the schedule for (today)," Morrow said. "It's just a matter of getting everything lined up, like liability (waivers)."
Esperon said she was hoping to return to a theater she first attended as a child to see a screening of "Jaws" in 1975.
"We went Monday to get the tour of the whole building, and my eyes are still popping and my neck is still hurting from looking up at everything," she said. "I remember going there when I was a kid, and it was a neat place then. It's fantastic now."
Esperon added that she believes theaters are prime places for paranormal activity, since those drifting in from the netherworld would likely go back to the places they frequented in the flesh.
"Schools, theaters, churches (and) bars are big," she said. "People always talk about cemeteries. Really and truly, if you were a ghost, would you go to a cemetery? (Ghosts) go to places were people had fun and passion, and there's no more passion anywhere than in a theater."