Do ghosts still stalk Belleville’s historic Lincoln Theater in Belleville, Illinois? Two young girls are convinced they do. One has never talked about it, and the other–only in passing. Some of the Lincoln’s ghosts are fairly well-known, such as the prankster poltergeist in the projection booth, the lady spirit of the balcony and the child specter on the stairs. All together there are said to be seven ghosts that call the theater home. But could there be others? Ghosts that are perhaps just visiting? One such story came to me through a friend about a year ago. Be it conjured solely from the depths of a young girl’s fanciful mind, I cannot truly say. It was said to have taken place in the early days of June, in 2014. Disney’s Maleficent–a supernatural fairy tale about Sleeping Beauty opened. It was playing in the Lincoln’s lower main auditorium. Crowds were flocking to see it. The outside temperature in town was a baking 90-degrees. Enter 12-year-old Hannah Hayward. No stranger to haunted locales, young Hannah had visited many spook-beleaguered places. From the haunted grounds of a local abandoned rock quarry, to the cursed remains of an old military outpost, Hannah had seen many things in her day. But never a real live ghost. But that was about to change.
From her exploratory wanderings inside the former French citadel of Fort De Chartres, to the ancient Native-American burial ground of Cahokia Mounds, ghostly places had never deterred her. So the stage was set, as Hannah and her friend Riley Wakefield piled into the family van, along with Hannah’s parents to see Maleficent on its debut weekend. When the story was first told to me I didn’t put much stock in it. But as the days and weeks wore on, I began thinking about it more and more. Ghostly encounters inside the theater, after all, were not that unusual–just seldom. “Hannah and Riley saw a ghost,” said Hannah’s father. His account of that day was still as clear and vivid as ever, remembering back to one week earlier. After driving across town to the theater and purchasing the four tickets, he and his wife selected seating near the middle section of the theater auditorium. The two girls, however, had their own plans. They decided to sit in the more secluded section of the theater, to the far right side–a location normally shunned by most patrons because of the screen’s sharply-tilted viewing angle.
Hannah and Riley’s seats were near the building’s rear exit door (which leads out to the theater’s back parking lot). A short flight of steps leads up to the door. Once the house lights have dimmed, the steps become bathed in an eerie red glow–which emanates from an emergency exit sign above the door. “The film had already begun. “We were about a third or so into the film,” the father said. “All of a sudden there was a commotion. My wife and I looked over and saw Hannah and Riley — racing towards us. They were out of breath and hysterical. Hannah claimed they had just seen a ghost!” Too frightened to return to their seats, the two girls huddled with the adults for the remainder of the performance. After leaving the theater the topic of conversation turned to food and where to eat—and the ghost business faded away. But it was far from forgotten. If asked or prodded about it, Hannah would respond by simply getting up and leaving the room. Riley never spoke of the matter. To this day her version of events still remains unknown.
After overhearing her father and I randomly discussing the Lincoln one day, Hannah finally decided to speak up–spouting out “I’m not ever going back there! That place is haunted!” She said she had seen not one ghost—but two: a young couple…a boy and a girl. They were seated about midway up on the exit steps, not far from where Hannah and Riley were sitting. At first, Hannah failed to notice them. Once she had, the obvious question came to mind…“Where did they come from?”
The ghost couple appeared to be watching the film as well — unaware that Hannah was watching them. The boy was seated behind the girl (on the uppermost step) with the girl seated one step down, in front of him. His arms were wrapped around her, with the pair illuminated eerily in the shadowy red glow beneath the theater’s dimly lighted EXIT sign. Returning her attention to the screen, Hannah couldn’t help herself…and looked back. Both the boy and the girl had suddenly vanished…in the blink of Hannah’s eye! There had been no sound of departure from the two, no visual indication of movement. It was as if the they had never even been there at all. But Hannah knew they had. Understandably, much time would pass before Hannah or Riley would ever think about returning to the Lincoln Theater. Until they do, the unresolved mystery of whatever happened there that day will have to remain just that…a mystery.