Let’s say you’re settling into your seat on the balcony of a gorgeous opera house, waiting for the show to begin. It’s a packed house, every seat is filled. Except one. The seat next to you as you prepare for the entertainment is empty, and ushers tell you no one is to sit in that seat. You may even notice the spring-loaded chair is in the down position, despite no one sitting there. What you don’t know is that someone definitely is sitting there, and she has a reserved seat for every performance. Today, we’re exploring the unique haunting of the Woodstock Opera House in Illinois, and the ghostly patron that never misses a show.
Built in 1889, the opera house has worn more hats than just a place of entertainment. Originally, it housed the local library, then it was a courthouse, city council meeting place, and the fire department. As the town of Woodstock, IL grew, the brick building spent years serving in whatever capacity it was needed. When it was eventually cemented as an opera house, traveling acts, farmer’s markets, and wrestling events were all held in its ancient halls. A vital provider of entertainment in the region, many actors got their start on the stage of the Woodstock Opera House, but none more famous than its most prominent son- Orson Welles. He is considered one of the greatest filmmakers and actors of all time, and he started his illustrious career right here in Woodstock.
It’s not difficult to find the opera house, with a tower jutting into the sky and remaining today as the tallest building in Woodstock. Throughout its long life, tragedies have happened behind the doors, including several fires that required renovation of the building. One fire in 1914 even left a reminder, with charred floors still in place beneath the floorboards. This fire in particular took one life of an incarcerated man suspected of starting the fire, but the rest of the attendants of a boxing match on the second floor were able to evacuate. The local library housed in the first floor wasn’t so lucky, as over 1700 books were lost in the blaze.
The most famous tragedy of the opera house happened in the early 1900s, when a blonde, beautiful woman ran up the stairs to the tower of the building and quickly threw herself out of the window, ending her life. Legend says that she was passed over for a part in the ballet and couldn’t handle the rejection. This woman is said to be the most active spirit in the Woodstock Opera House, and she’s the ghost you might sit next to if you were to sit in the D Balcony.
The wandering thespian spirit is said to have an affinity for the shows put on in the opera house, rarely missing a performance. Those in the opera house affectionately call her “Elvira,” and she’s been seen wandering the halls, in the theater seats, and sometimes backstage during rehearsals. Witnesses say she’s a beautiful blonde woman wearing a white, semi-transparent and flowing gown.
Elvira is not a malicious spirit, in fact she seems to love the theater and opera house just as much as the actors and employees who frequent it. A seat in the balcony, DD113, is always reserved for Elvira during every performance, and often the seat is seen in a down position, meaning a ghostly presence is sitting on the spring-loaded chair. More reports tell of seeing the young woman sitting in the balcony during dress rehearsals, items backstage disappearing and reappearing seemingly at random, and the ghostly sounds of moans and banging can occasionally be heard during performances, though many patrons mistake the sounds as part of the show.
Today, the Woodstock Opera House is a beloved part of the local community, still hosting theater troupe performances, traveling shows, music, and many community events. Called the “The Grand Capital of Midwestern Victorianism,” by its most famous son, Orson Welles, the opera house has seen over 140 years of the history of Woodstock, and is poised to watch the next century pass by as well, filled with happy patrons, talented actors, and even the ghost of one woman who loves the performances so much, she still attends the shows in the afterlife.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.