6.23.2016

Wausau Theatre


My hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin has been without a local movie theater for the last seven years. The last, Crossroads Cinema, closed in 2009 because - as the president of Marcus Theatres stated to the Business Journal of Milwaukee - "it no longer provides the kind of experience that moviegoers expect from a modern theater facility...with only four screens and a very small lobby, Crossroads can’t offer the wide selection of amenities, movies and showtimes needed to remain viable." Its space is now being rebuilt as a Holiday gas station.

Downtown Wausau's Rogers Theatre closed previously in 2002, and it was the one closest to my early moviegoing heart. My first clear memory of seeing a movie in theaters was there in 1994 - a double-feature of The Lion King and Angels in the Outfield sold out, so I had to settle for Little Big League. A failed blind date in 1997 resulted in me viewing The Saint by myself, and later that year, I tricked my friends into attending Austin Powers only to choose a ticket to Batman & Robin instead. The last movie I clearly remember attending was Requiem For a Dream during a three-month period where the theater attempted to draw independent film fans (there were not many). I had mono at the time, but dragged myself to the cinema as I was worried it would leave before I got better (it didn't).

It was a dump, but it was glorious.

During a recent return visit, a stop at the Marathon County Historical Society revealed that this theater had existed since 1945. Further information could only be found on a variety of ghost sighting websites, as the theater had a reputation for being quite haunted.

First built in the early 1920s, the space first held the Ammenthorp Tire Shop with apartments above. It was here that there are unconfirmed reports of a murder taking place. Regardless, Charles Helke purchased the property in 1926 and later opened Helke's Funeral Home & Helke's Furniture (dates for these occurrences are a bit contradictory). The building reportedly became vacant around 1939 and was used as a brothel.

In 1945, the space was opened as the Hollywood Theatre, later changing its name to the New Wausau Theatre in 1960 (photos can be found in the Marathon County Historical Society's permanent exhibit). This single-screen cinema was later expanded to fit five screens, likely during the 1979 change to the Rogers Theatre. It remained this until its closing in 2002.

Many ghost reports can be found online at sites such as What-When-How and the Examiner. Most reports come from the small, creepy basement auditorium that featured rocking seats and a spirit referred to by former employees as 'Bob.' Other activities included projectors shutting off simultaneously, lights turning on and off, and rapping noises radiating from nowhere. The space brefily re-opened as the Fillmor concert hall and bar between 2008 and 2009, and the owners kept one of the original theater chairs in the old upstairs projection room. It was sworn that a female ghost was spotted sitting here, and an old hidden knife was also discovered during renovations.

For more information on this history, check out Haunted Wausau: The Ghostly History of Big Bull Falls by the Wausau Paranormal Research Society.