Sandwich Opera House

Once a jail, firehouse, city hall, and theater, Sandwich Opera House may be haunted by its past

Sandwich Opera House’s
Paranormal Activity

  • Lights are known to flicker and go on and off without explanation
  • An apparition is sometimes seen in the theater
  • A sense of being watched by something unseen is often reported
  • Strange sounds and sensations are encountered in the former jail / current women's lavatory
  • Child spirits in the basement reportedly move objects around
  • The basement spirits are also said to rock a rocking chair stored down there

Sandwich Opera Houses’ Various Uses

In the yesteryears of Sandwich, Illinois, the little town boasted convenience few towns could match. Whenever you wanted to go see a show, you just headed to the Sandwich Opera House. Whenever you needed a meeting with the mayor or town council, you just headed to the Sandwich Opera House. And if ever there was a fire or vagrant in need of jail time, you just headed to the Sandwich Opera House.

Sandwich Opera House's hauntings define the multi-use theater

In its time, the Sandwich Opera House has served almost every purpose a small town could ask for, and still sports many aspects of its countless uses, from a façade still emblazoned with ‘city hall,’ to a jailhouse with heavy barred doors still attached.

And, for all the reminders of the past you can see at the opera house, local legend suggests there are many more reminders you can’t see. From spectral children to ghosts of mayors, the list of spirits at the Sandwich Opera House are just as varied as the building’s past.

The Beginning Of The Sandwich Opera House

In the years after the Civil War, the town of Sandwich, Illinois saw unprecedented growth, mostly thanks to the railroad stop on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad in town. By the late 1870s, the railroad brought the population of the budding township to over 2,000. Of course, this growing town soon needed expanded infrastructure to meet the needs of citizens.

So, in 1878, the city constructed the Sandwich Opera House to be a community center in every sense of the word, housing the mayor’s office, city officials, the Marshal’s office and city jail, the fire department, and the theater itself on the second floor. The city had allotted a generous $10,000 for the opera house’s construction, but the ambitious project still saw a $2,000 cost overrun.

How it Became a Community Cultural Center

Over the decades that followed the building’s completion, it not only had a long rotation of mayors, police chiefs, and fire chiefs, but a seemingly endless list of new performers, lecturers, and entertainers. The theater section of the Sandwich Opera House quickly established itself as the community cultural center, and it saw a wide variety of theater acts performed including Shakespearian productions and vaudeville acts.

Along with theater troupes, the theater also hosted traveling lecturers and politicians, local club gatherings, temperance talks, debates, school recitals, and graduation ceremonies. While the building served its many uses well over time, by the time the 1920s rolled around, some departments were desperate for modernized workspaces.

The Transition Period

Soon, the police department outgrew the space the opera house allotted for them and transitioned to larger facilities. The last high school graduation at the theater took place in 1922, as the school had the infrastructure to hold such events on their own by then. Over time, more and more city offices and services transitioned to new buildings. By the early 1940s, only city hall remained in the building.

Community Action To Save The Sandwich Opera House

The theater went dormant during the war, and when the war ended in 1945, it didn’t come back to life. As a few city service offices bustled below, the theater sat empty for years. By the 1970s, there were talks of razing the whole building to make way for more development.

That suggestion spurred community action to save the building, and a committee formed to investigate the potential for saving the structure produced positive results for the old opera house.

Modern Production And Historic Registration

The Sandwich Opera House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and a large-scale revitalization took place in the years immediately following the designation. Walls and ceilings were repainted to the building’s 1890s look, and light fixtures were replaced with period-appropriate fixtures and chandeliers. New sound and light equipment setups were added to the theater to help bring more modern and tech-heavy productions to the old theater.

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Sandwich Opera House’s Trail Of Ghosts

After many years of work, the restored Sandwich Opera House was reopened in 1986. In the years that followed the reopening, not only have many shows been put on, but many stories have been made, some more mysterious than others.

Over time, visitors and workers alike have reported strange happenings and potentially paranormal encounters at the opera house. Some people now believe that the building’s varied uses have left a trail of ghosts to keep that eclectic history alive.

Death of Julius Hummel

One of the most well-known opera house ghost stories is the tale of Julius Hummel. Once a mayor of Sandwich and one of the opera house’s original commissioners, Hummel insisted his funeral take place at the opera house upon his death. His wish was granted when he died in 1930, but during the procession of the casket up the theater aisle, the cart carrying it broke.

Flickering Lights As Hummel’s Spirit Remains Restless

Though his casket took a tumble, Hummel’s corpse did not spill out across the floor. But the memory of his funeral as a symphony of errors remained, and some figure it made his spirit particularly restless.

Now, lights flickering and mysteriously going on and off are events frequently attributed to Mayor Hummel. Others have reportedly spotted his apparition in the theater and say they sense being watched by him at times. But, while Mayor Hummel may be the best-known entity said to lurk in the opera house, he is far from the only one.

Restless Restroom Spirits

Another reported hotspot of paranormal activity is the women’s bathroom on the building’s first floor. Once used as a jail, the bathroom still sports thick brick walls, and heavy barred jail doors, though the doors no longer close.

Visitors to this lavatory often say they feel an eerie sensation there, while others report sounds of clanging metal, as if the doors are closing or chains are knocking against them. Investigators who have reviewed the area in the past have reportedly come away with EVP responses and potentially anomalous photographs from the space.

Sandwich Opera House’s young spirits

In the basement of the building, employees and investigators alike have said they’ve encountered the ghosts of two children lingering down there. The child spirits reportedly enjoy stuffed animals, particularly a toy rabbit left down there, and are known to frequently move this rabbit to different locations around the basement. They are also notorious for rocking a theater prop rocking chair that is stored down there.

While no one is exactly certain how a pair of child spirits ended up in the opera house’s basement, it is thought that they paid visits to observe the workings of the fire department, which housed many of its functions in the basement. Regardless of how they ended up there, the child spirits reported in the basement seem to have no interest in leaving, being two of the more frequently encountered ghosts on investigations.

Are Sandwich Opera House’s Hauntings Keeping It Alive?

In its time, the Sandwich Opera House has played many parts, and it still continues playing roles in the community today. Though not the heart and soul of the town’s function anymore, the opera house succeeds at entertaining visitors from far and wide with an ongoing rotation of local and traveling performances.

But despite leaving many of its old functions behind, the numerous historic chapters of the Sandwich Opera House stay alive today thanks to both preserved artifacts, and purported apparitions.