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Biograph Theater –


Haunted Place: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater


2433 N. Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, Illinois


This historic 1914 brick building, designed by architect Samuel N. Cowen, originally was known as The Biograph Theater, and was one of at least four movie theaters which opened in Chicago during 1910-1914. It had a large stage and auditorium, complete with a balcony in the style of the time, with lovely decorum inside. The Biograph Theater premiered D.W. Griffith's BIRTH OF A NATION, and continued on as a grand movie theater through the Depression, two world wars, and the 50s and 60s.

In the 1970s, as was the custom in many parts of the United States, this 60 year old grand theater, in need of renovation, was converted into a four screen "multiplex," so four movies could be shown at a time, increasing the profits but unfortunately destroying the original inside decor. The outside fortunately was left alone in its original design.

In the early 2000s, it was obvious that The Biograph once again was looking long in the tooth, in need of major renovations, and it was put up for sale. The non-profit, theater group, Victory Gardens, which specializes in promoting new American theatrical works, bought the building from Larry Edwards for $2 million dollars. The building underwent a 7-8 million dollar renovation effort, thanks to the major contributions of generous citizens, a grant from the state of Illinois, who wishes to encourage the renovation of old buildings and funds given from the city of Chicago, who was interested in having more available theatrical stages in the city.

Renamed Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, this complex opened for the public's entertainment in September 2006. This theater is the new home for a variety of theater companies: About Face, Eclipse, MPAACT, Remy Bumppo and Shattered Globe.


While the inside of this 1914 brick building was gutted for the second time in its history, the outside still has the original 1914 decorum, restored to its original beauty. Inside this historic building, one finds a new 299-seat modified thrust main stage theater, (complete with balcony and limited fly system), a 130-seat studio theater, as well as a rehearsal hall and space for special events.


Nothing stirs up hauntings like building renovations! This 1914 building has experienced: two comprehensive, major gut-wrenching renovations to its interior, resulting in a lot of change; and one grand restoration of its outside exterior, beginning in 2004-05.

Places where people have enjoyed themselves while alive, often become a favorite after-life hangout! This building has been the source of entertainment since 1914, offering films for the audience's enjoyment for around 99 years, and theater productions since 2006.

The alley which runs next to the theater building marks the spot probably where the notorious, hardened bank robber and killer, John Dillinger, or perhaps his look-a-like Jimmy Lawrence, met a violent demise at the hands of FBI agents.

The story of John Dillinger, and how he wound up dead at the age of 31.

Born in 1903, John was raised in Mooresville, Indiana. He joined the navy at 18, but was AWOL in just a few months. After getting a dishonorable discharge, he came home and married his sweetheart. Problems developed when he couldn't hold a job and he wound up divorced. Seemed to be a big failure in living the regular life of an American.

John Dillinger's foot first slipped into the life of robbery when he was in his early 20s. After robbing his neighborhood grocery store, he and his partner in crime were caught. Not able to afford a lawyer, John confessed his crime and served 9 years in stir, at the Indiana State Penitentiary in Michigan City. His accomplice, who had talked him into it in the first place, could afford a lawyer and was only in jail for a little over two years.

This fact made him bitter, angry and resentful, and pushed him completely over to the dark side. While inside the joint, John learned all about planning and carrying out robberies from some of the professionals in crime. Instead of turning over a new leaf when he was released on parole on May 22nd, 1933, he began a crime spree, holding up 3 banks, taking in 40,000 dollars. For his accomplishments in crime, he wound up in the slammer yet again in Lima, Ohio, just 4 months into his parole.

However, within 3 weeks of Dillinger's becoming a guest of the state of Ohio, 3 fellow inmates from his first incarceration experience violently sprung him, and they robbed a bank to celebrate! Dillinger and his gang began their short-lived life of being hardened gangsters. Though it was said that they did give some of their money to the poor, which gave Dillinger the reputation among the public of being a modern-day Robin Hood, Dillinger and his posse also caused pain and calamity to others, while becoming a deadly pain in the neck to law enforcement, earning public enemy number one status.

In a little more than a year, John Dillinger and his gang held up 6 banks, killing two police officers, two FBI agents and one innocent bystander who got in the way. He not only escaped jail in Lima, Ohio, but also from the Crown Point Jail in Indiana, knowing that he would probably get an appointment with the executioner for killing the policeman, William P. O'Malley.

After narrowly eluding or shooting his way out of at least 6 clever traps set by law enforcement and the FBI, Dillinger was perhaps tired of being a "jackrabbit", and had plastic surgery done by a lowbrow doctor, fixing tell-tale physical features and characteristics and nuking his finger prints somewhat.

One version of what happened next: Feeling very safe with a transformed face, a weary John Dillinger took a holiday from causing havoc and went to the Biograph Theater in July of 1934 with two girl friends to enjoy the film, "Manhattan Melodrama." However, it is thought that one of the women he went with who was dressed in red, had betrayed him and told the FBI that he would be there, in exchange for help in staying in the country. Others say that the FBI found him on their own by casing his girl friend's house.

While leaving the theater via the alley, FBI agents told him that he was under arrest. He turned to run, trying to pull a hidden gun, which was hard to get at quickly, but was shot dead by an agent before he could have yet another shoot out. It was reported that he fell at the feet of a theater patron, a woman who had known him as a young man. She was interviewed by the newspaper, where she repeated his last words, "They finally got me."

A second version of the story: This woman in red really double-crossed the FBI. Instead of going with John Dillinger to the movie theater, as she had told them, the two women invited a small-time hood, Jimmy Lawrence, who was a dead ringer for the likeness of Dillinger. Jimmy Lawrence was the one who was killed, allowing John Dillinger to escape once again. It is claimed that the autopsy report proved that the man killed wasn't John Dillinger.

Discrepancies in the autopsy report are attributed to the plastic surgery that Dillinger had done, law enforcement claimed. They also were able to get partial sets of postmortem fingerprints from the body. Though scarred with acid, the finger prints were still readable, identifying the body to be John Dillinger's. His sister also identified him as her brother, from a scar on his leg.

If this second version is correct, one wonders, "Where did John Dillinger go?"

It is thought in some circles that John Dillinger slunk off to Oregon and quietly retired, forever cured of being a hardened gangster, and perhaps becoming a model citizen, living a new life. Right! I don't think so! Somehow, I don't think a hardened criminal who wasn't the brightest bulb in the pack like John Dillinger could easily disappear, leaving evil doing behind and not return to crime, because of his inability to stick with a regular job, his twisted psychological make-up, and his bitterness and need for revenge against the law. Sooner or later he would've returned to what he knew best; robbing banks.

I do have another possible theory as to what happened to Dillinger, if he wasn't killed at the Biograph Theater. John Dillinger with or without plastic surgery, was killed beforehand by a hit man for the mob, perhaps because Dillinger had a lot of law enforcement on his tail, possibly bringing a lot of heat on not only him, but the rest of the underworld establishment in Chicago, as an unintended consequence. To cover up Dillinger's murder, perhaps hapless small-time gangster Jimmy Lawrence was set up unknowingly to take the fall, covering up John Dillinger's murder. After the shooting, it is true that Jimmy Lawrence disappeared off the face of the earth. Possibly, the real John Dillinger suffered the fate of Jimmy Hoffa! Nice theory, but no evidence!

Though, I strongly suspect that it was John Dillinger who died there, especially if the body had signs of having recent plastic surgery. Also, the police claim that they were able to take actual partial fingerprints from the body, because the plastic surgery didn't completely wipe them out.

There will always be some who wonder who it was who really "bought the farm" in this location, and who is haunting the theater and alley way.


Some sources say that the theater itself is not haunted. Other sources disagree.

Some report that inside the theater, cold spots have been felt by the living.

Perhaps this is either the entity of John Dillinger or Jimmy Lawrence, haunting the last place they had fun, finding momentary peace from the world.

Others have witnessed ghostly theater patrons, enjoying the show currently running!

In other stories found on this website, film and theater enthusiasts in life sometimes choose to not go on to the next world, when they die, but instead choose their favorite theater to spend their after-life; not quite ready just yet to leave this world.


Haunted alley next to the theater

Around 1970, during the first major renovation, witnesses began to see a blueish male apparition run down the alley beside the theater, stumble, fall and then disappear.

In the alley, cold spots have been felt and an uneasiness has been picked up by sensitive individuals.

Again, this is probably the entity of John Dillinger reliving his death, or perhaps it is the entity of Jimmy Lawrence in his final moments, depending on what story you believe.


Probably, though the hauntings have quieted down a bit, as the entities are probably all enjoying the dramatic theatrical entertainment presented.

Apparition & Paranormal Investigation Society conducted a paranormal investigation and will soon post their findings.

The Ghost Society – Paranormal & Cryptozoology – A group of researchers, led by paranormal investigator John Cache, state that the alley definitely is haunted.


CHICAGO HAUNTS, Ghostlore of the Windy City,
by Ursula Bielski, pg. 129-135, Lake Claremont Press, 1998

By Dennis William Hauk, pg. 155, Penguin Books, 2002

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