Historical Ritz Theater
Investigators: Christy, Roger, Kendall, Lisa P. Sheri, Sara, Chuck and John
Equipment used: DVR, (5) IR video cameras, personal audio recorders, digital cameras and various EMF meters
OKPRI's Movie Documentary of our investigation at the Historical Ritz Theater
The History of Shawnee & The Ritz Theater
The area surrounding Shawnee was settled after the Civil War by a number of tribes that the federal government had removed to Indian Territory. Over the course of the 1870s, Texas cattle drovers pushed their herds across Indian Territory. With the cattle drives came railroads; as a result, pressure began to build to allow permanent white settlements in a region that previously had been reserved by treaty to Native Americans. By 1871, the Quakers moved into this area and opened up a mission. By 1872 a school was built and by 1876, a post office and trading post had been established. Beginning in April 1889, the United States government succumbed to the pressure that had built to open Indian lands to white settlement.
1890: In December of 1890, John W. Beard and Dave Perriman went on a hunting trip to an area called "Brockway" or "Country B" in Oklahoma Territory. They were very impressed with the area, so much that they told their friends about it and organized an exploration trip back to the area.
1891: The following year, "County B" was able to be settled due to the government opening up part of the original Indian Territory to white settlement. A second land run was held on September 22, 1891 and a group of people including John Beard, left for this area to join the run. This 2nd land run had hundreds of people who raced to stake their claims. Four
people, John Beard, Etta B. Ray, Elijah Alley, James Farral were the original four who staked their claim in what is now the town of Shawnee, Oklahoma. John Beard and Etta B. Ray were married and the family including Etta's father, built the first homestead there in Shawnee. It was called the Beard Cabin and it still remains today in Shawnee.
The town of Shawnee hasn't always been called Shawnee. In 1892 a debated meeting was held in a hotel in Oklahoma City to decide the name of the town. The names that were being debated were Brockway, Forest City, Beardville, Chicago and Shawnee. The committee finally decided on Shawnee and thus the town of Shawnee was born.
The Beard family wanted the railroad to come through Shawnee instead of the Railroad's original plan of going thru the town of Tecumseh. In order to get the Railroads to agree to run through Shawnee, John Beard sold 100 acres and Henry Beard sold 150 acres of their land to the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad in 1894. The town of Tecumseh was angry at the decision and took the town of Shawnee and the Railroad to court to dispute the agreement but unfortunately the town of Tecumseh lost their suit. Tracks began being built through Shawnee and the first train came through in 1895.
1896-1897: The Railroad became very prominent in Shawnee and in 1896, sold off some of their property to various individuals. The land on which the Ritz Theater sits was one of these land sections that was sold. It was then that the land was purchased from the Railroad by Wesley G. Montgomery and his wife Dora. Wesley Montgomery was known as a businessman and was also said to have involvement with banking. After Wesley Montgomery purchased the land from the Railroads, he erected a building in 1896 but part of the property changed hands in 1897 when Wesley Montgomery sold half of it to his father-in-law, William Blackman. This gave the building 2 addresses, 10 & 12 W. Main Street.
1898-1904: According to the Sandborn Maps which were created by the Insurance Companies of those days, Wesley's side was a furniture Store and
William's side as a grocery store. The maps show the upstairs area/rooms as offices. In 1901 the maps show Wesley's side to be a dry good & grocery store and William's side as a drug store. The upstairs was still listed as offices. In 1904 the maps show Wesley's side as a grocery store and William's side as a drug store.
1906: The maps showed William's side as The "Wallace Mann Drug Store" which is the first documented business name for the building. William Blackman was thought to have rented out the drug store since he was a capitalist and businessman . William also died in 1906 and left his business to his wife Patience.
1907: The Sanborn Maps show Wesley's side vacant and the Blackman's side as FM Blakely Drug Store. The upstairs area's use is not mentioned.
1909: The first documented residency upstairs was by W.C. Hensley. Wesley also made the top part of the the building into a hotel and named it "The Gordon Hotel." Wesley had the hotel run by a James Crozier who started his job on November 1st, 1909. An add was placed in the Newspaper which read:
"The Gordon Hotel:
James Crozier, Meets all trains, takes care of your baggage.
His wife ably assists in the conduct of the hotel and sees to it that all guests are properly served.
Rates are 50 cents per night, $2.50-$3.00 per week. Free baths.
Telephone connection 1025 black. James and Family came from Sioux City, Iowa.
1910: In September 1910 Wesley Montgomery sold his side of the building to a Mr. Thomas Ellis.
1911-1912: Mr. Ellis turned his side of the building into a theater and named it "The Cozy Theater." The Cozy Theater was known for it's "moving & talking pictures." The Shawnee Director showed the Cozy Theater as 12 W. Main St. with the manager as Wesley Montgomery with the Cozy's seating capacity at 300 seats. The Blackman's side was then a grocery store. in 1912 the name of the hotel changed from the Gordon Hotel to the Savoy Hotel. Wesley Montgomery is listed as the proprietor of the Cozy Theater and the Savoy Hotel.
1913: Patience Blackman dies and the property is given to the Blackman children. Property is still rented out to individual and remains a grocery store. Wesley Montgomery and Dora divorce and Wesley moves into the Savoy Hotel.
1914: Thomas Ellis Sells the Cozy Theater and Savoy Hotel to George McKinnis, a prominent business man in Shawnee during that time who dealt a lot in real estate and banking.
1915: George McKinnis sales the Cozy Theater and Savoy Hotel to Leo Montgomery. Leo lived in the Savoy hotel upstairs with his wife Lillian who owed the Cozy Theater and Savoy Hotel with Leo.
1926: The Griffith Brothers signed a lease for building to provide inside furnishing and equipment such as a organ, screen, velvet curtain, ticket machine, scenery, chairs, ceiling fans, coal and gas furnaces, 10 gas stoves, 2 moving picture machines and much more. On August 10, 1926, A.F. Hornbeck bought one-third of the Griffith Brothers interest in the lease. In 1926 the theater's name was changed to "The Ritz."
1927: "The Jazz Singer" was the first full-length talking picture shown at the theater showing Al Johlson.
1933-1935: Upstairs became apartments
1960: Current marquee was added.
1984: Ritz was the first historical building to get cosmetic facelift out front.
1988: The Ritz Theater closes. The last movie shown was "Willow." The Ritz was the first theater in Shawnee and 3rd in state to show talking movies.
2000: The Ritz building was given to the SRDS by the Jones Family.
Shawnee’s population today is now 28,692. Since Shawnee’s beginning, the town has grown over the years and many buildings have been erected. The Ritz Theater was one of these buildings. The Ritz Theater was built in 1899 and was first owned by Wesley G. Montgomery. The building was originally constructed as a dry goods store and the building was also once believed to be a Mercantile/ furniture store and funeral home, where the furniture boxes from the east coast were made into caskets. Eventually Mr. Montgomery changed the theme of the building's business and converted the building into a theater and named it, "The Cozy Theater." In it's beginning, the Cozy only had 350 seats and could accommodate a large crowd, but still needed some remodeling done to it to make it better. Unlike the theaters of today, the Cozy Theater was one of Shawnee's main forms of public entertainment and actually showed some of Hollywood's first silent films.
In 1913 it was purchased by Jake Jones, Sr. Mr. Jones was born in Mount Lebanon, Syria, and came to the United States in 1888 with his mother and sister, settling first in Waco, Texas, before moving to Shawnee in 1903 where he first began operating the city’s confectioneries and ice cream stores. When Jake Jones purchased the old building, he began renovations and also turned the upstairs boarding house into the Cozy Hotel & Boarding House.
In 1914, many people were excited to see an organ installed which enabled the theater to furnish musical accompaniment to the dramas of the silent screen. The building was also remodeled to its present 40 foot width and shortly thereafter became a stop on the state extravaganza circuit. In 1926, the theatre was renamed the Ritz, and Shawnee’s first talking motion pictures were shown. Ads for the theater read “5 cents to all,” and Alice Joyce and Lillian Gish were the glamour girls of the time. Mrs. Williams was a manager of the theatre and she used to live upstairs in the front of the boarding house. Many people remember her because she had a parrot that would perch in the front window and would say “Buy a ticket!” to the people outside.
The Ritz is an Art Deco style, two story building and is the oldest building standing on Shawnee’s Main Street. Its Boarding House was finally closed in 1945 during WW2 but for almost 70 years, the Ritz has been the cornerstone of entertainment traditions in Shawnee, spanning the eras of silent movies to the first Dolby stereo in the state. The Ritz also continued to show movies until 1988 when it was closed as a main theater. Today the first floor and auditorium are in good condition and reflect lighting fixtures designed and made by Johnny Jones, son of Jake Jones Sr. Architectural details are still intact but it does need some restoring. In 2000, the Jones family gave the theater to the Society for Revitalization of Downtown Shawnee, Inc. This historic landmark holds the designation of “Save America’s Treasures”. In the past two years, SRDS has held four to six performances annually and raised $60,000 towards renovations and restoration.
Who Are the Ghosts of the Ritz Theater?
Many people that have lived in Shawnee for a number of years believe the Ritz Theater to be haunted by a man named Leo Montgomery. Leo was the projectionist at the Ritz from 1913 until his dead in 1965. Leo was from Maryville, Missouri but moved to Shawnee, Oklahoma with his family where he began attending school. After school he went on the road with the circus and was a musician. He returned to Shawnee in 1913 because a projectionist was needed at the Cozy Theater which his father Wesley G. Montgomery owned at the time. A short time later when the Cozy Theater was sold to Jake Jones and its name changed to the Ritz, he continued to work as the projectionist. His plans were only to work for the Ritz for one more year but soon it turned into decades. Leo fell into love with Viola Cora Cates who worked across the street from the Ritz at the Palace of Sweets Candy Shop and eventually asked her to marry him in 1926. They later then took up residency in the boarding house apartments above the Ritz and lived there until their family began to expand.
He and Viola had several children and through the years, Leo’s daughters would visit him at the Ritz in the little projection room above the concession stand where their father would splice film. Leo was known to have an easy chair and radio and a strategically placed mirror which allowed him to look at the film’s progress without getting up from his chair. He also had a bell that would ring when it was time to change the reel. With as much time as Montgomery spent at the Ritz Theater, he never watched any of the films. In 1948 the Shawnee News-Star article did a story on him and quoted him saying, “Why for me to go to the show would be just like a lifeguard going for a swim on his day off.” Leo was also known as the PCP or Postcard Philosopher and he earned the nick-name because of the short rhymes he would write, many of them while working there at the Ritz.
Leo however met a tragic end one day while working there at the Ritz. When a movie reel kept spinning one evening after a movie had finished, someone went to go check on him and found that he had passed away. He was diagnosed as having died from a massive heart attack. Leo’s memory has never been forgotten though as Shawnee’s Leo Street is named for him, awarded after his family lived in the Golden Acres area near MacArthur and Leo. Leo Montgomery was a husband, father, friend and philosopher, but to many who never knew him, was the man at the Ritz who gave the movies life.
The Boarding House is also said to be haunted by a few spirits of the past. One in particular is that of a young woman by the name of Amelia. She is said to have caught pneumonia and died at the age of 19 and now her restless soul still wanders the halls of the boarding house. Evidence has also shown there to be a few other spirits there that have wandered into the old boarding house and
who have taken up residency. One is an Italian man and the other is an older woman seen in period clothing. A few children's voices have also been recorded while in the boarding house side.
The Ritz, once a thriving theater but now only a building with a colorful past, still stands erect reflecting a time long ago when a life was much simpler. While its memory is lost to many, it still remains a historical landmark building for Shawnee and those that know it well know the importance it once held.
Do ghosts of its past still remain inside the old theater? Does the old projectionist Leo Montgomery still remain there carrying on the job he did for so many years? Whatever your decision, the fact remains that strange activity takes place within the walls of the Ritz Theater and some say that if you look closely enough, you might catch of glimpse of the ghosts of its past.
1916: Both lots/side of buildings (Montgomery & Blackman) were combined and purchased by Jake Jones. Mr. Jones was born in Mount Lebanon, Syria, and came to the United States in 1888 with his mother and sister, settling first in Waco, Texas, before moving to Shawnee in 1903 where he first began operating the city’s confectioneries and ice cream stores. Jake Jones renamed the Savoy Hotel to the Cozy Hotel & Boarding House. Even though Leo sold the building to the Jones family, he was still considered an operatory (projectionist) at the Cozy Theater. Wesley Montgomery no longer owned the property however was listed as a boarder in the Cozy Hotel and Boarding House until his death sometime between 1923-1925. The Cozy Hotel and Boarding House had many long term boarders including Barney and Florence Williams, Dora Montgomery, Wesley & Leo Montgomery.
Our team was excited about investigating the Ritz Theater even though we didn’t know much about it. We found out about the Ritz Theater through Christy who while in Shawnee one day, happened to drive past the old theater and felt like it would be a good place to check out and investigate. When we arrived at the theater, we were greeting by Amanda from the Shawnee News Star and the caretaker, Charlotte who welcomed us to the Ritz and then who graciously gave us a walk-thru tour of the Ritz Theater. A secondary walk-thru/interview was conducted with Charlotte and the research team to get the history of the building and to find out which areas they were experiencing strange activity. Charlotte did state that they keep the upstairs boarding area locked and no one has access to it other than 3 board members who work there. There were things that had been moved and misplaced since the last time that Charlotte and staff had been in there last. As
we conducted the walk-thru, we marked those items to see if they would be moved during the time that we conducted our investigation.
After the walk-thru and interviews were through, the team gathered together to discuss the different areas of the buildings and to set up a game plan on starting and conducting the investigation. It was decided that we would have 2 different teams with one team investigating the theater side and the other team investigating the boarding house upstairs. Team 1 started in the boarding house area and Team 2 covered the theater area. While team 1 was in the boarding house, they kept noticing shadows passing in the hallways and they kept hearing footsteps and different types of popping and knocking sounds. The boarding house was checked for stray animals and foul but none were found. There were even times when the group asked questions and asked for correlation back and surprisingly it happened. While team 1 was conducting their investigation, two of the members both heard an audible "hey" but what was strange bout this was because both of these 2 members were several rooms apart and both reported hearing the "hey" as if it was very close to them.
Another strange thing that both teams noticed while conducting their sweeps was that there were objects of all kinds that would suddenly appear on the floor area of the boarding house, especially in the main hallway areas. On our initial visit there was a Bible that just appeared in the middle of one of the rooms so one of our investigators marked the Bible by placing it on a sheet of paper and then marking around the paper. Since we had investigated the Ritz Theater numerous times, we had set up little experiments throughout it and strangely enough the Bible stayed in place for months before finally moving again. Our investigators took pictures and documented the placement of the Bible both times that it moved. A bank book was also found and was in pristine condition to be lying in the middle of the hallway floor. Both teams also noticed during their sweeps that they would be at one end of the hallway and they would hear movement such as footsteps and strange sounds coming from the opposite end. When they would check out that end of the hallway, the sounds and footsteps would stop and start up again but this time at the opposite end. When the team split up with part of the team on one end and the other part on the opposite end, there would be no sounds coming from either end of the hallway. Team 1 recorded a great flickering light anomaly during their sweep time in the boarding house area.
Team 2 conducted their sweep of the inside of the theater and this is where one of our members had the strangest experience of them all. She was with the team conducting a sit down of the auditorium area when she suddenly looked to her left and saw a man whom she described to be an older white gentleman wearing a vest and pants pulled up kind of high. She also stated that he was going a bit balding and he stopped to glare at her and then suddenly disappeared. At the time this member did not know who Leo was nor had she ever seen a picture of him. Curious to know who this individual was, she asked one of our researchers who then showed her a
picture of Leo Montgomery and she immediately recognized him as the ghostly man she had just seen a few moments before in the theater. Below is the video clip of Sara's experience seeing Leo.
Another neat experience our team had was when Team 1 was investigating the theater side. They kept hearing audible voices and movement up towards the front end of the theater by the concession area. They also witnessed the projection room light come on and flood the room for about 3 seconds and then go off again. Team 1 went up to the projection room to see if they could recreate the light coming on but unless there was someone physically in the the project room who could turn on the heavy light switch, the light should have had no way to come on. Also, when the heavy switch was flipped up or down, those present not only in the projection room but also in the theater area could
hear the light switch being flipped off and on but ironically enough this loud flipping sound was not heard during the time that the projection light came on. Strange individual lights were also seen in the theater during both team's sweeps.
Based off our our groups personal experiences and the evidence that we collected, we feel like the Ritz Theater is definitely haunted by some of the ghosts of its past and some ghosts that have wandered into the theater.
Psychic Investigator’s Comments
I really enjoyed this investigation not only because it was a historical landmark but also because of the connection I made with a few of the spirits present there. I went into this investigation not knowing anything about this building or its history. I will say that I stumbled onto this location one evening whenever I drove by and saw it one evening. There was something about that building that tagged me and I felt drawn to
it. It was then that I gave the information to our group's case managers to see what they could find out about the building and to see if our group could obtain permission to conduct an investigation. Luckily we were granted permission so our sincere thanks goes out to those staff members there at the Ritz Theater!
Once we were there conducing our investigation, I walked into the old theater and boarding house not sure of what to expect. I first helped conduct an investigation of the boarding house and found it to be quite intriguing as not only did I heard and see the same types of paranormal activity, but I also was given extra information by a man who died of a massive heart attack and a young woman who died of either pneumonia or tuberculosis. I encountered the man in the hallway of the boarding house and he seemed a bit concerned about us being there. I asked him his name but he would not give it to me right away. While sitting there quietly in the dark, I kept hearing a heart beat and heard the heart beat suddenly stop and I felt a pain in my chest and left arm. I knew that he had died of a heart attack but I didn't feel like it had happened there in the boarding house. I also felt like he might have worked at the theater at one time but I wasn't too sure until I visited the theater side itself. The woman that I encountered was around the age of 18 or 19 and I felt like she had become very sick. I saw this woman lying in this bed which had a homemade quilt on top of it with different colored patches. She told me her name was Amelia and then she showed me her much younger brother (who did not understand the severity of her sickness) putting crickets in her bed. She was scared of crickets and had trouble getting them out of her bed since she was so ill. I saw an older woman putting a cloth on her forehead and I knew she was burning up with fever. I don't honestly think she knew she had passed as she kept insisting to me that she was feeling better and was no longer sick.
The theater part itself actually felt very peaceful but I did feel like we were being watched. It wasn't until I entered the projection room that I encountered this man head on who called himself Leo. As quickly as he was there, he was gone again but even though I couldn't see him any longer, I still felt his presence around. I tuned into him on a spiritual level and as if a past memory, I saw Leo's spirit standing beside his body which was still sitting in a chair where he was before he had passed. I again heard a heart beat and I knew that this was the same man that I had encountered inside the boarding house. I felt like Leo knew that he had passed but I still felt like he felt like he was needed there at the theater. I don't think that Leo stays at the Ritz theater all the time as I feel like he visits his family and friends but I do feel like he does stop into the Ritz quite often and helps out where he is needed. I also feel like he keeps an eye on the Ritz and is there to make sure that the Ritz is taken care of.
There were 20 EVPs that was recorded during this investigation and 1 sound clips.
There were no positive photos and 1 video clip.