DECATUR, IL. HISTORY          The Avon Theater officially opened its doors on November 18, 1916, but has had a long, storied and oftentimes bizarre life span. In an age when "moving pictures" were seen by many as nothing more than the latest flight of fancy, the Avon was originally built by James Allman and designed by R.O. Rosen to accommodate this new-fangled form of entertainment. It was as lavish a theater as any in the country - with original artwork by Mrs. C.O. Knapp who resided in nearby Bement, IL. The interior was graced by a garish statue above the main stage depicting a nude woman appearing to be lying down holding out a wreath toward the audience. The statue now is concealed from plain sight by the projection screen installed in 1953 in order to show widescreen Panavision and 3D movies.          The actual theater layout was stunning. The rear walls were whitewashed extensively in order to ensure a smooth surface. The projectors were the finest money could buy and the electronically-controlled pipe organ inside was positioned in three different areas of the theater to guarantee balanced acoustics throughout the building. In many ways, the Avon would put Decatur "on the map".          While the theater flourished from the start - despite a controversial ownership change a year later and another one a few years after that - by the 1950s it began to fall into disrepair. An extensive makeover robbed it of much of the luster of its earlier years and eventually its doors closed. A last-ditch effort to save the town treasure managed to keep it on (at least) life support for another 20 years and more renovations were performed in the 1970s. By the next decade it was the last of its kind in the city, with the advent of  multiplex theaters popping up on the modern landscape. Destined to be a second-rate theater showing second-rate movies, it finally closed in April of 1986. Apathy and lack of financial resources appeared to doom the once dazzling theater to inevitable destruction. A brief flirtation with live shows in 1989 when the building was purchased by a couple named Wooley met with poor results as the venue was ill-suited to host these types of events. Avon Theater during the down times          In 1993 the Avon once again was subject to a revival effort. And despite another promising start, it again was overcome by indifference and poor management. For six more years the grand dame sat empty. Finally, with a well-thought-out plan to reach out to a different audience, the Avon re-opened in 1999 as an art film theater and it remains such today. Catering to more discriminating tastes, it became a "place to be" for the avant garde crowd.     HAUNTINGS AT THE AVON          Over the years the staff at the Avon has reported hearing footsteps, laughter, and voices coming from the seating area. Objects began to disappear only to re-appear someplace else. Sounds of people walking through the hallways and in empty rooms became common and many of the staff and guests reported being touched by unseen hands. One particular hallway has been the scene of many intense experiences and there is a bathroom off the hall which used to house the original projection booth. The sense of a presence in this spot is said to be very strong.          The present owner, Skip Huston recalls an incident in 1995 when he was considering purchasing the theater. He had stooped in to get back some marquee letters that were originally borrowed from the equally haunted Lincoln Theater just down the road. They were to be used at the Lincoln for an upcoming event. Upon entering the room in which the letters were stored, he heard what sounded like a voice outside the door. Disregarding it, he returned to what he was doing only to be distracted again, this time by what sounded like footsteps.          Again ignoring the sound and returning to his business, he once again heard a strange sound and turned around this time to find a man as solid as a man could appear standing in the doorway. He described the man as in his 50s or 60s, with close-cropped hair and a blank stare. At first thinking a homeless man had found his way in and apprehensive that there could be some trouble ahead, he began to speak to him. As he did, the man turned and walked back out into the hallway with Huston in pursuit. In the brief second or two it took him to reach the hallway, the figure had disappeared - seemingly into thin air. Making the experience even more eerie, a brief flash of what appeared to be lightning shot through the hallway. Skip Huston says he got out as fast as he could that day.       Skip Huston          Later describing the man to some visitors to the theater, they told Mr. Huston that it sounded like he was describing a former owner named Gus Constan, who ran the theater for a few years until it was purchased by a theater group in 1966. The story follows that Gus was so attached to the place he had to be forcibly removed along with his belongings by the new owners. As a result of that fondness for the building, his spirit is said to remain at the Avon.          Gus' ghost has also made itself known to assemblies as well. Some three years after his first encounter - during a ghost hunt one night at the theater - Mr. Huston happened to mention his name to a tour group while describing events at the Avon when one member of the tour yelled out and pointed to the balcony area. There stood the silhouette of a man by the railing. The tour group became so frightened they bolted for the doors and the evening abruptly came to an end.          There have also been a number of unexplained light anomalies at the Avon as well. People have reported seeing flashes and bars of light move about the theater and the sound of a crowd applauding has been heard on multiple occasions.