Exploring The Citi Theater

One of Toledo’s most popular and largest nightclubs in the 1990s, the Citi Theater was always guaranteed to be packed with club-goers partying to live music and DJs no matter the day of the week. A former movie theater, the club can accommodate hundreds of people who came from all over the city to dance and have fun. I had been there as a patron a few times prior to learning it may be haunted and can attest to the uniqueness of the Citi Theater.

In May of 1998, fellow ghosthunter, Valerie Kramer of GhostSeeker.net (no longer active), received a request from Traeonna, one of the venue’s employees. The Citi Theater’s management and staff believed the building was home to at least four spirits and desired an investigation to either confirm or deny it. Due to the size of the building, Valerie contacted the Orion Group to lend a hand.

We arrived at the location at 1:30pm on Sunday, May 30th and were met by the theater’s manager, Matt, and Traeonna.

Matt is a tall man with long, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. He had been with the establishment for several years, first as a bouncer, and over time moving up to his present position. He is the one with whom we talked to the most during our investigation as he was the most familiar with the building’s folklore.

We gathered, first, in the main dance hall – the area which used to be the old movie theater. Where once there were theater seats there are now tables and chairs where club patrons can gather, elevated from the main dance floor which was the center of attention and obvious focus of the room. In the center of this tiered lounge area was the sound booth for the club’s disc jockey. From here, he or she can control the pulse-pounding music, the various lighting rigs, and the old theater screen which is used to display videos and/or psychedelic patterns set in time with the beat of the music.

At the very top of this multi-tiered lounge is one of several extensively-stocked liquor bars found strategically placed throughout the venue. It is at this bar, and above it in the old theater projection room, that some say the ghost of a former burlesque matron makes her presence known.

According to Matt, the Citi Theater was at one time a popular burlesque house and quite possibly, he thinks, a speak-easy during the Prohibition Era. Valerie Kramer is a paranormal investigator who claims she can receive psychic impressions. Her alleged abilities have yet to be confirmed or denied by the Orion Group, but it was in this area where she claimed to sense the presence of an older woman. Valerie claimed this “woman” appeared to be standing at the right side of the bar at the top of the lounge area. This “sensation” came on quite suddenly, she says, as evidenced by her exclamation which took the rest of us by surprise as well.

It was also about the time of Valerie’s revelation that Jodie joined us. Running late for the meeting, Jodie is one of the several employees of the Citi Theater who claimed to have experienced physical contact of sorts with whatever paranormal energies may be present within the building.

Upon Jodie’s arrival, Matt proceeded to take us on an extensive tour covering every nook and cranny of the building.

We started with the bar area. Matt, Jodie, and Traeonna all agreed that it was the left side of the bar that the spirit of the matron seemed to be present. Behind the bar, on both sides, are stairs that lead upstairs to the old theater projection room.

It is at this bar that Jodie experienced two separate and completely unexplainable events, both occurring after the club had closed for the evening. On one occasion, Jodie was counting out the till when some unseen force grabbed her hair, pulling it straight up. She saw no explanation for this other than the supernatural. On a different occasion, while behind the bar, Jodie was struck in the lower torso/upper thigh area by a small object. It hit her body and then she heard it hit the ground near her feet. Upon a close search and examination, no object was found on the floor or out of place. Nor could she find the source of who or what threw the projectile, nor could she determine what the projectile may have been. Matt likened it to being hit by a set of keys – not hard, but enough to get your attention.

There have also been numerous claims of people, patrons and employees alike, being pushed down stairs by unseen persons or forces, feeling the sensation of a pair of hands pressed into their back but knowing that no one is behind them. Many of these claims of “paranormal shoving” come through second-hand sources.

One such instance of shoving happened to a former manager of the establishment who claimed he was forcefully shoved down the stairs above the bar while coming down from the projection room. (It should be noted, though, that these two identical stairways to the projection rooms are very narrow and the steps are very small, leaving very little room for an adult-sized foot to properly come to rest. If one were in a hurry, or was not especially careful, a fall would be extremely likely.)

As was stated, the upstairs area over the bar holds the projection area. This area comprises two, small storage rooms (one that is empty), an alcove, and a small room the size of a walk-in closet that used to be a bathroom. Much of the space is, of course, relegated to the film projection room and houses two old theater projectors. It is in this area that Matt claims the ghost of a young boy, named Billy, once hid a projector lens. He claimed that the lens disappeared from the projector housing only to reappear in a different spot a few days later.

While in the projection room, I felt no unusual sensations. Valerie, on the other hand, claimed to witness the “unnatural movement” of a long pull-cord used to turn on the overhead light in one of the storage rooms. It is also her claim that while watching this “unnatural movement,” the cord allegedly began to swing faster and faster. Upon personal examination, I saw no “unnatural movements” of this pull-cord. In my estimation, the movement of the cord was caused by the momentum of pulling on it to turn the light on, which Matt had done shortly before her “sighting” of the “unnatural movement.”

Before leaving the upstairs projection area, Valerie placed a microphone and a tape recorder on a nearby table which sat next to a window and across from one of the projectors in an attempt to record EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). The results of this tape, by her own admission in a telephone conversation, were inconclusive – static was all Valerie could hear on the tape. No anomalous recordings were identified.

Next, we headed back downstairs and back into the main theater area where we were led to the stage above which the theater’s movie screen hung. Valerie claimed to sense some sort of presence to the left-side of the stage. Matt led us across the dance floor and to a doorway in that area. This led to a small room with stairs going off to the right and up onto the stage. There was also a stairwell to the left and led downstairs into what club patrons had nicknamed, the “Underground.” The Underground was another dance and lounge area of the club, and was geared more towards live performances by local bands.

In the Underground, on one end there is a small stage, a dance floor, and a lounge area. Opposite the stage, on the other side of the room, is another disc jockey booth, restrooms, a bar area, and the entrance to the pool room. It is in the Underground that Matt claimed two male entities have made their presence known. Of all the paranormal activity, these two, he says, are the most prone to violent outbursts.

Valerie, with the benefit of her alleged psychic abilities, made the claim that she was picking up the name, “Ricky” or “Ricardo”. Matt told us that some years ago the building next door to the Citi Theater was a pizza shop run by two Hispanic brothers who were robbed and murdered. Valerie and Matt believe these are the two entities who are now haunting the Theater’s Underground.

It is said they make their presence known by pushing people as they’re descending a stairwell, harassing female customers and employees by following them around, and challenging male employees and patrons into confrontation.

There are several accounts of people descending the stairs into the Underground and feeling a pair of hands shoving them. When they turn to look, no one is there. These shoving instances usually only occur when an individual is alone, but has happened in small groups of no more than three. It is said that in large groups, nothing unexplainable happens.

Female employees and patrons are harassed usually when they’re alone. Waitresses carrying drinks are pushed by an unseen person or the drinks are thrown to the ground by an unseen person. Some females also reported the uneasy feeling of being stared at, but no one is around to account for the feeling.

Some male staff members and patrons have claimed to experience these two entities via odd instances of confrontation. Matt tells of a time while he was in the Underground when he felt the two entities near him. He claimed the stronger of the two entities stood in front of him while the weaker one stood behind him. It felt to Matt as if he were being goaded into a fight. Matt stood his ground, telling the entities to “back off”. After a moment, they did.

In the Underground, we were taken to a room called the band room, which is off to the right of the stage. This is a very small room, painted green, and has a definite trapezoidal shape to it. This room had an uneasy feeling to it and Matt said it was a room that everyone felt anxiety about. This may be due in part to its geometric layout and nothing more.

Next, we were taken through a small service corridor used as storage and as a short cut by employees and patrons to quickly walk from one side of the Underground to the other. It is in this passage that the two entities are said to make their presence known the most.

Matt began to describe incidents where violent fights have erupted between patrons. Violent outbursts are usually located in the Underground and Matt believes the two entities may be the cause of it – goading people to brawl. In this passageway, there are two small bathrooms. The bathroom on the right has a huge hole created by one such violent outburst. A small door to the right of the bathrooms leads to a forced air vent big enough for a person to fit inside. There’s an interesting tale, told by Matt, about this door.

This vent shaft no longer is in use and it runs the full height of the building – basement to rooftop. In a small alcove off the right side of the stage in the main theater, a large wall grate can be seen. This wall grate also leads to the same vent shaft. The story goes that two male employees wanted to frighten a friend of theirs. To do this, one of the employees climbed into the vent shaft through the small door in the Underground. His job in the prank was to make ghoulish moans that would travel up the vent and be heard by anyone standing by the wall grate in the main theater stage alcove. In the alcove, the other employee escorted his friend to the wall grate where they heard the ghoulish moaning and whispering. The prank worked. Then, the employee who was supposed to be in the shaft making the sounds walked into the alcove frightened out of his wits. Something in the shaft had scared him – he never had a chance to get in and make the sounds. So, who was down there moaning and whispering? The three men believed it to be one of the ghosts that haunt the building.

Across from the bathrooms and vent shaft door, there is a stairwell leading up to the main lobby area. It is this stairwell where many shoving incidents occur.

Next, we were taken to the pool room. In this room there is an elegant hard wood bar, some lounge chairs, and four to five pool tables. It is in this room that a dramatic event took place. As I listened to Matt talk about incidents in this room (more shoving by unseen hands), I saw in my peripheral vision a small flash of light about the size of a pin. I started snapping photos of the bar area as I continued my talk with Matt. At the end of the bar, Valerie claims she experienced a clairaudient manifestation. She claims to have heard a masculine voice from behind the bar say: “Can I get you a drink?”

After a few more minutes, we moved back into the main dance area of the Underground. We listened as Matt and the others discussed their various experiences inside the building. At the bar area, Valerie claimed she heard the same masculine voice say to her, “I said, can I get you a drink?” in an obviously annoyed tone. Valerie stayed by the bar in an attempt to communicate, but that was the last time she heard the voice.

After about twenty minutes or so, we repeated our tour of the building in order to document the structure on videotape.

After completing the video tour, we ended the investigation and departed.
The Citi Theater is an old building in the heart of downtown Toledo. No real evidence of paranormal activity was collected, but the sheer amount of people claiming to have experienced strange phenomena would be enough reason to conduct a much more thorough investigation at a later date.

This case is effectively closed. The Citi Theater, along with everything else on the block, was demolished to make way for the Huntington Center.

The Citi Theater was demolished to make room for the Huntington Center.


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Christopher Tillman

Author | Filmmaker | Speaker Christopher Tillman has been actively exploring claims of the paranormal since 1993. He currently resides in Toledo, Ohio.

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