Rialto Theater is indeed haunted

El Dorado Times-News
For the Sunday News
Front Page

EL DORADO – The results are in, and it’s official: the majestic Rialto Theater in downtown El Dorado is indeed haunted, according to Spirit Seekers, a paranormal investigation unit based in Central Arkansas.

 The Rialto, built in 1929 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, has long been rumored to be haunted. Dozens of former employees have reported unexplained footsteps, strange apparitions and even the fleeting scent of a woman’s cologne in an upstairs bathroom. A former reporter for the El Dorado News-Times and a friend attempted to spend the night in the art deco-style structure a few years ago in an attempt to verify those tales, but the pair was frightened away in the wee hours of the morning after witnessing unusual noises and unidentifiable shadows.

The Rialto’s current owner, Richard Mason, a local businessman and published author, has been working to substantiate those ghostly tales for a book about the grand old theater. As part of his research, he recently hired noted psychic Carol Pate to visit the Rialto. Pate, who has assisted authorities in several homicide and criminal cases, claimed to see several spirits in the Rialto, including a little boy in the front lobby, a young woman near the stage and an older gentleman upstairs.

Spirit Seekers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the investigation and documentation of the spirit world, visited the Rialto on March 15 to investigate the theater’s shadowy reputation as a local "haunt spot." Alan "Buz" Lowe, co- founder and director of investigations of Spirit Seekers, said he became interested in the Rialto after hearing about it while visiting El Dorado for a speaking engagement in October of last year.

Although he requested permission to conduct an investigation, the Rialto was under lease with another company, and his request was declined at that time. That lease has since expired, and Mason invited Lowe’s team to explore the building. Two News-Times reporters accompanied the Spirit Seekers on a preliminary tour of the Rialto, but official results of the team’s in-depth investigation have only just been released.

According to that report, 224 minutes of video, 14 minutes of audio, 1,027 digital photos and two positive EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon, were attained during the team’s overnight visit to the Rialto.

The report also indicates that the Rialto presented several problem areas for the team, beginning with the size of the building. The Rialto, which houses three movie theaters, is a four-story structure "packed full of small nooks and hidden rooms," including an underground tunnel rumored to have once connected the building to the Union County Courthouse. Although team psychic Angela Lowe investigated the tunnel with a flashlight during the early hours of the investigation, she said the tunnel has fallen into disrepair and can no longer be utilized.

Other factors influencing the investigation was the amount of dust and dirt in the Rialto, which can impede the production of verifiable photographs and video, and the volume of the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in downtown El Dorado. The report also refers to the "high profile" status of the investigation and the fact that "all of El Dorado would be watching."

Lowe’s report indicates that even with those influencing factors, the team still "managed to find some scientific signs of a haunting." Several "orbs of interest" were captioned on film via three cameras positioned in three different locations. Orbs are believed by many to be ghosts in the form of balls of light, according to ghoststudy.com, which maintains that "they are life forms that travel in groups and are believed to be the human soul or life force of those that once inhabited a physical body here on earth."

The Spirit Seekers investigators said some of the orbs captured on film at the Rialto were in motion while others were at rest. The dust in the air at the building had to be allowed to settle for "the real energy orbs" to appear, according to the report. "To be an energy orb, they must be very close to round in shape, dense in nature and show motion," the report reads, noting that these types of orbs were present in the Rialto.

The majority of the evidence gathered by the Spirit Seekers was in the vicinity of the stage, and EVP evidence was captured in the dressing room underneath the stage and in the back rows of seating on the lower level, according to the report. A team of 10 investigators and a collection of hand-held infrared equipment, including night vision, were used to complete the investigation.

Angela Lowe, the team psychic, and an "investigator in training" began their "walk-through" at 7 p.m., according to the report, which notes that they were interviewed separately after completing their tour. During that interview, "Angela (Lowe) revealed that first and foremost, the theater was full of residual energy." She indicated that she felt there "four active spirits in the theater and that they were curious," the report reads. No encounters with "negative energy" was encountered.

Angela Lowe said there was "the presence of an actress in the dressing room below the stage" and that the actress was "hanging around because this is where she belonged." In addition, Angela Lowe noted that "a page played peek-a-boo with her in front of the stage," and a group of teens were "hanging around" in the back of the theater. The report also notes that she met with    an elderly worker in the control room upstairs who "was still there because he had nowhere else to go."

Several of the investigators also reported "physical encounters," with one team member claiming to have "been grabbed by the ankle," and another reporting the smell of perfume in the upstairs lobby. The report indicates that "several of the group had their batteries drained prematurely," and one investigator felt as if she were being followed.

The movement of a door underneath the stage also attracted the interest of the team. "We saw a door open slightly in the area under the stage. When we tried to make it do it again, we found that the door felt like it was dragging the floor and was very hard to move," the report reads.

After the investigation, the team concluded that the "focus of supernatural activity is not centered in any one room, but rather dispersed throughout the building" because the evidence gathered "was taken in just about every corner of the theater."

To determine if the Rialto is truly haunted, the Spirit Seekers used a grading system that included scores from several categories.

In the category of scientific evidence such as photos, videos, temperature readings and EVP, on a scale of 0 - 50, the investigators gave the Rialto a 40 because "the evidence was there, and it was fairly strong," according to the report.

Sensory evidence, or the use of the five human senses, was given a 20 on a scale of 0 - 25 because "so many of the investigators had experiences." Extrasensory evidence, or the impressions of the psychic and spirit sensitive investigators, received a 22 on a scale of 0 - 25. "In this case, the psychic evidence is rated so high because of the fact that another psychic had made a visit to the Rialto one week prior to our visit," the report reads. "Considering an independent viewing of the psychic impressions, I saw an amazing similarity between the two.

They were so close to seeing or feeling the same things in the same locations that it would be hard to not use it as evidence."

The total score for the Rialto was 82. "All evidence gathered tells us that there is a strong possibility there is paranormal activity happening in the dark recesses of the Rialto Theater in El Dorado," Alan Lowe wrote in the report.

A copy of the report, along with access to video and audio recordings made during the investigation, are available for public viewing at www.thespiritseekers.org.

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