The Haunting of the Mill Theater and Scene Shop (Elmhurst College)
251 Walter Street, Elmhurst, IL
Haunted Scene Shop next to Mill Theater, Elmhurst College
For years, students in the theater program at Elmhurst College have been having strange experiences at the Mill Theater and Scene Shop located at 251 Walter Street in Elmhurst, IL. I have spoken with a number of current and former students and their experiences range from seeing shadowy figures on the upper floors of the Scene Shop to feeling cold spots and having overwhelming feelings of dread. Many seem to think that the experiences stem from the fact that the Scene Shop as well as the Mill Theater used to be part of a lumber/paper mill and that people may have died on the property as the result of industrial accidents.
While it is true that the buildings, along with other property, were sold to Elmhurst College by the Hammerschmidt & Franzen Co. in 1967 and they were part of the mill operations and administratve offices, no deaths stemming from the mill operations could be verified. It wasn't until I spoke to Mr. Alan Weiger, Department Head of Communication Arts and Sciences, that I learned the most probable reasons for the experiences.
Mr. Weiger has been involved with the theater department since he was a student at Elmhurst College in 1969. He told me that in the mid to late 1960's there was a young technical director named David Payne who was fairly new to the faculty of the school and well-liked. He stated that Mr. Payne was in charge of set and scene design and was involved in a production of "The Marriage of Figaro" which was to be presented during the end of the Interim Term. (The Interim Term he told me was a short term of approximately 4 weeks that starts immediately after the Christmas break and continues until the start of the next full term which begins in February)
Immediately following the Christmas break, the students who were involved in the set design of the production met at the Mill Theater and Scene Shop (Currently they are two separate buildings but Mr. Weiger related that during the early years the buildings were connected) The Theater was not yet ready for productions and the productions were still held in the school gymnasium but the scene shop was being used for construction of sets and various rehearsals.
The students entered the scene shop and one of the students saw Mr. Payne at the top of the landing of the second floor and walked up the stairs and met with him to discuss the production and building plans. The remainder of the students waited in the theater.
When the student returned from his meeting he told the other students that he met with Mr. Payne and he told him where the plans were and what their individual assignments would be. At that, one of the other students looked at him strangely and asked him if that was some sort of joke. The student who met with Mr. Payne looked confused and asked why. The other students then told him that David Payne had been killed by a hit and run driver while he was home over the Christmas break!
Mr. Weiger is himself a skeptic when it comes to hauntings but said that he has also heard things being moved around in the scene shop after hours when there should be nobody around. He also stated that there are a few students who refuse to be in the scene shop by themselves.
I decided to research the story of David Payne and see how much of it could be verified. After digging through the archives of Elmhurst College's A.C. Buehler Library I discovered an article in the January 14, 1969 Interim edition of the Elmhust College newspaper "The Elm Bark". The article was entitled, Students Remember David Payne at E.C. and was written by one of David Payne's assistants, Cathy Metskas. The article confirmed that David Payne was in fact the technical director for the theater department, that he was working on the plans for "The Marriage of Figaro" , that he was young, enthusiastic and well liked by students and staff alike and that he had died tragically a short time before the article was written.
I also found an article in a Summer 1968 edition of the school magazine that listed the new faculty hires for the 1968-1969 school year and included in the listing was:
David John Payne
Instructor in Speech
B.S., M.A., Eastern Michigan University
There was also a single photograph of David Payne in the 1969 Elmhurst College Yearbook.
Based on his eductional history I started a search in the area surrounding Eastern Michigan University and through burial and funeral home records have come up with the following short biography of David John Payne:
David John Payne was born on September 2, 1943 in Ypsilanti, Michigan to John Douglas Payne and Florence Louise Leicht. He attended Eastern Michigan University and shortly after graduating with his M.A. degree was hired by Elmhurst College in mid 1968. He worked during the Fall Term as the technical director in the Theater department and returned to his home residence at 218 South Street in Belleville, Michigan during the Christmas break.
On Christmas Day in 1968, David was walking down a service road to Interstate 94 just east of Rawsonville Road in Van Buren Township when he was struck by an automobile and killed as the result of a broken neck and various other injuries. He was officially prounounced dead at the Wayne County General Hospital in Eloise, MI. At the time of his death he was separated from his wife, Doris Parrish.
The funeral was officiated by Reverend Allen B. Rice II and David was buried on Saturday, December 28, 1968 at the Hillside Cemetery in Belleville, Michigan in the care of the Roberts and Sons Funeral Home.
David would never be able to see his plans for "The Marriage of Figaro" brought to life on the stage but his students dedicated the production to his memory.
Did the lone theater student in 1968 experience what has been termed a "crisis apparition". There have been many apparitions of the type reported over the years. A crisis apparition typically appears to a close friend or relative immediately following or very shortly after a death has occurred and many times appears to those with a message concerning some unfinished business or to deliver a last message to a friend or relative.
Could it be that David Payne was so concerned about the Interim Term production that he somehow conveyed to his students where to find the plans and what the assignments were so that they could complete the project without him? Many who have had to endure long hours in the theater and scene shop after hours would say so.