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Thespian Hall

Location Information

Date: 07 November 2020     Type: Museum

Location Title: Old Cooper County Jail and Hanging Barn

City/State: Boonville, MO

Investigation Times: 6:00 PM - 10:00 PM

Status: Analysis


Weather Information

Sunrise: 06:51 AM   Sunset: 05:09PM

High Temperature: 73°F   Low Temperature: 53°F

Sky Condition: Clear  Wind: SE at 7 mph

Humidity: 60%   Precipitation: 0%

Lunar Phase: Waning Gibbous   % disk visible: 59%

Pressure: 29.98 mmHg  


Investigators Present

Jennifer Sprague

Becky Ray

Tania Rounds

Julie Klos Burch
Lindsey Kadri

As Guests of:
Tina Edholm
James Henderson

Investigators Notes

Jennifer Sprague, Lead Investigator: 

On this investigation, we investigated the Old Cooper County Hanging Jail and Hanging Barn in Boonville Missouri, and we also investigated Thespian Hall in Boonville Missouri.  I’d like to thank Tina and James for helping us investigate thespian Hall and making that investigation possible, We would also like to thank Laura from the Boonville Historical Society they were all very much appreciated! 

We met up with James and Tina at Thespian Hall. It was great to see them again! They also had two people joining them. They gave us a quick tour of the Hall and some history. We started on the top floor and did an EVP session and used a REM  pod to see if we can get anything to trigger it. We did get any EVPs captured during this time and did not notice anything that made our Rem Pod go off. We then moved downstairs to the main seating area of the theater and we did individual EVP sessions and just observed the stage and noises of the theater. We did not note anything at this time, although Julie did report a personal experience of being touched. We then moved to the stage area of the theater and set up a green grid light.  It was reported by some members that they were seeing some sort of shadow up there on the top balcony, so I then took my motion-activated toy, and also my motion detector and set it up on the seat where they were reporting the shadow. It did not go off at that time,  but many people reported still seeing some sort of movement up there. I also saw some sort of movement, but cannot determine whether it was just the lighting going dim on the green grid, or if it was something else. James and Tina are reviewing the footage to see if they have captured anything, they also sent some possible EVPs that they are currently reviewing and we will post some to take a listen to as they become available. The EVPS we have posted, we have determined that they were not us, or anything else at the time that could be explained.

 We definitely look forward to going back and it was a great investigation! Laura from the Boonville Historical Society was very kind. A big thank you to her and also James and Tina for setting Thespian Hall up! Some EVPs are still under review, and we will post more soon as they become available. It was a great experience we look forward to going back! 

Location History

For more than 160 years Thespian Hall has captured the vision, the imagination, and the essence of the community in which it was built.

The roots of Thespian Hall go back to 1838 when a remarkable thing happened in the frontier town of Boonville. That year, sixty leading citizens founded an all-male dramatic group called “The Thespian Society”, which enjoyed wide community support that was unique in its day.

By 1855, the Thespians were ready to build a permanent structure as “...a monument to the liberality and good taste of our citizens…”. It took two years to complete the four-story-high Greek revival building. The Odd Fellows, Masons, and City government occupied the second floor with its 18-foot ceiling. The Thespians, incorporated now as the Boonville Library, Reading Room, and Thespian Society used this first floor for their productions and the basement as their reading room. Thespian Hall opened July 3rd, 1857, with a grand ball, with dedication ceremonies held on Independence Day. Boonville’s home for the arts began its long life as a catalyst for community involvement and civic pride.

During the Civil war, Thespian Hall filled many needs, from quartering the Federal Troops to serving as a hospital for soldiers. The unity created by the Thespian Society began to disintegrate and sometime during the War, the Society ceased to exist.

The Hall’s ownership was transferred to J.L. Stephens, once a Society member and Boonville became known as the “best little theatre town in Missouri” as well-known performers from Eddie Foy to black pianist “Blind”  Boone played the Hall. The Turn and Gesang Verein, one of the athletic and singing societies which flourished in the areas of heavy German settlement, was a major occupant of the building, sponsoring many of these events.  By 1898, Thespian Hall had lost much of its charm and some debated “removing this historic building … ”. Owners Lon Vest Stephens (Governor of Missouri, 1897-1901) and his brother W. Speed Stephens decided to renovate the hall instead and, in 1901, opened it as the Stephens Opera House with a stage house added at the rear of the building. The main floor had been slanted, cutting into the former reading room, and an orchestra pit, box seats, and curved balcony completed the modernization. A new era began, with Boonville as a stopping point for many major touring companies, only to end in 1912, when the nickelodeon began the hall’s transition to a movie house.

The second and most serious threat to the building occurred in 1937 when Fox Mid-West Theaters, owners of the building, announced plans to tear down Thespian Hall and replace it with a “modern movie palace.” Concerned local citizens, led by historian Charles van Ravenswaay, called a public meeting and formed the Thespian Hall Preservation Committee. This group mounted a state-wide preservation effort, one of the first of its kind in Missouri. This well-orchestrated campaign saved Thespian Hall and for the next 38 years, it continued as a movie theater.  In 1975, the Friends of Historic Boonville acquired the theater as a gift from the Kemper Foundation of Kansas City. With the help of the Foundation and the community, the Friends have worked to restore the building, making Thespian Hall once again a home for the arts.

The Hall, the oldest theater still in use west of the Alleghenies, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Because of the vision and the hard work of the Friends, not unlike the Thespian Society which built it, Thespian Hall is a historic building still making history.


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