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Rialto’s Festival of Frights spotlights historic venue’s rumored ghost encounters

Ghost tours and film screenings in Loveland help patrons embrace the Halloween spirit

From Oct. 12-16, The Rialto Theater will host Festival of Frights, a spooky seasonal offering that includes ghost tours and film screenings. (The Rialto Theater/Courtesy photo)
From Oct. 12-16, The Rialto Theater will host Festival of Frights, a spooky seasonal offering that includes ghost tours and film screenings. (The Rialto Theater/Courtesy photo)
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The Rialto Theater is considered to be one of the most haunted venues in Loveland. Over the course of its time in downtown it has become a destination for mediums, ghost hunters and those looking to experience a little of the legendary eerie essence alongside the arts.

Longmont resident Dori Spence, a psychic, spiritual medium and ghost tour guide, appears transparent in a long-exposure photograph taken Oct. 23, 2013 in the balcony at the Rialto Theater Center in downtown Loveland. (Photo illustration by the late Steve Stoner/Loveland Reporter-Herald file photo)

Starting on Tuesday, the historic site will embrace a season of scares and its intriguing past with Festival of Frights — an ongoing series that features in-person ghost tours and a screening of the 1958 horror flick “The Blob.”

The series will raise funds for Backstage Rialto, whose mission is to expand programming and contribute to physical facility improvements.

“I am most looking forward to sharing the Rialto’s own ‘Blob’ story and how the showing of ‘The Blob’ movie has become an annual tradition,” said Jim Doherty, Backstage Rialto’s board chair. “We are also very excited to give ghost tours in person this year, as last year’s tours were done virtually. This is a unique opportunity for people to see the inner workings of our beautiful theater spiced up with some spooky elements.”

While “The Blob” — in which Steve McQueen made his feature film debut — centers around an aggressive alien amoeba within a meteorite that crashes to Earth and envelopes everything in its path, the Rialto’s blob story has more to do with shoddy construction.

A piece of tar — the result of a poorly done roofing job — once dangled from the theater’s ceiling. Some movie-goers refused to sit under it in the fear that it would drop and perhaps even contribute to their demise.

Ghost tours will take place Oct. 12-13 and Oct. 15-16 at various times for $15. Interested attendees should check the Rialto’s site, as some dates have already sold out.

Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 showing of “The Blob” are $15 and include a medium popcorn and trick-or-treat candy bag. Those who want to kick the festivities up a notch have the option of attending Ooze and Schmooze, a costume cocktail hour that includes two drinks, snacks and admission to the flick for $40, also on Oct. 16.

“What I love most about ‘The Blob’ are the memories it brings back for me,” Doherty said. “I remember seeing ‘The Blob’ on TV when I was in grade school. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how cheesy this movie is. And the title song for the movie is worth the price of admission alone.”

In addition to a taunting piece of tar that has since been removed, the Rialto has been said to have had plenty of mysterious occurrences witnessed by those who have spent significant time in its space — and by those who have just passed through.

“When I arrived four years ago, I heard ghost stories from other staff members and our volunteers,” said Steve Lemmon, Rialto’s stage manager. “Most of them were about feeling watched or not alone when in the theater at night. A few swear they saw or felt something tangible.”

Heather Rubald, assistant theater coordinator at the Rialto Theater, walks down the stairs from the balcony Oct. 13, 2020, at the historic theater in downtown Loveland. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Since its opening in 1920, there has been several rumored deaths. One urban legend tells a tale about a construction worker who died as a result of scaffolding collapsing on the stage.

Another tale is about a vaudeville entertainer who died in one of the basement’s small dressing rooms. It is said that after one of her debut shows, audience members were waiting for her to come take a bow and she never showed. She allegedly was found dead in the dressing room and has been coined “Heartbreak Mary,” due to the fact that she didn’t really get to revel in praise from the public.

The spirit of this star of yesteryear is said to have been spotted on the theater’s balcony.

“About two years ago, I agreed to let a ghost hunters group into the theater and chose to stay with them through their hunting,” Lemmon said. “They had all the equipment — cameras, meters that measured supernatural activity, infrared instruments and mics. We sat in the sub-basement with all the lights out at one point in the evening and just waited. Not long into the wait, we heard a door slam, which was recorded. We were the only ones in the building and so this was puzzling. The mics also picked up voices. Perhaps, there were people in the alley at 3 a.m. that our mics picked up? Or, maybe it was something else. Again, neither was explained.”

At one point in the evening, Lemmon let the paranormal hunting team set up instruments in the projectionist booth, where projectionist Clarence Herrin passed decades earlier.

Herrin worked at the Rialto for over 20 years and died of a heart attack in October 1957 after threading the last reel for the Caribbean-set drama “Island in the Sun.”

“These instruments immediately started reacting,” Lemmon said. “A ghost hunter kept asking questions to try and get a response. The meters responded, but we couldn’t hear or see anything. Very strange.”

A photo illustration created at the Rialto Theater was taken in 2006. (Eric Bellamy/Loveland Reporter-Herald file photo)

Brave tour-goers can get in on the action this year on-site as they peruse the 102-year-old theater.

“The virtual tours were well done and very interesting, but in person is way more scary,” said Karen Cobb, a Rialto Backstage board member and one of the guides for this year.

There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore in the 478-seat theater.

“We will be taking them all over the theater and concentrating on those areas where people have died or there have been sightings,” Cobb said. “We will attempt to go into the basement, but this proves to be too scary for most people.”

An original trap door from the stage leads into a dressing room underground.

“The sub-basement is worth seeing on the Ghost Tour,” Doherty said. “Doesn’t get much creepier than that.”

The tours will let attendees in on the history of the Rialto that showed silent films in the 1920s and even served as a mini-mall in 1977. Ten years later, the mall was vacant and crumbling. The restoration process began in the late 1980s and by 1995 it had reopened as a performance space and movie theater.

“I am one of those people who loves anything spooky,” Cobb said. “I have been on some great ghost tours and find them stimulating. I also love the Rialto Theater and like to show it off, so if I can do that and provide people with a stimulating experience at the same time, I consider that a fun night.”

In one area of the venue “Rialto” is written on the floor backwards. This slightly unnerving detail conjures up the idea of “redrum” in the movie “The Shining” that when spelled in reverse, reads “murder.”

“I remember going to late night ‘Creature Feature’ movies at the Rialto back in the mid-70s,” Doherty said. “‘Baron Blood’ is one film in particular that stood out. It really scared me at the time, but I’ve been a fan of scary movies all my life.”

In keeping with the Halloween spirit, on Oct. 15, at 7 p.m., the silent film “Phantom of the Opera” will be screened.

Heather Rubald, assistant theater coordinator at the Rialto Theater, appears to be a ghostly figure as she moves down the aisle Oct. 13, 2020, at the historic theater in downtown Loveland. The venue’s Festival of Frights, featuring ghost tours and film screenings, kicks off Tuesday and runs through Oct. 16. (Jenny Sparks / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

“I love horror movies, and ‘The Omen’ and ‘The Exorcist’ have to be my all-time favorites, but I have only lived in Loveland for about 12 years, so was not here as a teen,” Cobb said. “I have seen some really great shows at the Rialto, but up until now, no horror movies. I am planning to take my entire family to see ‘The Blob’ on Oct. 16.”

Skeptics and believers alike are sure to enjoy the seasonal offerings.

“I think the Rialto is home to multiple spirits, as evidenced by the many accounts by people I know and trust,” Lemmon said. “The ghost hunters also shared their belief that they captured numerous instances of something unexplainable the night I was with them. I heard the door slam, I heard the voices and I saw their meters go nuts. There must be something to it.”