The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

October 27, 2013

Opera house has colorful past

BY MARY WICOFF mwicoff@dancomnews.com
The Commercial-News

---- — ROSSVILLE — While the unexplained phenomena give the Haunted Opera House its notoriety, the building has an interesting history and a colorful past on its own.

“It had to be beautiful in its day, just beautiful,” owner Dave Triska said. “This is an amazing building. The history behind it is phenomenal.”

Triska would like to see photos of the building’s interior, if anybody has some to share.

“There’s not a whole lot left of the opera house — that’s what’s sad,” he said.

Triska was living in Lafayette, Ind., a couple of years ago when he learned the building was for sale. Somebody said it was haunted, and that piqued his interest even more.

Triska had been to Rossville when he was younger with his parents, who collected antiques. He bought the building and filled the ground floor with antiques.

There was so much junk in the building, however, that it took him nine months to clear much of it out. The building itself is structurally sound, but there has been much decay and neglect during the years.

History

In 1903, the Masonic Lodge 527 purchased the lot at 108 N. Chicago St. and started construction. By 1904, the building was finished, with the lodge on the top floor and an opera house on the first floor.

Both were state of the art and beautiful. Even today, the intricate molding and designs can be seen on the ceiling; the woodwork and windows have retained their beauty.

For the next 25 years, plays and shows resounded throughout the building. In 1929, the opera house was closed.

There was a balcony between the first and third floors. In 1931, the owner extended the floor of the balcony to the back of the building, creating a second floor. Over the years the second floor was used as a metal fab shop and then apartments.

There’s even a story that Al Capone would get his bootleg liquor at the old opera house. Capone talked to Harold Cain, a copper worker on the second floor, about making stills in the basement. Then Capone would load up the liquor in the alley before heading back to Chicago.

During the next 83 years, the first floor had been used for many businesses: Ford and a Buick Dealership, a car repair shop, a welding shop, auction house, a poultry store and several other shops.

In 1931, when it was turned into a Ford dealership, workers poured concrete over the wooden floor to be able to park cars inside. Around 1998 the floor collapsed into the basement and the owners filled it in with gravel.

The Masons used the third floor until 1947 when, for financial reasons, they moved to a new location. The third floor was never used for much after that other than for storage. In 2010, Indiana Ghost Trackers was invited to do a ghost hunt, and collected several recordings and pictures. In October 2010, Triska, former director of Indiana Ghost Trackers, opened the building for ghost hunts and an antique shop.

Triska, who’s retired from Caterpillar, wishes his parents could see him now. With a smile, he would say to them, “Remember when you said there was no such thing as ghosts? There was nothing in the closet or under the bed?”

When he was working in Frankfort, Ind., about 10 years ago, he saw an apparition next to a newspaper delivery box, and that got him interested in ghost hunting — especially after learning from others that the area he had been in is haunted.

Triska, who used to come antique hunting with his parents as a child, loves Rossville, which he described as a lot like Mayberry from “The Andy Griffith Show.”

He’s living in Lafayette until he can get the second floor renovated, but when he’s away for any length of time, he misses the town.