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If you’re driving along Route 66 in Oklahoma, be sure to put the historic Coleman Theater on your list of stops. We had the opportunity to tour this gorgeous theater last spring as part of a paranormal conference and ghost tour. The Coleman Theater still hosts shows and touring acts regularly, but if you’re in the area when nothing is scheduled, be sure to give them a call to see if you can arrange a tour. Or, if you’re lucky, if you stop by during typical business hours, you may just score a tour if someone is available.

Route 66 Miami, Oklahoma

So don’t think you won’t be able to see the inside of this magnificent theater if you didn’t plan ahead. Check it out. And if you’re on the fence about whether you should stop during your Route 66 adventure. read on. You’ll discover why the Coleman Theater is a highlight of Route 66.

History of the Coleman Theater

Coleman Theater, Miami, Oklahoma

The theater, completed in 1929, was built by George L. Coleman, Sr., a man who made his fortune with his brother Alfred in ore and zinc mining in the area, including the mining in Pitcher and Commerce, Oklahoma. He also invested, along with his brother,  into what became Coleman Motors company located in Littleton, Colorado. Later, Coleman would be president of that company.

When he saw the need for an entertainment venue in the area that would draw in the type of acts seen in Dallas and Kansas City. Coleman purchased the land that would be home to the Coleman Theater, a Spanish Colonial Revival-style vaudeville house and “movie palace.” A year later, the theater opened to a full house.

How the Idea of the Theater Happened

Legend has it that Coleman was good friends with Bing Crosby. Before the Coleman Theater was built, Coleman owned a smaller theater, the Glory B. When Crosby suggested that Coleman get his theater on the Orpheum circuit that hosted the biggest vaudeville acts of the 1920s, Coleman agreed and signed on with Orpheum. Since the Glory B was too small, Coleman needed a larger venue, and fast. The Coleman Theater was built in a year. The Boller Brothers of Kansas City designed the theater, and the Rucks-Brandt Construction Company was hired for the building.

No expense was spared at the Coleman. The inside is a great example of the style of Louis XV. In the house, a two-ton Italian chandelier hangs overhead. To the left of the house, a Wurlitzer organ, known as a Mighty Wurlitzer, sits near the stage. The organ was installed to accompany silent films, It’s worth noting that the organ doesn’t only play traditional organ sounds. On each side of the stage, multiple instruments can be heard simply by playing notes on the organ.

Many famous performers have graced the Coleman stage, including Elvis, Doris Day, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and of course, Bing Crosby. Over the years, the theater fell into disrepair, though it has never closed. In 1983, the theater was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1989, the Coleman family donated the theater to the City of Miami. A group of volunteers, known as the Friends of the Coleman, began the process of restoring the Coleman Theater. Through labors of love and a lot of fundraising, the Friends of the Coleman have restored much of the theater. Their ongoing efforts ensure that many more people will get to enjoy the Coleman through the years.

The Coleman Today

Today, acts still play at the Coleman Theater. It’s possible to catch a concert or a play performance throughout the year. You can also rent the Coleman for events and receptions. One such event is how my family got a glimpse of the Coleman. When we saw that there was a paranormal conference and a ghost tour happening, we only had three words on our minds: sign us up.

References:

Caldwell, Bill. “Bill Caldwell: Coleman Theatre Lives on as George Coleman’s Legacy.” Joplin Globe, Apr. 2022, www.joplinglobe.com/news/bill-caldwell-coleman-theatre-lives-on-as-george-colemans-legacy/article_da38a352-b03f-11ec-ada0-9b39794902ca.html.

Fox, Kendra. “Miami’s Coleman Theater Living Witness to History.” The Oklahoman, Oklahoman, 4 May 1997, www.oklahoman.com/story/news/1997/05/04/miamis-coleman-theater-living-witness-to-history/62315563007/.

“Friends of the Coleman – Coleman Theatre Beautiful.” Thecolemantheatre.org, 2023, thecolemantheatre.org/friends-of-the-coleman/.

Arriving at the Coleman Theater

Coleman Theater

We arrived late in the day. The workshops for the paranormal conference had been an all-day event, but we arrived later in hopes that we could stay awake for the ghost tour.

As we got out of the car, I noticed this barber shop embedded in the Coleman Theater building. It already felt like we were stepping back in time.

Coleman Theater

We made our way to the front of the theater. This is the part that faces Route 66. It’s true that the ticket booth was closed, but the conference was happening inside. You can see Jeff and Kristin through the window.

Coleman Theater Route 66

One of the first things we did was buy a magnet to commemorate our visit. We love collecting our magnets, and sales like this help support the upkeep of the theater.

The Public Areas of the Coleman Theater

Coleman Theater

Before the ghost tour portion of the evening, we were free to walk around and explore the lobby area. Simply gorgeous. The red carpet has the Coleman family crest as its pattern. We had a great time just walking around and noting the details.

The model below gives you an overview of what the theater building looks like.

Coleman Theater

The gold statue below stands on the banister of the staircase leading up to the balcony. She seems to be lighting the way for guests.

Coleman Theater

Below is a picture of Mr. Coleman himself.

George L. Coleman, Coleman Theater

Before the tour, we made a stop at the restroom. The mirror detail is lovely.

Coleman Theater

Below is the ladies’ lounge.

Coleman Theater

And here is the gentlemen’s.

Coleman Theater

The Coleman Theater

Colman Theater

Our first glimpse inside the theater was from the balcony. This is a great spot to view the theater. In the picture above, a workshop is winding down on the stage. You can see the backdrop behind them that is original to the theater.

Below is the chandelier from Venice. Apparently, it was removed in the 1950s and returned to its glory during restoration efforts. At one time, the Wurlitzer Organ was connected to the chandelier and caused it to change colors!

The Coleman Theater Chandilier

Her are more views of the theater from the balcony.

The Coleman Theater

If your find yourself under the balcony on the main floor, you can look up to see the beautiful stained glass.

The Coleman Theater

Here is a closer look at some of that detail in the theater. Amazing.

The Coleman Theater

Below is the Mighty Wurlitzer. After the workshop was over and before the ghost tour began, we had time to get a closer look.

The Coleman Theater: The Mighty Wurlitzer

 

The Ghost Tour

Ghost Light at the Coleman Theater

Soon, it was time for the ghost tour. Our group was seated in the front rows of the theater while our two tour hosts made small talk with the group while we waited on any other guests. Above is one of the ghost lights. Every theater should have one; the Coleman had two.

Before the ghost tour really got going, we heard some of the history of the Coleman, and we got to hear a recording of “Hooray for Hollywood” played on the Wurlitzer organ.

Ghost Light at the Coleman Theater

This Youtube video provides a small sampling of what that was like.

Soon, our tour was underway. Larry, our guide who told most of the stories, lead us onstage. He showed us the state-of-the-art (at the time) switchboard and explained how the operator could communicate with Mr. Coleman in his office. We stood near the ropes here. Soon, Larry launched into a story about the time he saw an apparition on this very stage.

I like how in the picture below you can see the glow of the ghost light on the left. (I actually took this picture later in the tour when we returned to the stage.)

Coleman Theater Ropes

After some storytelling, we walked across the stage to the star dressing room in the right wing. It’s small, certainly by today’s standards, but I had chills thinking about the famous people who had used that room.

Coleman Theater Star Dressing Room

We then went down the narrow stairs to the green room. This area is for the “non-star” performers. Like the star dressing room, it’s still used today, Anyone from band members for a concert or dance recital dancers getting ready to take the stage may be found here,

Coleman Theater Green Room

From this area is where we encountered our paranormal event. At least, I think so. There’s no way to be certain that it wasn’t something planned by the hosts, but I don’t think it was.

To date, we have taken 11 ghost tours. We have only had four events on any ghost tour that I would chalk up to a supposed paranormal experience. The first–a chain moved in the Jennie Wade house in Gettysburg. The second–we heard what sounded like a chair being dragged across the floor on the second floor while we were on the first at the Whaley House in San Diego. On that same tour, we smelled pipe tobacco in a park that was once a cemetery. Well, technically, it still is. They only moved the headstones. Poltergeist, anyone? The thrid–our experience at the Coleman. The fourth–my phone Ovilus telling the name of someone that we later read on a sign at Alcatraz.

So, you must be wondering, “What happened at the Coleman?” From the green room, the host told us about a spirit of a child who liked to play with people in the Coleman. If we liked, we were invited to go into a nearby room to see if there would be any activity from him. We would be standing in the room in total darkness. Did we want to go into the room? Of course!

Those who opted to go into the room were invited to stand in a circle as the lights were turned off. As we stood there, the host called on the little boy to join us. Moments later, a board crashed to the floor and scared us all to death. I think I screamed. Anyway, I can’t see how the experience wasn’t authentic. No one was around the board when it fell. Still, you’d have to take my word for it, and if you don’t, well, it’s okay by me. I know what I experienced.

Wrapping Up Our Evening at the Coleman

The Coleman Theater

After our encounter in the room off the green room, we were led to the balcony to sit in darkness while we heard more ghost stories about the theater. It seems Mr. Coleman himself has been seen wandering around. We also heard the story of a young love triangle gone wrong, leading to a death in the Coleman. The other host told stories about audience members who appear occasionally in the balcony, but they are not dressed from our time and seem to disappear when someone goes to investigate.

We also heard that you may catch the scent of cologne or pipe tobacco. Also, the basement was once part of a mortuary, so there’s that. You never know what you’ll encounter in the Coleman!

One thing that was amazing about this tour is that it was about three hours long! It was by far they longest tour we’d been on, and we had plenty of time for stories, but we also had time for some sitting in stillness in the dark to try to get some evidence.

It’s true, the Coleman doesn’t regularly offer ghost tours, but keep your eyes open; you never know. Even without the ghostly tales, the Coleman Theater is worth checking out for its history, its location on Route 66, and its stunning beauty. Tours are often available during the day, so call or stop by, and you may be in luck.

Beyond tours, the Coleman still hosts concerts, play performances, recitals, films from yesteryear, and their annual film festival Sunny Side Up, To learn more about the festival, click here.

We had a great time learning about the Coleman Theater and taking a ghost tour. I hope you have the opportunity to see this magnificent theater.

Coleman Theater Sign

Other Route 66 Adventures:

El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico

Pops 66 Soda Ranch in Arcadia, Oklahoma

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona

Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, Illinois

The Coleman Theater
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9 Comments

  1. Wow! I am a huge lover of historic buildings and the Coleman Theater is absolutely beautiful! While I would enjoying the architecture of the building, my sister would love the ghost stories. I’m definitely sharing this with her!

  2. I’m all about history and would love to tour The Coleman Theater. A charming stop on Route 66 in Oklahoma.

  3. I love old theaters, and The Coleman Theater looks amazing! Really wonderful when historic buildings are kept true to their time and all the details here seem so lovingly kept up…like stepping back in time! I have always wanted to travel Route 66 so when I do someday, I’ll definitely be stopping here!

  4. Lisa Manderino Reply

    Wow, what a beautiful theater! I visit Oklahoma all the time!

  5. I’ve always wanted to take a ride down route 66. The Coleman Theater looks beautifully restored and would be a great stop.

  6. Wow! The Coleman Theater has so much history to it. I love that Bing Crosby was the inspiration behind the theater. The design is ornate and no details are spared. If I’m ever traveling Route 66, I’ll definitely have to make a stop here.

  7. Cindy Moore Reply

    The Coleman is a gorgeous theater! I attended a Christmas showing of Its a Wonderful Life there two years ago. I’d love to go back for a ghost tour!

  8. Lisa, Casey, Barrett Dog Reply

    The Coleman Theater is a fabulous place to visit on Historic Route 66! Thank you for sharing.

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