The Haunted Rhode: Kenosha's Own Paranormal Legend

The story of one of Kenosha’s most notable hauntings.

A lurking fear descends over Kenosha come October. This pleasant lakeside city, less than an hour south from the shadowy urban bustle of Milwaukee, is burdened by a certain supernatural weight. It is a city of hauntings. The most famous of all in Kenosha lore is The Kemper Center, a gothic school of legend brilliantly chronicled in a previous article, but the city is home to more than just that—there also, in the center of downtown amid the shops and alleyways, lies the cold and imposing … Rhode Center for the Arts.

Hold on.

That doesn’t sound that scary.

So how about we go back to its original name and try this again.

—there also, in the center of downtown amid the shops and alleyways, lies the cold and imposing … Rhode Opera House.

Yeah, that’s better. Gives off some Phantom vibes.

So the story goes like this:

In 1890, Peter Rhode, a German immigrant who owned and operated a Kenosha hotel, purchased land downtown and built a theater of significant and impressive size with a one-thousand seat capacity. It opened to the public on August 25, 1891 for a performance of “Fra Diavolo,” a comic opera. The Kenosha Daily Gazette reported on the event, writing in remarkably insulting fashion, that the event “gives evidence to the fact that a higher and more refined taste prevailed in the intellect of the average Kenoshan than might have been expected.”

Well gee, thanks.

But tragedy struck only five years later, when in 1896, the theater burned to the ground.

The building was rebuilt and re-opened only to be met, in 1927, with the wrecking ball by new owners. The Saxe Amusement Company took over from the Rhode family and built yet another theather on the site, this time naming it the Gateway, a place to watch those new-fangled moving pictures. Over the tumultuous century the theater switched hands and names several times—going from Gateway to Lake to Esseness—and at one point even engendering a little local controversy, when the owners considered opening an X-rated auditorium.

But in 1988, the theater was purchased by the Lakeside Players, a nonprofit theater group, who rechristened it with the original family title: Rhode. And with that name, it seems, may have come some unexpected visitors.

In the years since, paranormal sightings are rampant at the Rhode.

Some notable examples include the Lavender Lady, a woman who appears in the women’s dressing and powder rooms backstage. An old piano is often heard playing without explanation, and on more than one occasion a pleasant floral scent drifts from the room with no discernible source. Her face has been spotted in mirrors and around corners, but most visitors seem to find the presence benevolent.

Other incidents include moving props and set decorations and disembodied voices during performances. Reportedly, during a seance scene in the play Post Mortem, the sound of the piano, laughter, and unexplained voices filled the auditorium. The audience assumed it was part of the seance scene unfolding, but it was in fact entirely unplanned and the source was never discovered.

The basement is also allegedly home to a darker entity that leaves people a little more spooked than the Lavender Lady. Its driven a number of prop workers to get out of the basement a little more quickly than they otherwise would have.

The Rhode Center and the Lakeside Players fully embrace the haunted legacy of their theater. They’ve hosted Haunted Rhode tours, exploring the nooks and crannies of the old theater and each legend contained therein. The spot is always included in Kenosha’s most haunted areas, and if you still harbor any doubts as the Rhode’s haunting, just check out the Lakeside Players FAQ page, on which you will find a definitive textual proof:

Question: “Is the Rhode Center haunted?”

Answer: “Yes.”



Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.