Originally Published: March 31, 2012 9:55 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Three decades later, former Elks Manager Ron Swartz and his wife Ginnie still revel in the quirks of the historic theatre - ghosts and all.
For several years in the early 1980s, the Elks Theatre in downtown Prescott consumed the Swartzes' lives. They chose the movies, ran the projector, and sold the popcorn at the aging theatre.
And every so often, when Ginnie Swartz was tired after a long day at the theatre, she says she would feel the presence of its earlier occupants.
A recent tour of the restored theatre stirred those memories for the Swartzes. Looking up at the newly stenciled balcony, Ginnie remembered seeing the image of a family -father, mother, and young daughter - there, dressed in clothing from an earlier era.
A co-worker corroborated the sighting, Ginnie said, and she learned some details: The resident ghosts had been performers during the Elks' early vaudeville era, when the young daughter had died in a fall from the balcony.
Parker Anderson, the historian for the 107-year-old theatre, said that while his research of the Elks turned up no such disaster, other theatre patrons have reported similar experiences through the years.
Regardless of the veracity, the ghost sightings apparently add cachet to the Elks' storied history.
"Every good theatre has a ghost," Ron Swartz said, as he toured the Elks Opera House with Anderson and Elks Manager Collette Greenlee this past week.
The ghost story was just one of the experiences that have tied the Swartzes to the Elks over the past 30 years or so.
As young 30-something transplants from California in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the couple had taken on the management of the Elks as a part of Ron's effort to grow his new business, Timberline Productions.
They moved to Prescott in search of a simpler, small-town life. "I was tired of corporate life," Ron said, noting that he previously worked as director of entertainment for Walt Disney Productions in California.
They chose Prescott in part because of their attachment to the Elks.
"One of the things that intrigued me about Prescott was this little theatre," Swartz said as he walked the aisles of the Elks.
Although they ultimately left Prescott in the mid-1980s for Phoenix and, later, for Columbus, Ohio, the Swartzes obviously still feel that attraction.
"Oh, I love this theatre," Ginnie Swartz said, as she checked out the room that once served as the projection booth. "My kids used to play up there."
Even though the theatre's recent restoration has added a new sheen, the Swartzes found plenty of familiar features during their tour.
"This is all our rigging," Swartz said, as he walked backstage and touched the ropes that control the performance equipment.
The Swartzes were involved in an earlier attempt to spruce up the old theatre. "It was a paint-up, fix-up," Ron said.
He remembers one of the main successes of his run as manager as the showing of the 1981 hit, "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
"We had to bid movies way out in front," Swartz recalls. "We got the booking and ran full houses in here for weeks."
The movie showings at the Elks did not last long. Swartz said the theatre owners soon decided to emphasize live shows over movies. "That was a stressful time," he remembers.
Swartz's time at the Elks came after longtime theatre manager Claude Cline had decided not to renew his lease.
Swartz has kept up with the goings-on at the Elks over the years, and recently read some of Anderson's history about the theatre.
Anderson said he heard from Swartz about a mistaken detail in the 1970s/1980s history of the theatre, and the two began corresponding. When Swartz learned he would be traveling to the area this spring, he asked for a tour of the restored theatre.
Now semi-retired, Swartz produces RV rallies for the Affinity Group. He and Ginnie were in Arizona this past week for the rally at the Phoenix International Raceway.