Menomonie, Wisconsin History/Mabel Tainter Theater/Nicole2334
The Mabel Tainter Theater is one of the top historic places in Menomonie constructed in 1889 by Harvey Ellis. It is a memorial built for Mabel Tainter by her parents Andrew and Bertha Tainter. With its beautiful architectural design and secrets to why it was built; the theater attracts people from all over. There is a mystery to what happened in the building and suspicion has lead people to believe this building is haunted by Mabel. The Mabel Tainter Theater has had a strong influence over the town’s history and the people. A lot of effort was put into designing and building this spectacular theater. It’s an outstanding learning experience for everyone especially students. I encourage everyone to take a tour of the theater and explore the past history of this town. Menomonie has a lot of history that has yet to be learned.
Why the Mabel Tainter Theater is Important
The Mabel Tainter Theater has a lot of meaning today, it is one of the most recognized buildings in Menomonie and is an important part of the culture in the downtown area. The center of the arts in the community brings many people downtown to see the outstanding architectural building. Since Menomonie is a small town, it’s important to draw visitors into downtown to build a community. The theater helps with Menomonie’s economy. It brings people to see shows where they pay for their tickets and food. This theater is part of our history when most people didn’t have a lot of money. Andrew Tainter was one of the few who had a lot of money and he happened to live in Menomonie to build this beautiful theater. Menomonie has a lot of history and places to be explored and learned about especially for students. This theater provides a high quality learning experience that builds our knowledge of Menomonie’s past history.
Andrew Tainter (1823-1899) was born in New York and came to Wisconsin in 1850 to enter into the booming lumber business. He became vice president of the Knapp, Stout & Co. Lumber Company, which was one of the largest companies in the United States at the time. Andrew had two families, he first married Mary Poskin who was an Indian women and they had five children. Andrew became wealthy and powerful, so he moved and took the children with him since Mary didn’t feel welcome in the white community because of her cultural differences. Andrew became captain of a riverboat. He hired an educated young women to care for his children. Shortly after he married Bertha who had two children; later on they had five children together.
One of them who was named Mabel Tainter.(1866-1886) She died at the early age of 19 unexpectedly from a ruptured appendix or cancer of the side. The theater was built in memory of Mabel Tainter in 1889 by her parents Andrew and Bertha Tainter who were very wealthy. Rumor about Mabel’s death begins. She fell in love with a logger from her father's lumber company. They had different social statuses, so the two lovers were not allowed to be married. Mabel became pregnant and then her parents finally became open to the idea of marriage. However, one day the logger disappeared. To avoid the shame, Mabel's parents urged her to get an abortion. Unfortunately Mabel died due to the procedure, so a few years later the theater was built. The idea of building a memorial building was conceived by Henry Doty Maxson who organized the town’s Unitarian which Mabel’s parents were a part of.
Andrew Tainter brought in artisans and materials from all over the world. People say this theater was built out of their parent’s guilt and grieving. Harvey Ellis designed the building and created a sophisticated structure of local sandstone. The building has a hand designed sandstone exterior with glass windows and a massive arch where you walk in. The sandstone was quarried along the Red Cedar River. It was carved on site and set in place by a crew of nearly one hundred stonecutters. Inside is two stories with a marble stairwell, brass railings, carved woodwork, stenciled walls, marble floor, four fireplaces, and a pipe organ. Walking into the theater, you see a portrait of both Andrew and Bertha Tainter at the top of the marble stairs. The building has a Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. Mabel’s parents wanted to hang up a huge painting of Mabel in remembrance of her. In result, her sister posed as Mabel for her body to be painted. The painter got very into painting Mabel, with all the painters hard work, he accidentally painted her sister’s wedding ring in the picture.
The memorial reflects advanced American architectural, social, educational, and religious thought of the era. The theater was completed in 1890 for $105,000. The theater uses butterfly curtains which is the only one still used in the United States today. The theater had three different sized seats. During plays Andrew and Bertha would sit on the left side balcony to be seen by everyone who walked in and the minister would sit on the right balcony. The theater served for the Unitarian society’s meeting hall. It opened as a community cultural center featuring all the interests of Mabel. Her first early exposure to the arts was at Grobs Hall where the entertainments took place. She enjoyed music and the arts. Citizens had access to a free library where the walls were two feet thick and access to a reading room, women and men's work room, and a meeting room for the Grand Army of the Republic.
While the theater was being built, Andrew and Bertha’s son, Louis Smith Tainter and his wife Effie got married. As a wedding present they built him his own house because they already had all the materials and talented people in town building Mabel’s theater, as a result, the buildings looked similar. Louis Smith Tainter’s house costed $75,000 which is equivalent to $3.2 million in today's dollars. This article says, eventually the building was renamed Eichelberger Hall and became a women's dormitory until the 1960’s. From 1967-1974 the building was used as the office space for the vocational rehabilitation program. Now today it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as the offices of the UW-Stout Alumni Association and the University Foundation.
There has been talk about the Mabel Tainter Theater being haunted. People talk about seeing strange lights in the windows, seeing a woman in white, and hearing chains rattling and footsteps when no one is around. Some people believe it’s Mabel herself or even her mother seen on the lower level. Some thinks it’s because the mom is too attached to leave the building and she needs to watch over it. On my tour of the theater, the guide said some people think the eyes in a painting hanging up follows you wherever you go. While performing on stage actors/actresses have reported seeing apparitions watching them. Erik Simonsen, an executive director, reported lights turning on after he leaves a room. Police sometimes receive calls from people walking by the theater at night and they insist they saw someone inside the building long after all the workers have gone home.
On December 6, 2008 11 paranormal investigators stayed overnight in the theater. According to this article and my tour, they had a variety of devices to detect activity, including video recorders, audio recorders, EMF detectors, thermometers, compasses, and digital cameras. Judy and Erin came along because in the past they have located apparitions within a building that the instruments did not detect. While in the building, they kept feeling spirits and seeing shadows moving. When they were talking they felt someone tap on their shoulder but when they looked there was nothing. They tried to go into the bathrooms but they walked out right away because they were experiencing a strong eerie feeling. When I went on a tour of the theater, the guide said the paranormal investigators set up an electronic voice device capturing a voice that said “get out”. Also in two separate rooms on the second floor, 50 feet away from each other both devices recorded a high pitch shriek.
Today a mystery remains to why a partial tunnel with a brick wall was built underground leading away from the theater. The theater contains Henry Doty Maxon’s last sermon notes he wrote that someone thought of to preserve to this day. The theater still is filled with artifacts like Mabel’s piano, Bertha’s sewing chair, and portraits of the family. In 2008 there was a $2.8 million restoration. Now at the theater you can go on tours, have weddings, watch performances, host a meeting, and have company parties.
- Dunn County Haunts and Folklore: The Mabel Tainter Theater. (2012, October 30). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from -https://uwstoutandabout.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/dunn-county-haunts-and-folklore-the-mabel-tainter-theater
- Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts. (2015, July 17). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://chippewa.com/dunnconnect http://chippewa.com/dunnconnect/community/mabel-tainter-center-for-the-arts-hosts-inaugural-medallion-hunt/article_f4e73c9c-3118-5a93-bf69-25c1a5ca6410.html
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- (Mabel Tainter Docent, tour, October 29, 2015)
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