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The Ritz Theatre was one of two theatres (including the earlier Empire Theatre) that served the model city of Zeigler, a coal-mining community in Franklin County in southern Illinois. The city is the home of the Zeigler Coal Company founded in 1901 by Chicagoan Levi Zeigler Leiter, a major donor to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential campaign. The town of Zeigler was planned with radial streets around a circle a la the national capital with a hope of luring the seat of national government to Zeigler. Eventually, Zeigler became a company town, an armed fortress with gates at the city limits equipped with searchlights and Gatling guns manned by private guards ordered to shoot suspicious interlopers.
The Leiter family finally left in 1910, and by 1926 Zeigler peaked at 7,000 residents and 174 businesses. When coal began to fade as an important fuel, the city’s population began to decline, though over 450 Zeigler men served in the military during the wars.
The Ritz Theatre (listed as being located on Oak Street) was opened in 1936, and closed in 1959. It became a maintainance garage for the city.
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