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The Empire Theatre was one of at least two theatres (including the later Ritz Theatre) that served the model city of Zeigler, a coal-mining community in Franklin County in southern Illinois. The founder of the Zeigler Coal Company was Chicagoan Levi Zeigler Leiter, a major donor to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential campaign, and was planned with radial streets around a central circle. Zeigler began as 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 left in 1910.
The Empire Theatre was opened in 1920. By 1926 Zeigler had 7,000 residents and 174 businesses, but when coal began to fade as an important fuel, the city’s population began to decline. The Empire Theatre was closed in 1936, having been replaced thae same year by the Ritz Theatre.
Historians vary on the exact location of the Empire Theatre but a photo of the Ritz Theatre (qv) shows what looks to be the Empire Theatre’s facade next door on Oak Street.
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