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Early theaters II

My article ended rather abruptly last week, when I left the late Dr. James L. Kent describing a fire that had broken out in the little theater located in the upper floor of the Loan and Trust Building at the southwest intersection of Valley and Commerce Streets.
We now allow him to continue the story, and I quote, “The audience arose simultaneously, as if they had been lifted by a giant elevator, and converged on the single exit. However there were enough cool-headed and stout men at that exit to let them out slowly to avoid their getting piled on each other trying to get down those winding stairs.
“The author was in the corner diagonally across the auditorium and farthest distance from the fire and the exit, but there was a clear way along the wall and across the front to the fire. He reached it in time to tear the curtain down before it could set fire to other things, and smothered the flames with large shoes,” Kent said.
Fortunately, having the doctor there that night prevented a great tragedy. However, it, ironically, was only a reprieve, because a half century later, tragedy would strike the site in an unbelievable way.
Time moved on, and the town’s business people gradually moved across the tracks, where more modern theaters were built. The stately old loan and trust building, except for businesses on the first floor, remained.
On April 12, 1956, at 5:45 a.m., 75-year-old W. J. M. Mahaffey entered his place of business on the first floor of the ValleyView Apartment Building (formerly the old Loan and Trust Building). He struck a match, and there was an explosion, the likes of which Pulaski had never experienced.
Gas had accumulated within the walls of the building, and it became engulfed in flames.. Resulting casualties came to eleven people killed and twelve injured.
Theaters, continued.
In the year 1910, the Town of Pulaski, which had so recently been without an all-around theater, suddenly had two movie houses.
The first, the Elks Theater, was built on the spot occupied by the Pulaski Theater today. According to old newspaper accounts, the manager was Clarence Painter, who died a few days after the opening of the establishment.
Following his death Frank Wysor, Mr. Pulaski Democrat, took over, and held the position until the business was sold to J. H. Wygal, who owned and operated it until 1921.
Farther west, and on the opposite side of Main Street, was the Starlight Theater. Both carried about the same type of programs: silent movies, and stage productions that were performed by traveling companies
One of the first shows at the Elks was “The Millionaire Tramp,” and about the same time the Starlight presented “Selections from Baby Opera.” About 40 local children were in the cast.
Both establishments at this time were charging 35 cents for live shows. Most movies were one-reelers, but sometimes there were two. To make the evening of entertainment last longer, there were three-reelers.
Movies were silent, and accompanied by an orchestra. The tempo of the music was fitted to the script. Sound technicians usually had a couple of suitcases full of horns, etc., which they operated to produce sounds of trains, horses hooves, and babies squalling. This and the musical accompaniment seemed to keep the audience interested in what was going on.
Some of the stars of the movies were John Bunny, Flora Fitch, and Charlie Chaplin. Even in these early times, movies had risqué titles, such as one at the Elks, entitled “What Katy Did.” I’m sure she did no worse than many of the stars of today’s movies, but it is interesting to know that even then there were impure thoughts going through the minds of the people in the audience.
More about theaters next week.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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Early theaters II

My article ended rather abruptly last week, when I left the late Dr. James L. Kent describing a fire that had broken out in the little theater located in the upper floor of the Loan and Trust Building at the southwest intersection of Valley and Commerce Streets.
We now allow him to continue the story, and I quote, “The audience arose simultaneously, as if they had been lifted by a giant elevator, and converged on the single exit. However there were enough cool-headed and stout men at that exit to let them out slowly to avoid their getting piled on each other trying to get down those winding stairs.
“The author was in the corner diagonally across the auditorium and farthest distance from the fire and the exit, but there was a clear way along the wall and across the front to the fire. He reached it in time to tear the curtain down before it could set fire to other things, and smothered the flames with large shoes,” Kent said.
Fortunately, having the doctor there that night prevented a great tragedy. However, it, ironically, was only a reprieve, because a half century later, tragedy would strike the site in an unbelievable way.
Time moved on, and the town’s business people gradually moved across the tracks, where more modern theaters were built. The stately old loan and trust building, except for businesses on the first floor, remained.
On April 12, 1956, at 5:45 a.m., 75-year-old W. J. M. Mahaffey entered his place of business on the first floor of the ValleyView Apartment Building (formerly the old Loan and Trust Building). He struck a match, and there was an explosion, the likes of which Pulaski had never experienced.
Gas had accumulated within the walls of the building, and it became engulfed in flames.. Resulting casualties came to eleven people killed and twelve injured.
Theaters, continued.
In the year 1910, the Town of Pulaski, which had so recently been without an all-around theater, suddenly had two movie houses.
The first, the Elks Theater, was built on the spot occupied by the Pulaski Theater today. According to old newspaper accounts, the manager was Clarence Painter, who died a few days after the opening of the establishment.
Following his death Frank Wysor, Mr. Pulaski Democrat, took over, and held the position until the business was sold to J. H. Wygal, who owned and operated it until 1921.
Farther west, and on the opposite side of Main Street, was the Starlight Theater. Both carried about the same type of programs: silent movies, and stage productions that were performed by traveling companies
One of the first shows at the Elks was “The Millionaire Tramp,” and about the same time the Starlight presented “Selections from Baby Opera.” About 40 local children were in the cast.
Both establishments at this time were charging 35 cents for live shows. Most movies were one-reelers, but sometimes there were two. To make the evening of entertainment last longer, there were three-reelers.
Movies were silent, and accompanied by an orchestra. The tempo of the music was fitted to the script. Sound technicians usually had a couple of suitcases full of horns, etc., which they operated to produce sounds of trains, horses hooves, and babies squalling. This and the musical accompaniment seemed to keep the audience interested in what was going on.
Some of the stars of the movies were John Bunny, Flora Fitch, and Charlie Chaplin. Even in these early times, movies had risqué titles, such as one at the Elks, entitled “What Katy Did.” I’m sure she did no worse than many of the stars of today’s movies, but it is interesting to know that even then there were impure thoughts going through the minds of the people in the audience.
More about theaters next week.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

Comments

comments

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