04-23-2020 Tri-City Area History Page

Are you the young lady holding an adorable kitten in this photo? Do you remember when young ladies always wore dresses? Have you ever held fresh picked cotton? If you have any information on this photo or a story to share, please contact North Berrien Historical Museum at 269-468-3330, info@northberrienhistory.org, or on facebook.com/NorthBerrienHistory. The museum is closed until further notice. From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum 300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

The Paw Paw River Journal

The silent silver screen

Hartford has always had a movie theater… at least as long as I can remember. When I was but a wee lad, it was named “The State.” And the first film I can remember seeing there was a Tom Mix western. Silent movies were before my time, but I can remember on that occasion my folks talking about how great it was to have the people up there on the screen really talking. I must have been about 5 years old. The State Theater was owned by an attractive young couple named Woodward. A handsome guy, he had dark hair and a moustache. She was a blonde lady with curled hair and skillfully applied makeup. At night when lights circled around the marquee advertising the film then playing, she sat in the ticket office waiting for customers. She looked like a doll in a glass case. Then tragedy struck. She died in childbirth, and her husband was devastated. I can remember seeing him once later out at Sister Lakes when a bunch of us went swimming. He still had a haunted look. And he sold the theater to a couple from, I believe, Decatur… Mr. and Mrs. Pennell. When their marriage split up, Lil Pennell must have gotten the Hartford film palace in the settlement because thereafter she ran it… and they renamed it “The Heart Theater”. Thus it is to this day. I first got to go to the theater when I was 6 or 7, and a bunch of us walked downtown to attend a special matinee. I don’t remember what the occasion was, but those kids wanted to line up in the front row and make noise. This hugely irritated me, because I had to sit with my head tipped way back and I couldn’t hear the dialogue. The kids were all trying to be cool. So I moved to the back amidst a quiet group who really wanted to listen to what was being said. I was fascinated by films then, and I have been ever since. Small towns were considered safe back in the day, so our folks let Wilma and me go to the show together on a night when we did not have to get up early the next day. I could get in for kids’ rate (10 cents), but it cost my sister a quarter. I’m afraid I used to tease her about that. And I kept the kid’s rate going past the time I should have paid more… kind of slouching up to the box office so I would look a little shorter. Irene Yeckley, an older Hartford girl and in later years a good friend (God rest her soul), was now the ticket taker. One evening I worked my way up the line to get a ticket… trying my best to look like a little kid. Irene smiled at me and said, “Bud, don’t you think you are old enough that you ought to pay for an adult ticket?” I sighed, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” So I stood up straighter and forked over the rest of the money. And thereafter it cost me a quarter like everyone else. In 1939, Wilma and I went to see one film two nights in a row. She was gaga over a handsome young actor named Errol Flynn. One of my consuming passions was flying… and especially old airplanes. So when “The Dawn Patrol”, about World War I, came out we were first in line. It was a natural! A film would show for 2-3 days in a row, so the first night we saw it and were enthralled… then we had a great idea. We would go again the second night! And we were willing to part with the money! Next night we stepped up to the box office, Irene Yeckley looked at us in wonder… “You kids were here just last night!” We both nodded; then Wilma said, “We liked it so well; we want to see it again.” There was a man from the film distribution company talking to her in there. Irene turned to him and said, “See? Kids like your product so much they come again and again!” And turning to us she said, “I’m not going to make you pay a second night… just go on in!” I might add… I still love that film! One summer night we walked downtown to see a real thriller… “The Octopus!” And it lived up to expectations! This horrible creature slithered out of the sewers to grab people… when we walked home, we stayed out in the middle of the street and didn’t waste any time because moon shadows of the trees were moving on the sidewalk, and wind sighing. Something might be lurking behind the hedges, just waiting to get us! When Boris Karloff made “The Mummy”, it got a lot of press exposure. I didn’t get to see it… in fact, I didn’t even want to. I was still recovering from seeing pictures of him in “Frankenstein”! But some of my classmates did… one with disastrous results. One guy said he got out of the first show at 9 p.m. and was so scared he waited to see if anyone would be walking home in his direction. No one! So he hitched up his belt… and ran all the way home, part of it past the cemetery! Another guy in my class was walking home from that movie. Down the street he saw one of the girls on her way home too. So he thought it would be a hoot to scare her. He hid behind a hedge, and when she came past he jumped out and clutched her. Did she faint? No, she doubled up her fists and beat the stuffing out of him. He allowed in retrospect as to how he would never try that again! Hartford’s silver screen is silent now. Back then how lucky we were to live in a small town with a movie palace, and the feeling that streets were safe for kids… even at night. Next time: “Double Features & Saturday Afternoon Serials!” (Reprint from the April 23, 2009 issue of the Tr