This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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Four Stories from Nebraska

15 July 2016

It's not a flattering perspective.
Looking like a giant grey cinder block,
one side is built for utility
with sensible fire escapes
and unadorned stage doors.
The other side shows
an ornate public entrance
with three caryatids
holding up an elaborate arched window.

But then large city buildings always
present a challenge for a photographer
to fit a grand theater onto a postcard.
The caption reads:

American Music Hall, 18th and Douglas Sts., Omaha, Neb.

The card was posted from Chadron, Nebraska,
a small town nearly 450 miles west of Omaha,
on Aug 15, 1911.
It was sent to
Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Gozllert (?)
of Grand Island, Neb.,
about 145 miles west of Omaha.


Dear Children,
we had a good rain
last week which made
everyone feel better. it is
still very hot. have been(?)
been very buisy with fruit
and not through yet. will
try and write a letter
monday.(?) we are all quite
well. and every boddy
as far as i know
with Love Mother

Omaha Daily Bee
Jan 28, 1911

Apparently fruit pickers enjoyed taking in the theaters of the big city of Omaha. The American Music Hall, or American Theater as it was called in the Omaha newspapers, was still new in 1911, having opened only the year before. It was one of seven theaters offering entertainment that summer. The American ran three shows daily at 2:15, 7:45, and 9:20, with ticket prices from 10¢, 20¢, and 30¢. In January 1911 it advertised vaudeville acts:

Hickey's Comedy Circus, Long and
Cotton, Joseph Callahan, Toney and
Norman, Finn and Ford, Erminie Earl,
and Americanscope

At the Land Show every afternoon and evening, you could see War Dances by Chief Yellow Horse and Twenty Real Sioux Indians for 25¢ which included musical and speaking programs. One of the guest artists was Miss Lora Nettie Reiter, Cornetist Virtuoso. We met Nettie Reiter in my story from February 2015 entitled Cornets and Apples, where in November 1910, she appeared as solo cornetist in Helen May Butler's All American Ladies Grand Concert Band at the Horticultural Show in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

In the same week, the Krug theater, the Home of Folly, promoted the Miller Stock Co. in The Gambler's Wife. The Brandeis Theatre (note its classy spelling), had Countess De Swirsky, an interpretive dancer, and the Orpheum advertised Advanced Vaudeville. The Gayety, "Omaha's Fun Center", said excepting the Land Show, nothing greater in town this week than the mournful, weeping (?) Parisian Widows. They also featured the Musical Gordon Highlanders, whose bagpipes were presumably the cause of much weeping. And finally Boyd's Theater highlighted Eva Lang and her Company in Geo. M. Cohan's musical comedy, 45 Minutes From Broadway.

Omaha did not lack for variety, but its theater world was constantly changing. Later that year in 1911, the American Theater converted from vaudeville to Eva Lang's stock company which performed soapy melodramas with musical interludes and song accompaniments. After 1913 it changed its name and management to the New Morris Theater. In the 1920s it was known as The Strand, and was recognized for presenting the first color movie in Omaha, a 1926 silent film called The Black Pirate, which starred Douglas Fairbanks. The Strand was destroyed by fire in 1927.


The photographer switched to the opposite corner
to take this theater photo.
The postcard is captioned:

5600. Lyric Theatre, Lincoln, Nebr.

There are no caryatids
but the front is more decorated than the side.
The marquee announces
This Week
Power of Truth,

which I believe refers to
a series of Christian Science lectures.

It was mailed on July 22, 1918
to Mrs. Emma K. Christensen
of Elba, Nebr.

Dearest Emma
We just finished
eating supper at the Lincoln
Hotel, Lincoln, Nebs. Was given
this card by the red cross already
stamped. Will be out of here in a
few min.  expect to be in camp by
tomorrow morning. Never was
treated better in my life, accept by
you dear.
with Love      Fred –

Lincoln, NE Evening Journal
June 24, 1918

If Fred had been given any free time
in Lincoln before being sent off to
army boot camp., he might have gone
to the Rialto Theater to see
the Russian actress Alla Nazimova
in a story of realized Romance
called "Toys of Fate".
Five showings a day and
cooled by iced air!

The magnet had a Kitty Gordon film,
"Vera the Medium",
and a Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
comedy, "The Village Scandal."

The Colonial ran a Fox Special
with Tom Mix in "Ace High".
A story of service with the north-
west and mounted police, comedy,
Satire, Weekly
Coolest Place in Lincoln
Shows at 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9

And the Lyric Theatre offered
vaudeville & photo plays,
All that week, Fred and his mates
could have laughed at
Otis Oliver & Co.
in "The Country Boy"
a Great Play.

The Lyric opened
sometime around 1906,
and continued to show films
in the 1920s after the war.
In 1927 it was demolished
and replaced with a new theater
called the Stuart.

And just so I don't leave
any readers in suspense,
Fred survived his military service.
Both he and Emma were recorded in the
1930 census as living on a Nebraska farm
with their two children.



My third story from Nebraska
returns to Omaha
where the architect cleverly designed
the building with two opulent sides
and a wide corner entrance.
The postcard shows rows of cars
parked along two streets.
A drugstore and other shops
line the lower street level.
The Star Spangled Banner
proudly waves atop the roof.
The postcard's caption reads
Rialto Theatre, 15th and Douglas Streets, Omaha, Nebr.

On July 6, 1927 the card was sent to
Miss Dora Troseu
c/o Northwestern Bell
in Burlington, Iowa

Hello you old Bird! (?)
I fooled you didn't
I?  Well I'm having
a dandy time  Only the
days fly too fast.
Hope your having
a nice time working
& I don't envy you a bit
Tell the gang hello &
So Long

The Rialto, with its romantic connotation of Venice, was a popular name for theaters, especially large ones. The Omaha Rialto Theatre could seat 2,247 patrons, cooled by its special iced air conditioning.
It first opened in 1918 and seems to have lasted into the 1950s, but has been since razed for more modern urban development.

Perhaps Dorothy went to a show there over the 4th of July holiday in 1927. She might have wanted to see Convoy, a photo play film about the American Navy. Mighty Men-of-War ... Marine Monsters at death grips in actual combat.

And as a special treat there was a personal appearance of "Flag Pole" Rex Henton.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

It wasn't the only theater with a suggested Italian connection. She might have gone to the cool Rivera Theater to hear the latest hot jazz band.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

Maybe she took in the flick at the Sun Theater, where the Irish and the Jews are at it again, in "Frisco Sally Levy" starring Sally O'Neil and Roy D'Arcy. Giggles and Roars. Thrills Galore.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

Or maybe Dorothy and her Significant-Other preferred a Western. They might have gone to the Moon to see Tom Mix in Outlaws of Red River. That show included a creepy mystery stage show called "The Bat's Wings", which would surely have scared the girls back at the Burlington Bell Telephone Switchboard. 

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

Or maybe Dorothy just stood on the sidewalk outside the Rialto, along with hundreds of other Omaha citizens, watching as Rex Henton was rescued from the theater's flagpole, after he had hung on for 27 hours!  His wife and mother watched and the photographer for the Omaha World Herald took their anguished picture.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

The 26-year-old painter had been hoisted to his perch atop the Rialto flag pole the day before as a publicity stunt for two Omaha stores. He was in training to compete for the flag pole sitting record set a week earlier in June 20, 1927, when Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly came down from a Newark, NJ flagpole after 12 days 12 hours aloft.  On Saturday afternoon Henton succumbed to the heat and fainted. At first, it was believed this was just part of the stunt, but his wife and mother feared otherwise and summoned theater management. Twice a theater usher tried in vain to ascend the pole and refasten Henton's safety harness. Finally the fire department arrived and after several attempts succeeded in getting ladders close enough to lower the man in a rope basket.

Omaha, NE World Herald
July 3, 1927

He was revived later that afternoon but insisted he wanted to re-climb the pole and earn his promised $200 prize money. Promoters however were satisfied and promised to pay anyway. He fulfilled his contract by sleeping on a bed that night in the display window of an Omaha furniture store.

The summer of 1927 saw a number of men enter this strange contest of flag pole sitting. On July 10 Leroy "Spider" Haines descended a Denver flag pole after 16 days 2 hours 30 minutes. "Lead me to a bath," were his first words on reaching the ground. "That's the only reason I came down. I'm so dirty I could grow."

A week later on July 16, 1927, "Hold 'Em" Joe Powers came down from a flagpole in Chicago set above the streets at a 637 ft height. He claimed to beat the record of 16 days by a few more hours. Meanwhile on July 17 Victor Crouch of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was forced to continue in order to break the record, which he did on July 19, 1927 after enduring 17 days 2 hours atop another theater flagpole.

It's the first rule of show business.
The show must
go on.

Even when you're hanging by a rope.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link to find your lucky numbers!


ScotSue said...

You found some wonderful images to match this week's theme. The architecture of cinemas seems such a mixture from Greek style to 1930's Art Deco. There was a Rialto Cinema in the small town where my mother grew up, but very small compared with the impressive Rialto in your postcard. Sadly, like to many cinemas, it has long since gone.

Jo Featherston said...

A great collection of relevant postcards with amusing/intriguing messages. Rialto seems to have been a popular theatre name worldwide, but I doubt if any of the Rialtos could boast of such a pole-sitting contest - amazing what people will do for fame and prize money!

Alex Daw said...

I have never heard of pole sitting contests. Crazy! 16 days ! What madness.

Tattered and Lost said...

Just when I was thinking "Gee, it's a shame going to the movies isn't more of an event" I get to the part about the flagpole sitters. This reminded me of a DJ in Hawaii back in the late 50s or early 60s who stayed awake at the WigWam store for days and days and days. Each day the Honolulu Star Bulletin would feature a photo closeup of his eyes showing the dark circles and more than a little sleepy but deranged look. These days I think of India as the home for strange stunts to get into the Guiness book. And that first photo makes me think of sets from an old DeMilles movie The Ten Commandments that were left to be swallowed by sand dunes when the filming was done.

Titania Staeheli said...

Show business in full swing. I love the names they used for the old Theaters. Fires probably occurred quite often in movie theaters and they needed an escape. Imagine these stairs full of people, a nightmare.


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