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The Silent Movies in Wilton

By Curtis Frymoyer

Transcribed by Elizabeth Casillas, February 6, 2016

     In the early years of the 20th Century that new invention, the motion picture, had taken the whole country by storm and Wilton was no exception. No date has been determined for the first movie theater in Wilton, but it is thought to be about 1910-1912. Some of the movie theater owners were Mr. Summerhayes, Grove Hill, Fred Bruins, Mr. Cotton, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Kettleson, Roy Robertson, Ken Wagner and Jim Sheetz. The later owners showed sound pictures.

     The earliest movie theater, called a “Nickleodeon,” was located on the west side of Cedar Street across from the Candy Kitchen and south of the alley. Admission was five cents and the show consisted of two or three reels lasting about 30 to 40 minutes. Colored slides were shown between reels with such slogans as “Ladies Please Remove your Hats” or “Don’t Eat Peanuts and Throw the Shucks on the floor.” There were also some local advertising slides. There were three . . .

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. . . complete shows in an evening. The piano player, who furnished music during the show, was supposed to fit the music to the action on the screen. Some of the pianists were Winifred Cronin, Vera Godske, Ina Grunder, June Gaines, and Dorothy Ringgenberg. Crowds, too late for the first show, stood in line waiting for the second show. When the show was over groups gathered on the sidewalk to discuss the film and then adjourned to the Candy Kitchen for refreshments.

     Some of the early stars seen in Wilton were Mary Pickford (American’s Sweetheart), Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Wallace Reid, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Gloria Swanson and many others. The Mary Pickford films were so popular that the Wilton High School class of 1920 sponsored a Pickford show in the local theatre to raise money for the junior-senior banquet.

     Serial stories of adventure, continued from week to week, were very popular. “The Million Dollar Mystery” made in 1914 was shown in Wilton and kept the movie fans spellbound for 23 weeks. The installments were published simultaneously in the Chicago-Tribune as a circulation booster. Other famous serials shown were “The Perils of Pauline” and “Stingaree,” While “Stingaree” was playing the streets, alleys and backyards of Wilton from the county line to the banks of Mud Creek were crowded with small boys riding stick horses and waving wooden six shooters in imitation of the hero who was a sort of modern Robin Hood.

     During one period every Wednesday night featured a special ten cent Western show. Everybody liked the Westerns and the early stars William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Nearly as well loved were Hart’s pony “Fritz” and Tom Mix’s “Tony.” In fact, the Western star often showed more affection for his horse than he did for the heroine. Other early Western stars were Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Fred Thompson and Hoot Gibson. At this time a group of country boys organized an informal “cowboy” club and rode horses into Wilton once a week to see their favorite Western heroes. Each boy rode a horse named for a movie star pony.

     A movie show always included at least one reel of comedy. The manager knew that if the people went home laughing they were likely to come again. Wilton audiences laughed at Mack Sennett comedies with the Keystone Cops, the Sennett bathing beauties and their wild rides in the old Ford cars. They loved Ben Turpin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Will Rogers, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy.

     The movies brought a touch of romance to life in the rural and small town Midwest. The girls were thrilled by Wallace Reid, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. The boys fell in love with “Our Mary” or Lillian Gish and everyone who lived through those days of the silent movies remembers them with affection.

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     Remember when there were hitching rails in front of the stores and when one of those newfangled automobiles came down the street all the horses would get scared?

    This page sponsored by the Wilton Chamber of Commerce.

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Picture – Nelson Hardware Float in July 4, 1907 Parade – Courtesy of William Nelson
This horse drawn float stands in front of the Nelson home on Maurer Street. Perry, Bernice and June Nelson are the children on the rear of float.

An Old Time 4th July

     Remember when the 4th of July was celebrated with the noisiest of fireworks. From the packages of tiniest crackers with their wicks all fastened together to the great 5 and 6 inch salutes you could take your pick of noise and danger. From earliest daylight to late at night there was continuous popping and banging. Headquarters for fireworks was the Candy Kitchen, which had a great variety for sale. The “Yellow Kid” salutes cost a penny each and would blow in a tin can 20 feet in the air. An old bicycle pump made a first rate cannon when charged with a 2 inch salute and loaded with small rocks. It took a brave child to walk down main street with the fire crackers and torpedoes bursting around his feet. Most of the town dogs spent the day in the bushes or under the back porch. At the end of a perfect day came the sparklers. Roman candles, pin wheels and sky rockets.

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Page created February 6, 2016 by Lynn McCleary