Friday Night Movie At
All the towns around the lower part of Oconto County had a movie theater except Lena and Abrams. Oconto had three theaters at one time. In the early 50s the Lena Merchants decided to have a free out door movie on Friday Night. They found a 16mm movie projector, screen and amplifier with record turntable. They set them up in a vacant lot in the middle of Lena.
Every Friday Night about seven pm I would pick up my Cousin Norris at Stiles Junction. I had an old 1928 Chevy for transportation. We would put a blanket on the ground and wait patiently for it to get dark and the movie to start. Around eight o'clock they would start playing old scratchy records of polkas and organ music at full volume. The pops and scratches on the records would sound like machine guns.
Just as it was getting dark the local Lena folks would come with their lawn chairs and set them up in front of us making it a bit hard to see. The first thing was a film of commercials of local businesses. Next came the movie feature. It was usually a black and white western and the sound was very poor. They must have been the first sound movies ever made. They had no background music and when the action was far away there was no sound. No one complained about the movies because the price was right.
One Friday evening when we arrived in Lena dark clouds were moving in from the west. We asked one of the merchants if they were going to have a movie. He said, “yes we are going to plan B. " "They are going to move the equipment to Kolb's Hall on the west end of town.” We all walked over to the hall and they kept us outside while they were setting up. Just as it started raining they let us in. We walked by the bar and the owner studied us as we marched by. The hall was quite large and I had never known it existed before. The folding chairs were covered with dust. They hadn't been used in a long time. The stage had an old curtain that was covered with advertisements of Lena Businesses long gone. We enjoyed the movie while the rain and thunder roared outside.
I later had a job running the Simplex Projector with it's carbon ark lamps, at the Grand Theater in Oconto Falls. I worked one day and Emil Plane worked the other. The pay was $1.50 an hour. The job lasted until TV came along. Then Phill Vincent and his mother kept it running for quite a few years but the theaters in the other towns all shut down.
Then I used the old adage, if you can't beat them, join them. I found a job as photographer at the TV station that was starting up in Marinette, Wisconsin. WMBV Channel 11. The transmitter, with it's 750 foot tower, was north of Oconto.
BACK TO THE OCONTO COUNTY HOME PAGE