Cumberland Sunday Times-News, July 30, 1989; F2
Allegany County 200 Years
1789 ~ 1989
Alice C. Jones was Midland correspondent for the Times-News for over 30 years. She came to Midland as an infant in 1908 and resided there until her death in 1975. She and her husband, Joseph, also deceased, owned the Midland Opera House in the 1940s anad 1950s.
She was an enthusiastic storyteller and writer. Beginning with her seven children, she passed on countless vivid, colorful and sometimes unbelieveable childhood memories. Her wirtten recollections were a reaction to the early television era and the grudging acknowledgement that Midland's "boom" period was an ancient memory. All of her writing were passed on to her 15 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. The family wishes to share her memories with the public. The "Epitaph to a Majestic Building" was submitted by her son, J. Neil Jones of Midland and daughters, Jeanette Armstrong, Fort Ashby, W. Wa., and Elma Layman, Frostburg.
(Written in 1965 by Ms. Jones)
Epitaph to a majestic building
'Tis sad, so very, very sad! "Hearts and Flowers" should be playing on the old piano.
They're demolishing the Old Midland Opera House after over 75 years of operation. The wear and tear of the years deteriorated the building. It is a fire hazard. Town officials have ordered it torn down.
Only the happy memories remain of the silent movie days. We children didn't miss a chapter of "The Perils of Pauline," "The Clutching Hand," "The Violet Diamond," "Bride 13," and many other serials with gory titles.
In our memory yet is the excitement of the Midland Elementary and High School. We appeared on stage in crepe paper dresses trimmed with tinsel. We remember the backstage commotion. We waited for Jim Tighe to raise the many curtains for us. He was Tarzan-like. We children were in awe. St. Joseph's Parochial School, too, put on many plays which all of us attended. We're certain they, too, are sorry to lose this old landmark.
Over 50 years ago, Midland was a "boom town." Even our own children can't believe it when we talk about the mining operations in force here. There was Marshall's Department Store, a half dozen other stores, 18 saloons and two theatres. North, east, south and west, there were barracks to house the immigrants who had come from Europe to work in the coal mines. When they made enough money, they bettered themselves by moving to homes.
Saturday night was a big night in town for all. Even the stores stayed open until 10; most of the populace flocked to the Opera House or Cavanaugh's Theatre, which is now Johnny's Place.
In those days, the World War I period, there were parades nearly every week. There were temporary bandstands for Price Poland's Band. Midland had one of the best bands in these parts. We listened to so many speeches and waved the American flag so much, we still feel like doing the same when we hear of the trouble in the world today.
The Opera House and Theatre was on its second floor. It had a large stage with dressing rooms beneath. When it was new, it was said to be the second largest theatre in Maryland. It had a balcony, which we called the "Gallery." The captain's chairs, about 400, were movable. One can imagine the noise when we had to sit 10 or 15 minutes between reels while the projectionist threaded the nest reel.
During this time, Harry Ward, the owner-manager, went through the audience selling ice cream cones or hot roasted peanuts from his ground-floor restaurant. If the racket became too unbearable, his son, Joe, and daughter, Angela, went to the stage and while their sister Marguerite played the piano, they did an Irish jig much to our delight.
Sometimes, another lady, Ethel Davis, played the piano, and in the winter she wore a foxtail furpiece around her shoulders and as the mood of the pictures changed, the tails danced according to her tempo.
The Opera House also included a bowling alley, pool hall, and an annex off the theatre in which the churches held chicken and waffle suppers, sold fancy goods, etc. If we children didn't want the full-course meal, we bought the best bowl of homemade soup one ever ate for 10 cents. Who could have this much pleasure today for 20 cents?
Besides the movies and school and church activities, the Opera House featured traveling shows and medicine shows. We were bewildered when in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Little Eva, before our eyes, flew to Heaven with wings across the stage.
Also, "Ten Nights in a Bar-room" featured a little red-haired boy, dressed like a girl, singing "Father, Dear Father, Come Home With Me Now." Oh, it was sad!
The troupe stayed at the Bowen Hote. We would walk past just to get a glimpse of the glamourous "show folk."
The old expression, "Sold out again, Doc" originated in the medicine show of "Slim Jim and the Force." The medicine man peddled all kinds of elixirs and snake oil. As Slim told the audience about his "cure-alls", his helpers worked the audience selling the wonderful tonics, or at least pictures of Slim and his boys.
In late years, the "talkies" arrived. Our family of nine operated the theatre during two different periods. That's another story. Now, the passing of time is erasing everything but the memories of those good old days, and the old Opera House site, will remaining forever a monument in our hearts, as the last curtain goes down.
(Courtesy of John McGowan)