The Emmitsburg Gem Theater
My first memories of the Emmitsburg Gem
Theater are when my sisters, Mary Theresa, Margaret and I were allowed
to go to the early show in the 1930's. It was just a short walk up West
Main Street to the theater. Most of the shows were the same as you find
on American Movie Classics on TV today.
I remember the Saturday double features
with a cartoon, newsreel, and even the serial running for 13 to 15
exciting reels that brought you back week after week. The Lone Ranger,
Buck Rodgers, and Gene Autry's Melody Ranch were some of the best.
The top movies of the day also played
at the Gem Theater. "Gone with the Wind" filled the seats with
every performance and the tickets were sold to the crowd on a first come
- first served basis. There was no crowd control or single line that
made it easy.
Another great memory was when my Uncle
Ernie Rosensteel, who was the projectionist, and I would get to go up to
the projection booth and see how the camera's worked. He kept busy
replacing the carbon rods used to light the movie so one would not go
out in the middle of the performance. At that time Regina Rybikowsky was
the ticket seller and I think it was a Mr. Bollinger that owned and
managed the theater.
It was a popular community attraction
in the 1930's thru the 1950's and many nights both showings were full.
As a special event for the kids at Christmas, there would be a free
movie that followed the candy & fruit give-a-way at the community
tree on the square. This was started in 1930 by the Lions Club and
continued through the years.
With the end of WW II and the coming of
the Drive-in Theater and TV in the early 1950's the movie business began
to drop off. The Gem Theater closed for a short time and reopened as the
MG Theater. This again closed due to lack of support in the mid fifties.
The Emmitsburg Junior Chamber of
Commerce was just getting started and was looking for projects to
promote interest and business in Emmitsburg. They contacted the Potomac
Edison Power Co. and asked them to review the local situation and make
suggestions for improvements. They talked about the empty storefronts,
the Library that was almost non-existent at the time and the closed
movie theater that made it hard for business to locate here.
I, as a
member of the Jaycees, along with John S. Hollinger, George Danner,
Ronald Kelly, Ernie Rosensteel and Mamie Kelly each put forth $40.00 to
start a pot to open the Theater by the late 1950's. This was enough to
get the lease of the building and equipment, insurance and the rental of
movies for the opening. From this time we went on a month-to-month
We used Ernie Rosensteel as our main
man with the information to make it happen. The rest of the operation
was done by the partners such as cleaning, advertising, taking tickets
and general upkeep. We hired Bill Rodgers to be the projectionist and
Hilda Deatherage to be the ticket cashier. We had a delivery man bring
and return our reels of film. We continued the Christmas
movie for the kids and on some special holidays, would make arrangements
for the cartoon characters from the theme park in Gettysburg, Pa. to
When Rock & Roll became a craze, we
had rock bands appear on the small stage in the front of the screen. It
caused the place to jump as many of the young people would get into the
aisle and dance to the music. One time Ernie and other managers had to
put jacks under the floor due to the jumping and dancing, so we would
not have an accident.
The theater continued to operate until
1964 and closed its doors for the last time due to slow business. One
thing that our families enjoyed was that the original investment was
well rewarded by having our family members enter at no cost. The
community got the benefit of a local theater for that number of years.
When the theater closed it became a
real estate office and later was turned into apartments. It was sad to
see it go, but like everything in life, there is change. A note that
should be made, Harner Bowling Alley closed within the next year or two
and left another void in our town. The library, with the help of the
Jaycees, got a refreshing start with new blood and to this day is an
important asset to the community.
Have your own memories of
the Gem Theater?
If so, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
other stories by Ed Houck
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