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The Emmitsburg Gem Theater

Ed Houck

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 lease.

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 appear.

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 history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ed Houck

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