Off the Record September 10, 1949
The closing of the Wooster City Opera House as such has been bringing to this Wooster resident a flood of memories connected with the old City Opera House, and it recalled many of the shows and personalities as well as the noted men and women who have been there in the past. When this writer came to Wooster in 1898, George Kettler was local editor of this newspaper or rather its predecessor. The Wooster Daily Republican was also manager of the City Opera House. From said manager, we got free tickets to all the shows, the tickets being in exchange for publicity and in this manner, albeit the cash was somewhat light, we were able to attend without cost, any and all performances. It might be added that his writer was a liberal attendee. He saw them all, good, bad and indifferent, and some even George Kettler somewhat reluctantly admitted after the show had departed, was for the purpose of revenue only. There were in all some very noted actors and actresses who appeared here, as well as some noted vocalists. Among them were Madame Nordica, Madame Molba, Albert Spaulding, the great violinist, Evan Williams, the tenor, Frank Kennan and others of great renown. I will recollect, although the name of the show escapes me, the time “Cardinal Richelieu” was put on here and of the force the actor put into the lines where the soldiers of the king were seeking to arrest the heroine when he said, “Around her form I draw the solemn circle of our church. Upon that sacred ground, yea though he wear a crown, I will launch the curse of Rome.” And later to the edification of his audience, he recited the “Star Spangled Banner” in a very way that brought the audience to its feet. The Marine Band appeared here to a rather large audience and the famous John Philip Sousa and his band had a large hearing. I well remember how Sousa’s “Stars and Strips Forever” literally brought the audience to its feet. A little different was the reception to the ‘’Marcus Show.” There were some advertisements in the Daily Record, which did not strike the church going public with favor. In fact, it brought out a rather strenuous meeting at the mayor’s office the morning before the performance. W.H. Mills, who represented the congregational organization putting on the show, which consisted principally of girls, handsome and otherwise, was on hand before the performance, and he insisted on the management ordering the performers to put on some more clothes. Those who saw the show reported next day that it was very tame. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a good show that came here annually, generally with blood hounds. One ‘’Uncle Tom’’ was rather famous and he put more than ordinary pressure into the lines. “Masses owes this poor old body but Massa never can own my soul.” And sometimes Little Eva was literally transported into heaven right before our eyes. In the campaign of 1900, William Jennings Bryan appeared on the stage and it was between the acts, for there was a show in progress, which had been billed before the Great Commander had been secured for a stop at Wooster. I had a front seat, not necessary at the time because my hearing was much better than at present, but I recollect Mr. Bryan recognized the College of Wooster students in the audience when he said, “ I always am pleased to talk to students and I hope to keep in touch with the students of this country all the days of my life.”
Later on, Champ Clark, who was almost nominated in 1912 for the presidency, was a speaker here to a lecture audience. This Missourian was not in his very best form that night, and George Kettler had to assist him to the stage and help him to the very edge of the wings. But when he was started, Champ Clark delivered a fine lecture, although he afterward offered to refund his fee which was pretty considerable. My mind is not clear as to whether it was accepted or not, although such offerings usually were. Evan William sang as an encore, his favorite recorded song, “The Dream-Last Night I was Dreaming” in a manner that brought down the house and he then offered 100 for the identification of the person who said he had been intoxicated at a previous scheduled appearance in Wooster when he suddenly found his voice would not function.
The late senator Joseph Benson Foraker spoke here in 1899. He was greeted by his former classmate at Ohio Wesleyan, C.W. Kauek, then a resident here. It was along in one of these years that a celebration was held in the City Opera House over the election of M.A. Hanna to the Senate. Mr. Hanna barely squeezed through and his friends here thought they should celebrate and they did. Judge M.L. Smyser afterward Congressman, was the chief speaker. When invited to speak, Mr. Smyser said he would if he could make the first speech. All through the earlier years of this century when annual Jackson Day celebrations were held by the Democrats at a public meeting, which was usually followed by a banquet, the speaking took place in the City Opera House. High school commencements were held there invariably until the present high school auditorium was built. Until the Scott auditorium was completed, most of the college plays were given in the City Opera House. Bechtel and Merle Alcock, here for the summer, gave a closing performance before returning to New York. Eugene V Debs, long before his persecution and conviction while the late E.S. Wertz was district attorney, appeared on the lecture platform here. Debs was a socialist and he spoke to a crowded house. Most of the hearers however, were of different political belief, but they listened to him attentively. Minstrel shows appeared at the City Opera House at least annually preceded by a noon street parade. There were several home talent minstrel shows at which the late Walter Doc Kerr, imitator, that always played to a full house. The City Opera House and city had were built in 1888. As I recall it, the bond issue was for 88,000, although it may have been less, the building was not as expensive then as it is now. And there were those Doubting Thomases who smirked around even then with the accusation that somebody was getting something out of it. The original bonds made no provision for repayment and simply provided for the interest. Clyde Moody, a member of the sinking fund commission for a number of years, recalls the bonds when they became due were refunded at a rate somewhat considerably lower than six per cent with provisions for retiring the principal. The peak of the payment, Mr. Moody recalls, came along in 1932 and 1933 when the depression was in its most serious stages. By the closing of the building as a theatre, they will be relieved of payment after the first of this September. Mayor Killrn, in talking of the matter with the writer, stated that the agreement by the Schines to close a certain number of Ohio theatres, would have made impossible the renewal of the lease after the end of the present year. The building showed a certain pronounced drop in the roof and a bulge at the side, which has probably been there for a long time and had been undetected. Assistant City Engineer Hollopeter says there is evidence the weakness in the big beam was noted previously, for there have been repairs made which are quite visible. An architect is to come to Wooster on Monday to see what if anything can be done to remedy the situation. Mayor Hillen, showing this writer about the place, declared he wants it distinctly understood that he is against any bond issue at the present time for the purpose of rebuilding or changing the structure. Members of council have expressed themselves the same way. What we are fearful of is that heavy snows of winter might cause the roof to cave in and expose the council chamber and the city offices making it necessary to abandon almost the entire building. That is the reason for bringing the architect to see what might be done. At any rate, it is apparent that the Wooster City Opera House, the center of activities for half a century and more, has seen the last days as an opera house. Dust has gathered on the seats and even the echoes of the great and the near great can be heard there no more.