Echoes from Camden’s past

Believe it not, Camden was at one time the home to two popular movie theaters. Both strived to provide top-quality entertainment to the people of Camden and surrounding communities, and advertised their first-class entertainment regularly in the local papers.

The first to open was the Dover in the early 1900’s. Located in Camden’s Nonpareil Building on South Main Street, the theater charged a scant 5 cent admission and folks came from all over the county to see the big stars on the screen and stage.

So popular was the new theater that one family, the Moores, held their daughter’s wedding at the Dover. On May 17, 1915, June Moore married Ned Warner at an admission price of 10 cents—more expensive than a movie, for sure, but the heart-tugging appeal of loving nuptials had to be worth it, right?

The Dover underwent several renovations over the years including the 1916 installation of a motor-driven picture machine at a cost of $350. Until that time, movies were hand-cranked and sound was provided by an in-house musician. Oh, progress.

A few years later, the Dover would offer the first showing of an exciting new technology. On May 16, 1929, the Preble County News reported “Extra! Extra! The first sound and talking picture in the county at the Dover. Sunday and Monday!” This was the beginning of the modern day movie, and Camden was again at the forefront of entertainment innovations.

Another ground-breaking—or at least body-cooling—upgrade happened at the Dover in 1938 when a new cooling system was installed. With the comfort of their patrons foremost in their minds, owners installed air-conditioning in the theater and it had never been so “cool” to see a movie.

The Dover hosted more than movies over the years, though. During World War I, the documentary “Fighting in France” broke attendance records at the Dover. The sidewalks we crowded with people eager to attend one of the three showings and the movie was advertised as “6000 feet of official pictures of what’s being done on the front line.” Miss Ella Kelly provided information on the official French pictures included in the documentary during each of the three showings.

In 1936, a stage was built and Vaudeville entertainment became a weekly crowd pleaser. Ben Moss and Tommy Dunkelberger of “Try and Stump Us” fame, a well-known radio team on WSMK, appeared claiming to be able to play some 10,000 tunes from memory. At one performance, the duo offered a large floor lamp to anyone who could name a song that might “stump” the musical duo. We’re not sure if anyone took a lamp home, but we imagine many tried.

A particularly fascinating act at the Dover was “Kirma, the Internationally Known Mystic.” Kirma appeared in several shows at the Dover over one entire week—and the shows were packed! He started the week’s adventure by driving a Ford V-8 though the busy streets of Camden blindfolded. The Mystic began his sight-blocked route at the Dover Theater then proceeded to the Camden Motor Company, Walt’s café, Olive’s Salon, Caskey Grocery and the Camden Hardware Store. I think it’s fair to assume, no one attempted to block his way.

During one night’s performance, the Mystic placed a young lady into a 24-hour hypnotic sleep and placed her in the window of the Camden hardware store for all to observe. His subject remained in a deep sleep until he awakened her at the Dover Theater the next night to the oohs and ahhs of his audience.

A special “Ladies Matinee” was offered one evening, so that local women could ask those delicate questions they couldn’t ask in mixed company. We’re not sure what that means, exactly, but oh to have been a fly on the wall for THAT performance, huh?

The final show by the mystical Kirma was a midnight show focusing on spiritualism. An advertisement stated “the public will get to see the ghosts walk and spooks walk, and hear their uncanny voices.” And the brave, inquisitive crowd ate it up.

Camden’s second theater, the Majestic, opened in May 3, 1935 on North Main Street. The Dearths owned and operated the modern movie theater and provided first-run for 20 cent admission. Not to be out-done, the Majestic installed beautiful—and comfortable—upholstered seats just an hour before the showing of its first movie, “Kid Millions.”

Dover owners purchased the Majestic Theater in 1937, though, and well-known Camdenite, Orville Wood, managed both theaters for quite some time. Each theater offered something different and monthly programs were advertised to give the public plenty of time to plan attendance at either location.

High-quality entertainment continued with acts like Red and Zeke Turner of Midwest Hayride and WLWT fame, Jess Hilliard and his West Virginia Hillbillies, and even shows at which local bands and performers competed for prizes.

For many years, the two theaters gave the Preble County area all the excitement and adventure the entertainment industry had to offer, but the growth in television popularity caused the decline in patronage at both theaters. Serials that once were available only in local theaters played for free at home on the family television. The Dover closed its doors in 1950 and the Majestic soon followed. Until then, both theaters provided wonderful memories for so many—the opportunity to see top-notch movies like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” musical talent from all over the country, and the opportunity to ask an honest-to-goodness Mystic all their burning questions. You can’t beat that.

For more stories and photos detailing Camden’s first 200 years — its people, places, businesses and events — please visit us at our page.

By Donna Cross