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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Century of Service - The Story of the Hippodrome, Colony, and Peoples Bank Theatre

Peoples Bank Theatre in Marietta, Ohio, was born as the New Hippodrome Theater 100 years ago in May of 1919. It was renamed the Colony Theater in 1949, then closed in 1985. In 2016, it began a new life as the beautifully restored Peoples Bank Theatre which continues the tradition of top quality entertainment for Marietta. Congratulations to all who helped make this wonderful restoration of the theater and of world class entertainment possible.

Peoples Bank Theatre interior. Image from Peoples Bank Theater

Construction was begun in 1918 by C & M Amusements to replace the original Hippodrome Theater located near Union Street which burned in 1917. The New Hippodrome Theater, as it was known at first, was a truly a first class facility. It was built to the recently adopted strict code Ohio building laws with fireproof materials and many emergency exits. The theater could be evacuated in an emergency within two minutes. 

There were 1200 seats, a large vaudeville stage which could also accommodate Broadway-size productions at the time, a 50 foot fly loft for scenery and lights, many dressing rooms, a chorus girl dressing room under the stage, plush carpeting, perfect sight lines, good acoustics, a booming "echo" theater pipe organ. A large boiler provided steam heat in winter. An innovative deep well system circulated cold water for then state-of-the-art air conditioning.

The "Hipp" began eight years before "talking" pictures. Most of the early fare included vaudeville acts, Broadway plays, and silent movies with music from the organ and the five piece Hippodrome Orchestra. The theater opening on May 2, 1919 featured Mary Pickford in "Daddy Long Legs." It was released to C&M Amusements two weeks early to attract interest in the theater opening.

The Hipp was updated in 1928 with audio equipment for "talking" movies. It continued with movies, plays, and local productions. Actor Boris Karloff starred in a live stage production in the 1943. Someone recalled that an elephant walked on stage as part of a circus act, but I can't verify that. Country western star Tex Ritter walked across the stage on his horse in the early 1950's.

Boris Karloff ad courtesy of Peoples Bank Theatre

Blues singer Mamie Smith gave her first of nine concerts at the Hipp on Feb. 23-25, 1933. Born in Cincinnati, Smith made history thirteen years earlier in 1920 with the recording of "Crazy Blues," considered to be the first blues vocal recording and the first blues hit, selling more than 1 million copies in less than a year. Although her style was more vaudeville and cabaret than straight blues, she nevertheless was an important pioneering artist, paving the way for great female blues artists such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.

Mamie Smith ad and photo courtesy Peoples Bank Theatre

Productions by local talent included minstrel shows and school plays. My Uncle, Dan F. Baker, recalled memories of the Hippodrome Theater. Walter Baker (Dan’s father and owner of Baker & Baker Jewelers) performed with members of Kiwanis Club in a Minstrel show. He was playing a woman and had to find size 9 high heeled shoes. He found the shoes at Kesterman Shoes then located next to Baker & Baker Jewelers store on Front Street.

Dan himself performed with former Procter and Gamble CEO Ed Harness in "Emperor Who Had No Clothes." Dan - 9 years old at the time and an accomplished vocalist (was invited to join the Vienna Boys Choir) - was a character in a singing role with a single spoken line. He also played the little lame boy in the "Pied Piper of Hamlin," played the little lame boy. He performed in operettas "South in Sonora," and "Pirates of Penzance."

My father, W. Norman Baker appears in one of the few stage photos from the Hipp early era, below. It featured him (third from left) and his brother Dan (far right). An article from the Marietta High School paper "The Original" in 1938 mentions the play, "Applesauce."

Photo provided by Peoples Bank Theatre, donated by W. Norman Baker

Image from W. Norman Baker family

The images below include three advertisements, one for a movie, one for a live performance, and another for an unusual game of chance to win tickets to the Hipp.

Movie ad from 1946. Notice caption at bottom: "First Showing of the Fox Movietone Shot of the Christening of the Pioneer, Marietta College's Floating Dormitory." This was national news coverage for Marietta College's unique housing solution to the post-war GI enrollment surge. Image provided by Peoples Bank Theatre.

Bradley Kincaid, "The Mountain Boy," was a WLW Radio Cincinnati recording star who performed at the Hipp. Image from Peoples Bank Theatre.

Ad for weekly "Game of Chance" which gave away a total of 25 tickets to the Hipp to winners of the guessing game. Can you decipher this and figure out how the contest worked? Ad image from Peoples Bank Theatre

The New Hippodrome Theater disappeared, as it were, after the theater was sold to Shea Theatre Company in the late 1940's. It was extensively remodeled and re-opened in 1949 as the Colony Theater. There was a contest for submission of names for the remodeled theater. Mariettan Jack Lowe suggested the "Colony Theater" name. It was chosen for the reference to Marietta's history, and "quality, brevity, and clarity." Lowe won the prize of $25.00 (about $250 in today's dollars). 

The biggest event in the theater's history was the 1957 premier of the movie "Battle Hymn" which chronicled the heroic actions of Marietta native Colonel Dean Hess during the Korean War. The movie featured then mega-star and teen heart throb Rock Hudson. There were parades, Hollywood dignitaries, and appearances by other actors in the movie. 

The Colony featured first run movies and other variety acts, including local talent, Handel's Messiah performances, country and rock acts. St. Mary Catholic Church held services there in the early 1970's while the church was renovated.

But, alas, the theater attendance waned in the late 1970’s. The Theater changed hands several times. It was owned in the latter years by Marjorie Bee who heroically tried to keep the theater alive with second run movies, occasional concerts, and local events. Concerts included country artist Ernest Tubbs, The Ohio State Jazz Band, and the Buckeye Travelers country music entertainers. For some time she operated the theater without phones, heat, or advertising to save money. A sign at the theater entrance told patrons to bring blankets during cold weather. 

Dr. H. Dean Cummings, retired professor of music at Marietta College, recalled performances of Handel’s Messiah at the Colony Theater in the mid-1980s. The heating system was woefully inadequate. Musicians and attendees wore coats; space heaters were used in the orchestra string section. In another Messiah performance, escaping sewer gas left many participants feeling queasy

The theater closed for good in 1985 and was later purchased by local businessman Dan Stephan. It was through his vision and persistence that a campaign to restore the theater began. It culminated with the grand opening in January of 2016. Today, the Peoples Bank Theatre is again a vital cultural and entertainment asset to Marietta.  

Friday, April 5, 2019

Ephraim Cutler Dawes: A Wounded Soldier's Journey Home

They called it the "War of Rebellion." The Civil War. Southerners used the understated phrase “The Recent Unpleasantness," as though the war never happened. Over 700,000 perished in the War from combat and illness. At least that many more were wounded - often with disabling injuries. The poignant experiences of courage, injury, illness, and death changed countless lives forever. This is the story of a wounded Union officer of the 53rd Ohio Voluntary Infantry from Marietta. He should have died but beat the odds with luck, heroic care, and determination.

Ephraim Cutler Dawes 1863 photo from Wikipedia

Lieutenant-Colonel Ephraim Cutler Dawes was a grandson of his namesake, Ephraim Cutler, an early Marietta civic leader. Dawes and his brother Rufus R. Dawes enlisted early, both passionate about the Union cause. Ephraim tells the story of the harrowing wound experience in his own words as published in his brother's publication: Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers:

"I was shot at Dallas, Georgia, two weeks ago to-day. We were in rifle pits. The rebels charged us. We gave them an awful licking. The bullet struck the left side of my lower jaw, and the surgeons say, 'carried away the body of the inferior maxilla to the near angle.' It took off my lower lip, tore the chin so that it hangs down, took out all the lower teeth but two....It is a horrible looking wound and will disfigure me, but the doctors say they can fix up a face for me....I was also hit in the back of the head."

"I was shot late in the afternoon of May twenty-eight and remained in the field hospitals until May thirtieth. A wagon train was (to be) sent under strong escort to the railroad at Kingston. The surgeons advised me to go in this train. They said that if I remained around the hospital the chances were that I would contract gangrene or erysipelas and die, and that I should get home as soon as possible. My old friend Haydn K. Smith volunteered to go to Nashville with me. I could hardly have got along without him. My colored servant, Wesley Benson, accompanied me. He was a faithful and competent young man but he could not read writing and I could not talk.

...I got into one of the wagons and sat on a bag of corn. The different surgeons bid me good bye....The road was very rough...My wound was much inflamed and my tongue so swollen that it was almost impossible to swallow. The misery of that night’s ride was indescribable. 

Early next morning Major Patrick Flynn, of the nineteenth Illinois,...put me in (an) ambulance (wagon)....the day was very hot the road was very dusty.  About noon we crossed the Etowah river. Near the end of the bridge was a house. One of the women (at the house) brought out a great yellow bowl filled with buttermilk...I was weak with hunger, faint from loss of blood, and burning with thirst. I crammed the bowl into my mouth with both hands, despite the awful pain, and drank nearly the whole of the buttermilk. It revived me at once. 

Front View
The "Moses" Ambulance Wagon, similar to what may been used to transport Major Dawes.
Descriptions and images from
 The ambulance is entered by two steps in the rear, contains seats for eighteen persons--fourteen inside and four on the front seat. By raising the flaps of the inside seats and supporting them by the uprights attached, and removing the cushions from the backs of the permanent seats, a bed is arranged which will accommodate one, two, or, on an emergency, three men lying down. With one man in a recumbent position, room for twelve men seated remains; with two men lying down, room for eight, and with three men lying down, room for six remains. 

Rear View

...The train reached Kingston (GA) between five and six o’clock. There seemed to be no adequate preparation for the wounded. But agents of the Sanitary Commission...took possession of a house (to care for the wounded). Mrs. Bickerdyke and Mrs. Johnson were in charge. I camped in a corner of the porch....One of the women brought me a bowl of soup. I took off my bandage to drink it. She look at me, burst into tears, and ran away. An old gray surgeon came in to dress the wound. At the sight of it he turned very white and went away. I went out myself to find a surgeon. Fortunately, my good friend, Dr. Edwards,....met me in the yard. He spent an hour dressing my wound and gave Wesley full and careful instruction how to care for it; that night I slept well. 

Seal of the United States Sanitary Commission, 
founded in 1861 as the American Civil War began. Its purpose was to promote clean and healthy conditions in the Union Army camps. The Sanitary Commission staffed field hospitals, raised money, provided supplies, and worked to educate the military and government on matters of health and sanitation.

Nurses and officers of the U.S. Sanitary Commission at Fredericksburg VA. Picture taken in May of 1864. Courtesy Library of Congress

Next day, June 1st, a train of empty freight cars backed down in front of the house.....all the wounded who were able to walk were to go Chattanooga on that train. Many were badly wounded, but all were in high spirits... The train reached Dalton at dusk. I....walked along the platform to a car where there was more room. It was occupied by a dying officer,....Lt. George Covington, adjutant of the Seventeenth Indiana Regiment. He died before the train left Dalton. (A) surgeon seeing that I was badly wounded and very weak, gave me some stimulant and put me on Covington’s cot... 

I went to sleep, but at Ringgold, woke with a start to find my bandages drenched with blood from some small arteries under the tongue, which had sloughed away. I stopped it by cramming a towel under my tongue...About midnight the train reached Chattanooga. There was no one at the depot to tell us where to go. I saw the row of hospitals on the hill and started toward them. A guard cried: ‘Halt!’, ‘Halt!,’ but I did not care whether he shot me or not, and pushing past him, opened the door of the nearest building, which was the officers’ ward. The nurse on duty was a wounded soldier. He knew exactly what to do, dressed my wound carefully, fixed a cot so that I could rest comfortably, and I slept until the surgeon came around in the morning.

...Mr. Smith...secured a pass for me to Nashville. The train left at three P.M., June 2nd. This railroad ride was the most trying experience of all. My wound was sloughing freely, my tongue was very much swollen and it was almost black....At Nashville I was taken to the officers’ hospital. Under the efficient care of Dr. J. H. Green,...I improved rapidly,....and was able to leave for home June 6th.” 

Dawes was given a discharge on October. On March 13, 1865, he was breveted (promotion to a higher rank based on outstanding service) to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel for his "gallant and meritorious service."

Lt. Colonel Dawes was fortunate to have his jaw and lip reconstructed by Dr. George C. Blackman. An account from New England Families Genealogical and Memorial (see below) describes the reconstruction: "By an intricate and delicate surgical operation, one of the most celebrated of its class performed during the war, a lower lip was made for him by material taken from his cheek, and the point of his jaw replaced by an artificial one." 

Recovery was slow, but he learned to speak again. He was in constant pain for the rest of his life. He grew a full beard to disguise the scars. Despite all of this, Dawes became a successful businessman, managing multiple rail lines and a coal company.

Dawes compiled a war library of documents, histories, and related information about the war. He authored several publications. Literary work became a favorite avocation for the rest of his life. 

Author John K. Duke, said about Ephraim Cutler Dawes:
"His own words written on the death of Generals Sherman and Hayes fittingly apply equally to himself:
'It is by the lives of such men as these that future generations may estimate the priceless treasure committed to their charge; for, if liberty is worth what liberty has cost, no words may express its value.' "

He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta. 

Major Ephraim Cutler Dawes wore this navy wool double-breasted frock coat with brass buttons on the day that he was shot in the jaw at the Battle of Dallas, Georgia in 1864. From Ohio History Connection:


Cutter, William Richard, A.M., Editor, New England Families Genealogical and Memorial, Volume II, New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1913.

Dawes, Rufus R., Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, E. R. Alderman, 1890

Duke, John K., History of the Fifty-Third Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry During the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865, Portsmouth, Ohio, The Blade Printing Company, 1900.

Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, Vol IV, “Sketches of Life Members,”  Columbus, Ohio, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, 1895, page 457., “Ephraim Cutler Dawes.”