Claremore’s First Views of Moving Picture Magic

Claremore’s First Views of Moving Picture Magic

By Christa Rice, Claremore History Explorer

What was the first moving picture theater in Claremore? This is a tricky question. Historians are wary of tagging any event or landmark as “the first” since someone else will inevitably appear with an earlier example and prove them wrong. The answer to the “first moving picture theater in Claremore” question also depends on one’s definition of movie theater.

In February 1904, The Claremore Progress announced, “One of the best entertainments of the season will take place at the (Windsor) opera house tonight. Prof. Henry’s Electric Theatre and Edison’s latest moving pictures will be the attraction” (Claremore Progress,2-13-1904). In 1904, the mystique of Thomas Edison’s unique “movies,” short lengths of “film” that lasted for only several minutes, drew curious crowds due to their sensational novelty.

The introduction of the moving picture phenomenon into Claremore, Indian Territory, in the early 1900s opened an entirely new venue of entertainment, even adding new vocabulary to the local language. Moving pictures (pictures projected onto a viewing screen in rapid succession simulating motion), nickelodeon (a movie venue so named for its five-cent admission charge), theatorium (a moving picture venue), theatre (a fancy spelling of theater), and illustrated songs (glass lantern picture slides projected onto a screen accompanied by vocal music) soon became common-placed household words and phrases. Of course, this decade was called the silent movie era since “talkies,” movies with integrated sound, had not yet been invented.

“A moving picture show in the Elk (Hotel) block is drawing large crowds every evening,” The Claremore Messenger enthusiastically reported, in June 1907 (CM,6-21-1907). A one-story, framed building on the east side of J.M. Davis Boulevard, midway between Will Rogers Boulevard and 4th Street, labeled a “Theatorium,” is noted on Claremore’s 1907, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. Could this Theatorium be the first movie house in Claremore?

“A new five and ten-cent ‘theatorium’” opened in Claremore in September 1907. O.A. Neis, who owned and maintained the theatorium, outfitted the business “very conveniently and has the best of machinery for the purpose. The pictures will be changed three times a week. The new establishment opened today and will be open every afternoon and evening, and is to be a permanent affair” (CM,9-20-1907). Mr. Neis named his theatorium the Mystic Theatre. By October 1907, The Claremore Messenger advertised,“Good music and much fun at the Mystic Theatre” (CM,10-11-1907).

Yet the Mystic Theatre was not solely reserved for moving picture shows and illustrated songs. Vaudeville, a combination of live song, dance, comedy, and a variety of other acts had also taken center stage.  “The little Mystic Theatre, on Third street, is getting its part of the patronage. Mr. Neis is trying very hard to get attractions to please his patrons, and the continued good attendance shows how well he does it. Last week in addition to regulation performance of moving pictures and illustrated songs a fine show of the Passion Play was given for three nights, then came a celebrated family of acrobats and contortionists who showed for three nights, giving satisfaction” (CM,12-6-1907).

Sadly, in December 1907, the Mystic Theatre took a final bow, “folded its tent,” and went out of business. “This little theatorium has been… conducted in a most commendable manner by Mr. Neis and family. We do not know where they are going from here, but the people of the town they do go to can rest assured they will receive good treatment at the hands of the show” (CM,12-13-907).

So the question still stands. What was Claremore’s first movie house?Perhaps, one of Claremore’s earliest was O.A. Neis’s Mystic Theatre.

By Christa Rice, Claremore History Explorer

This story was published in the Claremore Progress Weekend Edition, September 2022.

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