Historic Columbus Indiana
The Crump Theatre, Columbus Indiana
Exact origins of Crump's Opera Hall/Theatre are debated among certain circles at this point in time, with both "Opera Hall and Theatre" lumped into one generalized category. Checking different sites on the internet, you'll find some say the Crump began its operations in 1874. Where this date originated, I am uncertain. The date is definitely not right.
If you want to get down to those proverbial brass tacks, it all depends on whether you are talking about "Crump's Opera Hall," or "J. S. Crump's New Theatre."
In 1872, Francis J. Crump (John Crump's father), contracted for a "new" Opera Hall to be built. The building was located on the northeast corner of Washington Street.
"The street floor of Crump's new building is being rapidly fitted up. One room is already occupied by a provisional store," the Republican reported on Thursday, May 23, 1872.
Although it is unknown at this point in time who Francis contracted to build the Opera Hall, once the structure was in place, he hired Hege, Mathes & Company to finish the woodwork. The month was July and it was hoped the new hall would be open by September. September came and went, and on October 26, 1872, the Republican reported: "Crump's new Opera Hall is just about completed. Its appearance has been much improved by the beautiful frescoing of the ceiling. Mr. Reynolds, the artist, and his assistant have done their work in a manner that reflects much credit on themselves. Columbus has now a hall of which none of her citizens need be ashamed, though, it is much regretted that Mr. Crump did not build it a little more in the style of an opera house."
On October 31, 1872, the Republican reported: "The Columbus Dramatic Club propose giving an entertainment on Wednesday evening, November 6, at Crump's New Opera Hall. 'The Robber Wife' and 'Slasher and Crasher' will be represented." There was another article in the paper concerning the performance given on Monday, October 28, 1872, by White and Turner's troupe, the very first performance at the place on that grand opening day.
Crump's Opera Hall was located on the northeast corner of 4th and Washington Streets. In Will Marsh's book, I Discover Columbus, he speaks of Crump's Opera Hall being on the corner of 4th and Washington, then in another sentence, he says it was just above the corner. Luckily, the exact location has been verified by an ad in the Republican, 1972, for J. B. Cobb's Books and Stationery.
Francis J. Crump's Opera Hall burned at some point during the latter part of the 1800's, destroying the 2nd and 3rd floors. Francis Crump elected not to reopen his Opera Hall.
In The Republic book Steps Through Time and the 2003 History Of Bartholomew County, published by the Bartholomew County Historical Society, the above picture is identified as the Crump Theatre on 3rd Street. However, after much discussion on the Historic Columbus Indiana Message Board, it has been determined that this Crump building was located on Washington Street, across from the Courthouse and would be the future home of A. Tross. At this point in time, it still remains uncertain as to what this business was. It is also uncertain what year this picture was taken
1889 was the year work was finalized on what we now call the Crump Theatre, but it was a very different looking Theatre from the one most one-time Columbus residents are familiar with.
Here is a series of odds and ends taken from the Republican from 1889:
Tuesday, July 2, 1889: Mr. Gottschalk has gone to Chicago tonight on business. While there, he will look into the matter of securing a company to give the opening performance at Crump's new theatre here. A number of talented dramatic companies have been negotiating with Mr. Gottschalk for the opening event, but it is his desire to begin the season with an opera company...
Tuesday, July 2, 1889: One or two bricklayers working on Crump's theatre building yesterday succumbed to the severe heat, and were compelled to quit work. If a sufficient number of tenders can be secured, all the brick work of the building will be completed this week...
Monday, July 8, 1889: The new opera house building will soon be under roof. The timbers used in the construction of the building are exceedingly strong, making the structure substantial in every particular...
Thursday, August 1, 1889: Ken Newsom came near meeting with a severe accident at the new opera house building yesterday. He was coming out of the new building through the main entrance when his foot became caught in some timbers, and he was thrown to the floor with considerable force, alighting on one arm, which was somewhat injured but not broken...
Tuesday, October 29, 1889: Crump's Theatre Those who are fortunate enough to be included in the dedicatory audience tomorrow night have a dazzling surprise in store for them as to the internal arrangements of the new theatre. Passing through the massive archway that forms the main entrance to the theatre, the visitor finds himself in a spacious and well lighted vestibule, the ceiling and walls of which are decorated in dull tones and gold relief work, treated in strict harmony with the decorations in general, and is of the Romanesque style. To the right and left rise, the commodious staircases leading to the balcony, under which, in the lobby, is located an inglenook. The box office, with large sliding window, and an art window to either side, is located on the right side. At the end of the lobby, the entrance to the auditorium is reached, and the charming and graceful order of architecture and decoration, which prevails throughout the auditorium asserts itself at once. The designs for the entire decorative work are composite productions from modern temples of dramatic art. The carpet for the boxes, parquet and aisles were furnished by L. Lehman, and are in perfect keeping with the remainder of the decorations. The chairs in the lower part of the house are a rich red plush back, with perforated mahogony seats, and in the remainder of the house, of perforated cherry, back and seats, all on the latest improved automatic iron frames. The balcony projects over the orchestra circle, the ceiling of which is like that of a room elegantly decorated with graceful design in pink and gold. The massive proscenium arch of thirty feet opening is richly ornamented with relief work siennas and gold. The rails of the proscenium boxes, fashion boxes and balcony are of red plush, and their rich color constitutes a pleasing relief to the delicate tints that prevail throughout the auditorium. From the top of the immense proscenium arch rises the ceiling by a succession of graceful coves extending across the house, following the line of vision to the back seats of the gallery. The entire ceiling is divided into panels, separated by ornamental bands of plastic relief. The decoration of the ceiling, like that of the entire house, is outlined in gold relief. Perhaps the handsomest feature of the auditorium are the angular pagodas that form the proscenium boxes and stand out in graceful symmetry, giving an uninterrupted view of the stage and adding greatly to the elegance of the interior. The proscenium boxes, of which there are two on either side, one above the other, are elaborately ornamented and hung with draperies of rich silk colorings, with flowing fringes and heavy brocatelle portieres. To the right and left, adjoining the proscenium boxes, are four elegantly fitted fashion boxes, two on each side. The balcony has five rows of automatic folding chairs, back of which large and commodious settees ascent at an angle in the line of vision to the top of the gallery, offering and unobstructed view of the stage from any position. The balcony is provided with two large exits by broad stairways, leading into the spacious lobby below. All the exits leading from the auditorium are furnished with paneled doors opening outward, either directly to the level of the street or to spacious stairways. With the abundant precautions taken in the way of reels of hose hung in available spaces, the absence of combustible material and the great number of exits, nothing but an absolute panic can prevent the audience from leaving the house with perfect safety and comfort in two minutes. Every door in the vast auditorium is an exit. Absolute harmony in every detail of ornamentation and coloring pervades the interior of the building, and the decorations, executed by Messrs. Charles Green, George Beckman, T. B. Denham, and Charles Gilbert, are artistically beautiful and correct in design, the charming scheme of color extending to the rich curtain, which is in perfect harmony with the decorations. The stage of Crump's theatre is in perfect keeping with the magnificent auditorium and is furnished with every available device and improvement necessary to insure realistic presentations. Messrs. Sosman and Landis, the celebrated scenic artists of Chicago, have furnished a large and most comprehensive stock of scenery, which can be made into over 30 complete and beautiful stage pictures, The drop curtain represents a scene in Palermo, a beautiful and appropriate picture of life in Sicily, which also is in complete harmony with decorations of the theater and was painted by the eminent artist, Thomas G. Moses. The handling of the color, with the brilliant effect of a southern sun, a clear blue sky and the rich coloring of the dresses of the wanderers and the lazy native, present a charming picture which is beautifully framed by an artistic arrangement of heavy silk and plush drapery of rich though somber colors. The steps and floor on which the pictures rests are partly covered with heavy oriental rugs. the tormentors and draperies are in plush and silk, and for concert and lecture purposes, there is a modern fancy chamber in the prevailing composite decoration, with pale blue and gold walls, and an antique oak interior in the Romanesque order of architecture. The working sets comprise a full line of palace drops, a Norman armor gothic with brilliant light effects. French interior of Louis XIV, Roman interior, rustic kitchen, prision, plain interior, garret with ceiling and skylight, dark wood scenes, ancient street, modern street, cottage flats, snow landscape, village landscape, moonlight castle, light wood landscape, mountain pass, ocean scene and horizon, set houses and cottages, and a very large list of battlements and garden walls, wharf pieces, village sets, trees, balustrades, vases, tents, cottages, huts, bridges, etc. The stage measures 30 feet by 60 feet, by 42 feet. The stage machinery has been put in under the supervision of Mr. C. S. King of Chicago, in which he was assisted by Mr. Walter Doup, who is a stage machinist with a thorough knowledge of the business, and who will have charge of this department of the theater. There are Hamlet, star and vampire traps, and every contrivance that is known to modern stage mechanism. Altogether, the scenic investure of the stage of Crump's Theater will not be surpassed by that of any other stage in the country...
October 29, 1889, Republican, advertisement for J. S. Crump's New Theatre
J. S. Crump's "New" Theatre can be seen on the left-hand side of this picture. Date of this picture is unknown
J. S. Crump's "New" Theatre, and how it originally looked when first built. This picture appears on a postcard, and was taken sometime after 1893, as the Crump trolley car shown is electrified. When John S. Crump built Columbus' first street car line, all the trolley cars were pulled by horses. All cars were electrified in 1893
Those first Crump Theatre Programmes handed out to the audience on opening night, Tuesday, October 30, 1889, were perfumed with "Marvel of Peru" perfumery by Theo E. Otto, a local druggist.
According to the newspaper accounts of the day, opening night at Crump's Theatre was a smash...
An early Crump Theatre Programme (possibly), advertising the Theatre
An early photo of the stage setting at the Crump Theatre, date unknown
This stage setting was for a Scientist lecture at the Theatre, dated March 8, 1908
New questions regarding J. S. Crump's 3rd Street Theatre have recently been brought to light. In August, 2009, Bob Records, one time Columbus resident who now lives out of state, uncovered some of the earliest pictures of Columbus ever taken. In fact, the four Columbus pictures Bob found on the New York Public Library website may be the earliest pictures ever taken of Columbus. The one which has reopened this writing of the history of the Crump Theatre is below:
The picture above has been cropped from the original stereoscopy image. Stereocopy image by Julius. T. Schaub, Hope Indiana
This picture is interesting in the fact that it's not the women that's so intriguing here, but the building on the right with LIQUOR painted on its top side.
It's the Crump Theatre building. The picture was taken circa 1874. 15 years before Crump had the Theatre built.
When reading through those early accounts I listed above, and running across phrases such as Crump's new theatre...new opera house building will soon be under roof...coming out of the new building through the main entrance...it most likely would make one think that that Crump's Theatre was built from scratch...from the ground up.
Well...it was...except that new Theatre building they wrote so fondly of in the Republican was built onto the back of that existing three arched building facing 3rd Street.
Here are two Sanborn Insurance Maps, the first from 1886, 3 years before Crump's Theatre was opened, and the second is from 1890, a year after the opening of Crump's:
1886 Sanborn Map. The top left quadrant is the area of interest
1890 Sanborn Insurance Map denoting the true location of Crump's Theatre
That beautiful three arched building that looked so much like it was designed specifically as an Opera House or Theatre existed many years prior to Crump's opening. And that's where the questions begin. When was this building built, and by whom? Harry McCawley, Bartholomew County Historian and Associate Editor for The Republic, notes that this building is where The Republic got its start. The building was known as Keith's Arcade and the paper was known back then as the Republican. Its first press run was April 4, 1872. The Republican's offices were in rooms 4 and 5.
Charles Sparrell built the Crump Theatre (the back part denoted on the 1890 Sanborn map), and renovated the existing building as well. The print shop, shown on the 1886 map, became the entranceway to the Theatre and the words,. J. S. Crump's New Theatre were also bricked in and added to the front and within the 3 arches.
The earliest reference so far to this building can be found in the 1879 Atlas of Bartholomew County. It shows the same Crump area being occupied by Keith's Arcade, Job Printing, and offices for the Columbian, an early Columbus newspaper. The 3 arched building was built by Isham Keith or his son, John Keith. Early accounts state they also had a theater inside Keith's Arcade. But the date the building was built remains a mystery at the moment...
A 1913 theatre going crowd saw the popularity of vaudeville acts visiting the local theatre, and on May 6, 1914, the Theatre was witnesses to something rather new that was sweeping the entire country: The moving picture. Scenes of the Panama Canal, which was completed on August 15, 1914, were assembled in a news reel type format. Some note that this was the first "movie" shown at the Crump, but there has been speculation regarding this statement.
In 1920, two years after John Crump's death, the Crump Theatre was closed for several months for renovations. Times were changing. Traveling road shows were on the decline, and moving pictures on the increase. The Theater, however, could still accommodate both.
On Sunday, October 3, 1920, the Theatre was reopened and the general public invited to come at no charge and see the improvements. No movie was shown, but orchestra music filled the place on this opening day. New, more comfortable chairs, and a mezzanine floor had been added. The place was made more spacious through the renovation, and also allowed for dancing. The six boxes. three on each side of the interior, remained. According to newspaper accounts, they quoted the seating capacity of the Theatre at "more than 2,000." Overall cost for this renovation was around $50,000.
Another very important aspect of this renovation was the dramatic change of the exterior. The original 3 arches were removed, and a stucco front was added during the 1920 remodel. The Crump at that time more or less resembled the way it looks today, minus the glass vitrolite front, which would be added during the remodel of 1941. I have not been able to locate any pictures of the exterior of the Crump noting these changes.
An interior look at the Crump Theatre. Notice the orchestra sitting up front. By looks of the dress, I'd place this picture sometime in the early 1900's, I'm wondering if it was taken before the 2nd renovation in 1920.
History Of The Crump Theatre, Part 2
In 1931, the Crump Theatre was sold to Louis E. Holwager of Madison, Indiana. C. E. Rogers, who had managed the theatre from 1907 to 1925 and was involved in a complete renovation of the interior in 1920, had departed for a brief period of time, and once again resumed his management position in 1933. The Crump was now under lease to F. J. Rembusch Enterprises, of Shelbyville, Indiana.
What had started out as J. S. Crump's dream of bringing a swank opera house to a small town, with live stage shows, and musical acts, had taken an entirely different direction with the advent of the moving picture. The remodel in 1920 was to accommodate this new form of entertainment.
With the purchase of the theatre, the new owners had plans to modernize. Plans entailed a complete renovation of the exterior, adding a marquee and colored glass front on the Third Street side (as we know the building today). They wanted to replace the existing front canopy of the building with lights, a vitrolite front running to the sidewalk, and an area to display the theatre name as well as coming attractions. While the original 3 arched front was done away with during the remodel in 1920, and the building taking on a stucco front, the vitrolite front was added (by all indications at this point) during the renovation in 1941.
But the most drastic change in the works was the renaming of the theatre.
A contest was announced in the Evening Republican on Tuesday, November 6, 1934 to change the name. Twenty-five dollars would be awarded as the grand prize for the name selected, a fifteen dollar prize for the second best name, and two prizes of five dollars each for the third and fourth runners-up.
The renaming the the Theatre was to become a very controversial subject.
"The protest against changing the name of the Crump theatre was quite interesting to me. In reviewing the civic enterprises of our pioneer citizens, it seems to me that John S. Crump did more for Columbus to take it out of the village class and make it a little city, than any other one man. Many years ago, Mr. Crump built a hotel that was a big hotel for the size of Columbus; he gave us quite a swanky opera house for the times, and he was responsible for our street car lines. I'm not sure of it, but I think he also built the first light plant. Considering these things Mr. Crump did for Columbus, it is nice to note that the people are conscious of his service to the community, and would like to have his name perpetuated through our really fine moving picture theater."* *Have You Noticed? Evening Republican, November 12, 1934
Ads appeared in the Evening Repubican in the days to follow, announcing the contest.
From the Evening Republican, November 12, 1934
On Thursday, November 15, 1934, an ad in the Evening Republican announced that the new name for the Crump Theatre would be announced at 8:45 pm on Friday night, November 16th, at the theatre. The panel of decision-makers included Mr. Rogers, manager, Truman Rembusch, and L. E. Holwager, owner. According to Mr. Rogers, hundreds of names had been suggested to replace J. S. Crump's name.
Friday's paper also included an ad stating the winners would be announced that evening, plus a special showing of "Hideout," featuring Robert Montgomery, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edward Arnold, and Elizabeth Patterson, which was originally booked for Sunday and "is a wonderful picture." It is unknown how many people turned out that night for this event, and I can only assume that it was standing room only inside the theatre.
Saturday's paper came with the following: "As this is being written I have incomplete news of the theater name contest. A great many of us want the name to remain "Crump's." It means something to us. If it is changed, however, Tom Elrod's suggestion "Pioneer" seems most fitting. The theater, while not Columbus' first, is the oldest operating one, and the name "Pioneer" is a good, sturdy name that also means something."* *Have You Noticed? Evening Republican, 11-17-34
Further on back inside the paper was the following:
From the Evening Republican, Saturday, November 17, 1934
From the announcement in the paper on November 17th through the rest of the month, nothing was mentioned about the contest, or changing "Crump's" to the Von Ritz, but I'm sure it remained a hot topic of conversation throughout the city.
On Saturday, December 1, 1934, the residents of Columbus found an article on the front page of the Evening Republican regarding Crump's Theatre. "Recalls 'Good Old Days' Of Theater In Columbus" was the headline, and the article was contributed by Will Marsh, who went on to pen the historical as well as controversial book, I Discover Columbus.
[Side Note: Upon reading the entire article, I was very upset by some of the things that were talked about in the article. Will Marsh was very blunt in his recalling of the "Good Old Days." It bothered me so much that I deliberated for quite some time as to whether I should share the entire article, or censor it. After much deliberation and thought, I have decided to included the entire article, as it was originally printed in that Saturday edition. I do not have any intention whatsoever of offending any of the readers of this website.]
Recall's 'Good Old Days' Of Theater In Columbus
Will Marsh - Cites "Beef Trust" Chorus Which Shocked City
Editor's Note: The author of this entertaining story of the old days in the city's theatrical life is the son of the late Newt Marsh, publisher of the old Daily Times, which fought many's the bitter editorial battle with the Evening Republican of two or three decades ago. He is now manager of the Southwestern Engraving company in Oklahoma City.
By Will E. Marsh
In a stray copy of the Republican I saw recently, I noticed something of a movement to change the name of the old Crump theater. Although circumstances have prevented me from contributing more than four bits to the box office in the past 25 years, which hardly gives me a voice in the matter, I would hate to see this done. There is just too much sentiment and too many memories buried in that old name to give it up. The new owners and the younger people may not feel this but the older ones will.
Crump's was opened, I believe, in 1889, and was one of the modern touches that began the transformation of a sleepy village to a modern city, for which we owe the progressive spirit of the late John S. Crump. Crump, by carefully selecting his father and by spending some years as a really good farmer, had a plentiful supply of sheckels when he moved to town. Instead of falling back on those classic methods of getting rich, the insurance business, or starting a new newspaper, he decided to give the town the things it needed and did not have. In short order he provided a second good hotel, the Belvedere, a safe deposit vault for valuables, and money if anybody had any, the street car system, and Crump's new theater, where the hundreds of good travelling troups then on tour could properly present their plays.
How It Looked Inside
The original building had three arched panels at the top, with one word of the name in each. This was lost when the place was remodeled 15 years ago and went stucco, but I believe the inside is much as it originally was. The downstairs with about 600 seats was divided into three parts, the front dozen or fifteen rows being called the parquet and selling at $1.50 for most of the shows. The next two rows were the parquet circle, price $2, raised nearly a foot higher and hence the best seats in the house. They usually were filled with newspaper people and others who wangled passes. Back of those the dollar seats were less desirable and were filled with the proletariat who had neither passes nor social ambitions. Upstairs was called the gallery, for the hoi-polloi, except the three rear rows, which were benches instead of seats at two bits straight, regardless of the show. Along each side next the stage were two "boxes" downstairs and two in the gallery, each with six or eight plush chairs. These were undoubtedly the rottenest seats in the house, but were a sure evidence of social standing, and the possession of three bucks, so usually were filled. After one or two performances, the seats were mostly taken up, and re-set as they had been spaced too tightly for the 1889 models, before the days of the Hollywood diet wives and golf-thinned husbands.
The Regular Patrons
Like all old time theaters, Crump's had a tradition of certain regular patrons. The Crump family, with the Frank Crump's and the Lucases and the Ruddicks, their relatives and Miss Hinman, constituted the aristocrasy of that day, having both cash and a desire for society; the Irwins and the Perrys and a few others had the cash, but not much desire for social life, and a lot of others had the desire but nix the cash, so that left us a very small recognized Four Hundred.
The Crumps were very loyal to their own game and John and Mrs. John and their three or four handsome daughters almost never failed to occupy box two on the left, regardless of how rotten the show was, and many a time I have seen Mr. Crump wearily sitting through some dull performance with the air of a martyr, while the daughters, of course, and Mrs. Crump, put up the same bluff that wives and daughters do yet, of seeming interested whether or no, and the Crump boys looked like they would much rather be back at the stage door.
Another regular was W. A. Mooney, the head of the tannery. Bill, if you remember him, was one of the best business minds in town, but never allowed the social graces to cramp his style. Built on the physical model of Alexander Woolicott, he could look disgusted for three hours straight through any show. He always went, but never allowed himself to show interest or enjoyment.
Dick Gottschalk Arrives
Among the middle class citizens, the one I remember best was Vic Griser, the tailor, who went to almost all the shows, and the newspaper gang, who, having passes, were faithful patrons of the arts. Up in the last three benches which we called Nigger Heaven, I remember one youth we called "Eeenie" Owen, a brother of Ralph, for so many years on the fire department, who for years never failed to occupy the first seat on the left side of the front row of the Heaven. Incidentally, Nigger Heaven provided an average of three fights a show.
I believe John Crump and his boys started to manage the theater themselves, but soon a traveling opera, I think "The Pearl Of Pekin" came through with a keen young German named Dick Gottschalk on its business staff. Dick's career as a traveling trouper ended right there when he saw this new theater without a professional manager and one of the Crump daughters without a husband. He stayed and for many years, he provided both most satisfactorily, as well as a manager for the street car company, the hotel and safe deposit vault, and a man whom every one soon learned to love and respect till his death 20 years later. Columbus has had few as useful citizens as Dick Gottschalk.
Walter Doup ran the mechanics of the house, combining the functions of stage manager, electrician, carpenter, director and general factotum. Then Bink Schnur lead the orchestra to round out the crew. I haven't seen Bink Schnur for 30 years and I wonder if he is still living and sawing that old violin? All of us who grew up between 1885 and 1919 learned to dance to Bink's fiddling and it lingers in the memory yet as better than Rubinoff's.
Beef Trust" Shocks Town
The theater opened with the Norcross Opera Company, a supposedly rather high class outfit presenting I don't remember what, but having a chorus of a dozen of the corn-fed type of beauties so highly preferred by gentlemen with bald heads in those days. They wore exactly the same costumes as the aerial ladies in Barnum's circus, including substantial full-length stocking tights and embroidered trunks weighing about three times a modern debutante's party shirt. But, it was a pretty hard shock to the Victorians of that day. Columbus, like all other towns of the period, had three types of people: a few male and female young devils who stood for anything, a few pious deacons who broke over on business trips to Chicago but who just could not be seen at anything like that at home, and the big mass of prudes that constituted the rest of us. This crowd saw nothing wrong in circus tights because they were mechanically necessary for the acts they were used in, but on the stage, ye gods! nothing short of six petticoats and a choker collar was nice. Well, the Norcross just wasn't nice. Later, however, there was another show that I can't remember the name of, with an even hotter chorus which my dad reviewed in the Times next day--"Last night there were 40 naked women at Crump's."
Big Timers Play
Where there are half a dozen road troupes today, there were perhaps several thousand or more than, and those came into Crump's for usually one-night stands three or four a month. They included everything good and bad, and in its time, many of the country's famous actors said their little pieces with Bink on one end with his fiddle, and Ed Lowe on the other with the big bass viol. I remember Mantell once came for a week with Pygmalian and the Dainties and some other high class drama. Tom Keene, one of the big Shakespearians of the time, used to come regularly. Of the minstrels, Hi Henry, Primrose and West, Lou Dookstader and Al G. fields all came every year or so, paraded up Broadway to Seventh Street and back and sat Mr. Bones on one end and Mr. Tambo on the other. After the death of General Tom Thumb, his widow brought the rest of the midgets to town which thrilled the kids of that day as nothing has since.
Most of the stuff, though, was melodrama, very mellow. Every winter had at least one play with a sawmill scene and one with a railroad drawbridge scene. Now you sophisticated youngsters, I will explain that in the first, the villian who is modeled strictly on the Rudolph Rassendale plan beats up the bridge tender and turns the draw so the train bearing the poor but honest and scornful maiden will be plunged into the icy waters, but the Hairbreadth Harry hero gets there just in time to stop the train. Some times it was varied by having Harry on the train in which case the gentle maiden used her red flannels to flag the train. yues, kiddies, we actually did wear those things. In the saw mill, the plan was to tie the proposed corpse to a big log and start it towards a cross-cut saw. The chief producer of this high class histrionic garbage was a Chicago man, Chas. E. Blaney, who brought out one new one a year in the old theme, in addition to his perennial Limited Mall, in which a full sized railroad train rushed madly across the stage, annually for some years.
Battles In Lighthouse
Other repeaters of better quality were Faust with all the fireworks trimmings and James A. Hearn, first for some years with the Old Homestead and then with Shore Acres. The latter reached its climax when the brothers fought in the lighthouse and the evil-minded papa tried to extinguish the light so the sloop with daughter and undesirable son-in-law would be wrecked, but Brother Abel licked the sox out of him, loftly declared, "I gave ye the mother, Martin, but I'll be damned if I'll let ye murder the dartar," and turned the light back on. Damn was a bold bad word in those day and hardly mentioned in sewing circles. Another old favorite that returned year after year was the Lyman Twins. These two men were exact duplicates and presented a number of farces written around this physical peculiarity.
Besides professional shows, there were one or two home talent performances every year. One of the first of these and probably the most pretentious was the Kermese put on about 1904 by the Episcopal ladies and consisting of nothing more than an endless series of group dances a sort of glorification of the Christmas cantatas we used to have in all the churches. About its only virtue was that it got nearly every kid in town a place in the cast, which meant that all his uncles and aunts would have to buy tickets and that his mother would have to use up $4.83 worth of gaudy cotton cloth and hours of midnight oil devising a costume.
Crusader Raps Church Plan
This show, which today would put the blase audience to sleep, did have some little girls with some fimy lace dresses, properly boistered underneath with full length cotton undies, of course. But we had an evil-minded reporter in town in those days, whose personal morals and manners were just nonexistent, who, after seeing a rehearsal, wrote a scurrilous article which created quite a sensation, but in the end merely advertised the show. A similar show a year or two later was the Mystic Midgets, based somewhat on the Palmer Cox Brownie stories and starring Ralph Winans and Dale Cooper, two of the maidens prayers of those days. Incidentally, the writer was togged out in kilts that did not fit him and proclaimed himself a "Canny Scotchman from bonnie Dundee" to the great admiration of his female relatives who would have instantly predicted him a Hollywood then.
We had several home produced minstrels, but best probably was the Belles of Blackwell, starring Sadie Jones and Beulah Brown. Another one sticks in my mind because George Lucas sang a song called "Gabriella Brown," with a refrain like this: "She's a darling, She's a corker, She's an up-to-date New Yorker."
Old Fiddler's Contest
The most successful amateur show ever in Crump's, in fact the biggest sellout in its history, was the first old-time fiddlin' match, the original of these contest which were held all over the country at the turn of the century. This show was the result of an accidental remark my father ("J. N." of the Times) made one Sunday when we were calling on his cronie, Bill Waltman, who was then prosecuting attorney. Waltman was from Nashville, a pretty good criminal lawyer, but homely in his ideals. He attained undying fame in the celebrated Goldsmith-Skillman murder trial by declaring the murderer used a "Smith & Western" revolver. Walton was a skilled fiddler and after entertaining us with several selections, the conversation turned to others fiddlers in the county, when my dad remarked, "Bill, why not get all these fiddlers in ere to the theater and have a prize contest?" Well, the result was standing room only for two nights. 50 fiddlers playing what they pleased alone and en masse and in the end $125 for charity, which went to the King's Daughters. Before the day of community chests, organized charity, alphabet soup and Washington owes-me-a-living, this organization was the only one to take care of the few cases of real need that could not take care of themselves and, dear children, I remind you that $125 was quite a bit more than cocktail money in those days.
Riot At Commencement
Probably the best entertainment ever given the customers was the night the high school class of 1901 graduated. That would be a story in itself but a full house who came to see Willie and Suzie kicked out of school for good, saw instead a near riot, the diplomas thrown on the floor, the high school principal driven from the stage and afterward a school board member nearly mobbed by the angry students, all the outcome of a row over firing the superintendent of schools.
As I said, Mr. Crump provided a much needed arena for traveling shows. Before that, about all we got was Uncle Toms Cabin which went anywhere, opera house or no opera house, and an occasional magic show. These had had to go to the old Schwartzkopf opera house on Jackson Street, west of the courthouse. It was just a double second-story room over a saloon with a flat floor, loose chairs and a low stage at one end. I wonder if it is still there? I would like to see it again, as I recall the thrills I got there when six to ten years old. The favorite show was for kids only. tickets would be handed out at the school gates at noon, which with ten cents, admitted you free to a grand exhibition of magic at 4:30 pm with a prize for each and all. That gave you the noon hour to wangle the dime, and explain why you would be home late. One of these shows of outstanding memory was the exhibition of Edison's wonderful new phonograph, the old clockwork machine with a piece of tin foil wrapper round the cylinder on which the squeaky records was made and reproduced the first talking machine Columbus ever heard. The last show I ever heard of in this house was when a stock comedy company was there about 1908, featuring a piece called "Mrs. Finnegan." It had a few pretty lively dancers and "they say" that private shows were put on every Sunday afternoon whenever the young bloods of the town could raise a $25 purse, a real "strip show" except that to save time the stripping was done in advance.
Whether or not Will Marsh's article played an important role in keeping the name the same, we'll never know.
The Crump name was never changed to the Von Ritz.
In 1941, the Crump Theatre underwent another renovation. At this time, the vitrolite glass front was added, the lobby was enlarged, and the front exits were removed. Restrooms were relocated to the mezzanine, and the circular staircase replaced the existing stairway. Another addition during this remodel was the addition of a new marquee, a 45 foot high sign with 5 foot letters spelling out the word "Crump." This renovation would be the last change to the exterior, with most of us remembering the theatre as it looked after the renovation.
Besides showing movies, the Crump was also a proper venue for all types of community activities. Cooking demonstrations were held at the Crump throughout the 1940's. Imagine Ron Popeil on one of his infomercials, and you might get an indication of what else the Crump offered the local public during this time. Awards and banquets were also common fare during this time.
The 1940's were an exciting time to go to the movies. For 25 cents, one could expect a newsreel feature, a cartoon, a chapter of a serial, and a feature movie. "In the summertime, mom would give us kids enough money to go to the Crump and we'd stay there all day," one local old-timer related to me. "After all, it was blazing hot outside, and no one had ever heard of homes being air conditioned. So, it was a real treat to go and sit in the coolness of the Crump. Sometimes, we'd sit and watch the same offerings 2 or three times."
The Crump Theatre of the 1940's had its fair share of competition. Local residents could choose from the movie offerings of the Rio Theatre, which was located on 5th Street, as well as the Mode, which was about a block away from the Crump, on Washington Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets. Even though the Rembusch family owned all 3 movie theaters in Columbus, each theater offered and specialized in different showings. If you wanted to see Roy Rogers battle it out with the bad guys, you went to the Rio. Westerns were the bill of fare at the Rio during this time. But while the 3 theaters in little old Columbus Indiana were in direct competition with one another, they all specialized in their own format, and all three were successful ventures during the 1940's.
Not only did the theaters of the time prosper, but the surrounding businesses as well. Downtown Columbus Indiana in the 1940's was the place to go, and the place to be seen on Friday and Saturday nights. Stores stayed open later, and businesses such as Zaharako's could always count on a good amount of business after the hero rode off into the sunset and "The End" flashed across the screen. The theatres created a synergistic effect, and all of Columbus' downtown businesses benefited from having 3 movie theaters located not only in the downtown area, but in close proximity to one another.
Some of my most treasured memories of the Crump naturally come from the 1960's, considering that's the time I grew up in Columbus.
During the summer months, the Junior Citizen's League got together with the Crump, and on each Thursday morning, movies were shown with the kids in mind, so, with that said, I now take you back in time to the year 1963...
The Crump held it's own throughout the 1970's, and became a dollar venue in the 1980's. At some point in the late 1970's, the Crump also offered live music, as John Cougar (John Mellencamp) played the Crump in his early years. Admission to the show was $2. Throughout the 1980's, the Crump succumbed to slow decay and deterioration. What was once the showplace of a small town, the Crump fell into serious disrepair. Business dropped off for many reasons, and the Crump became nothing more than a building that had outlived its usefulness. The doors were locked...the marquee no longer lit up the block at night...and the Crump came very close to being demolished.
The Crump was saved through the efforts of many people, and began a transformation in the mid 1990's. The vitrolite front was renovated, and a new marquee was added. For those of us long time residents, there's nothing quite like seeing the old place all lit up at night, after so many years of neglect.
The Crump Theatre still stands tall and proud on 3rd Street. With the possibility of the Crump being the oldest Theatre in the state of Indiana, it is imperative that it fit somewhere in the scheme of Columbus' Vision 20/20: the latest downtown redevelopment program. Vision 20/20 is the most concerted effort to revitalize the downtown since the 1960's. The Crump Theatre's needs are almost overwhelming. Those in charge say it will take up to $2 million dollars to bring the Crump back to what it looked like in the 1950's and 1960's. Rovene Quigley, Executive Director of the Crump restoration, has worked with a very small budget since she took the job in 2002. When I interviewed for the job of project manager for the Crump, the Heritage Fund stated the needs of the Crump far outweighed the support for the historic building. The citizens and business community of Columbus need to become active players in the overall scheme of renovating the Crump Theatre. Without community interest, the Crump is in a precarious place. With each passing year, those of us who attended the Crump in our younger years will pass on. Through Rovene's efforts, the Crump now offers music for the kids of today. And while they may not have squirmed in the seats watching a movie like The Time Machine, they move to the tunes from the bands that play onstage. Rovene has continued the tradition of passing along memories of the Crump to our youth. And that's something that is much needed, for when the day comes that the Crump is forgotten, that's the day when it will become a parking lot.
Besides musical venues, the Crump has drawn ghost hunters in the past few years. There be ghosts living in the Crump, and several organizations have explored the supernatural aspect of the Crump. You can find the results of their explorations by googling the Crump Theatre.
Tony Moravec has taken the historic Zaharako's and devoted the time and money it takes to do it right. It wouldn't hurt if someone in a similar position in town took the same attitude with the Crump.
Much work needs to be done, and many dollars need to be put in the place to bring it back to life. Hopefully, one day, it will happen...
Historic Columbus Indiana