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Closing the State Theater came as a “group of threes”

The State Theater will be open during the Ohio Pumpkin Festival this coming week for the first time in 56 years, as an outreach effort to raise the funding necessary to bring the grand old movie palace back to life. Stop in at the old stand at 137 West Main Street to see for yourself.

The theater will be open Wednesday, September 21 from 5-9, Thursday and Friday, September 22-23 from 12-2 and 5-7. On Saturday parade day, the doors will be open from 9-12 and 3-7 while Sunday hours will be 12-4. Check the organization’s Facebook page (Barnesville State Theater Company) to register for tours.

And while it is generally known that Barnesville State Theater owner Ed Modie closed the theater in November 1961 citing low attendance and unruly behavior by younger patrons especially during weekend shows, there were multiple closings of the facility.

Digging further into the files of the Enterprise we find that Modi actually “officially” closed the theater twice – 1958 and 1961 – with the final shutdown quietly taking place in 1966 following the winter season. The State opened that final season on November 25, 1965, with the showing of “The Sons of Katie Elder” starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Dennis Hooper and Earl Holliman among others.

We should note that the theater closed each summer when movie viewers flocked to the nearby Leatherwood and Morristown drive-In theaters.

On December 11, 1958, the Enterprise reported “State Theater Closes Saturday”. In the article Modie noted “we are tired of baby sitting with imprudent children and we have reached the limit of our patience with the noisy teen-agers who have yet to learn the rudiments of propriety. The STATE is closing, therefore, effective Saturday night, and will remain closed until a more genuine interest justifies it operations. To our faithful customers we are indeed sorry.”

Just a month before the announcement, a front-page article noted “State Theater to Present Two Outstanding Films”. Monday and Tuesday night featured “Peyton Place, a documentary and exposure of small-town life featuring Lana Turner and Arthur Kennedy who is the son-in-law of the late Windsor Cheffy of Barnesville.”

The second feature that week was “Damn Yankees” staring Tad Hunter and Gwen Verdon. The movie also featured Jean Stapleton (Edith on All in the Family) and Ray Walston (Uncle Martin in My Favorite Martian).

With a change of heart, a year later Christmas was brightened for Barnesville residents when the State reopened on Christmas Day 1959 with the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “North by Northwest” starring Jimmie Stewart. “Features will be shown nightly except Sunday with two shows at 7 and 9,” the Enterprise noted.

Elated, Ray Palmer, Barnesville Enterprise editor’s Christmas Eve editorial opined “reports from all parts of the country indicate that the motion picture business is enjoying better times. The television craze is apparently wearing off as people are turning more to an earlier love, the silver screen.”

“Dishonest quiz shows, offensive television commercials, and a super-abundance of fifth-rate programs have contributed to the TV decline,” Palmer noted.

Palmer also surmised competition by the drive-in theaters, confusion over fast and slow time scheduling and the “noisy misbehavior of youngsters in the front seats” all had their effect locally.

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