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The former Daily Statesman is now The Dexter Statesman and currently does not have an operating website.

Remembering the days of the drive-in theater

Posted Wednesday, November 24, 2010, at 8:16 PM

Those of you who take "the old way" from Dexter to Cape may have noticed the old abandoned Montgomery drive-in theater at Blomeyer Junction (near the new roundabout). I've wondered why the screen hasn't fallen down, so I was pleased to see Ken Steinhoff's new blog giving the history of the fifties hot spot. This structure is CONCRETE! It's going to be there long after we're dead and buried!
For those of you who have never checked out Ken Steinhoff's online blog called "Cape Central," http://www.capecentralhigh.com/cape-phot... you are in for a treat! I can't remember how I discovered the site: I think I was browsing on the Southeast Missourian website, when I saw a photo he had posted of the paving of Highway 25 at Advance around 1945. Ken writes about far, far more than Cape Central history, I'll tell you right now! The man's curiosity about local history knows no bounds. You never know what his topic will be from day to day.

Ken lives in Florida right now, so imagine my amazement, when he pulled up at the tiny North Stoddard Countian office one day last week. I had never met him, but I was immediately intrigued when I saw the camera around his neck. He introduced himself, his 87-year-old mother, and two other friends, who were along for a photo jaunt in my part of the country. Ken's mother used to live in Advance, so our little town has attracted his interest.

He kept looking for more employees at the office, so I had to say, "Sorry - I'm IT! I have it all to myself!" To his credit, he was amused, rather than horrified by my backwoods journalist appearance. I think I was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. Papers were piled everywhere.

When Ken does a research story, he even posts aerial shots, so, of course, he had been out to the Painton Airport (6 miles or so east of Advance), where he had met another fascinating local historian, Al Painton.

In Ken's new blog about the old Montgomery Drive-in Theater at Blowmeyer junction, he posts a total of 9 photos, most from the present, but some from the past. As a newspaper photo journalist for many years, he knows how to dig up the old stuff. Ken started his career as a journalist in high school, went on to work for the Southeast Missourian, then moved around to other newspapers, ending up in Florida. You can read his background on his site.

I never knew the Montgomery Theater when it was in operation, though Ken discovered from the owner that it closed as late as 1980. My husband and I moved back to the area in 1975, so I guess we could have driven from our Advance farm to see a movie there. We didn't, and I regret that very, very much! It would have been a nostalgic experience.

The drive-in theater which has a special spot in my own memory is the one which used to be in Dexter. As I write, I find that I don't even remember where it was! How can that be? I guess I haven't thought about it in years, but that was the usual dating spot for my husband Dale and I when we were in high school in the fifties. We rarely went to the air-conditioned Weeks Theater on Stoddard Street, as that venue didn't offer us the ....uh..privacy..which teenagers so treasure.

Yes, there were mosquitoes..and stifling heat in the summer...and freezing cold in the winter.. and we always got the spot with the broken speaker, so we'd have to drive up and down through the ramps to find another speaker... but what a wonderous experience! We looked to see which of our friends were there - and sometimes we double-dated, and the excitement was doubled! (What were they DOING in the back seat??)

Horror movies were the BEST kind to see at a drive-in theater! It was so much fun to be scared and give your boyfriend a chance to play the big, strong hero who was there to save you from the werewolves and vampires! Back then, horror movies were scarey - not just gross the way they are now! Who wants to see blood and dismemberment?? Give me zombies, vampires, werewolves, the Blob, and Norman Bates!

AND - there was always the chance that your boyfriend would meet your EX-boyfriend at the concession stand - and your girlfriends would rush back to tell you that there was a FIGHT at the popcorn stand!

Oh, it was MAGICAL, I'll tell you!!! Each trip to the movies was an adventure! What would happen?? What would you have to talk about at school the next day???

As I sit here and look at that eerie, vine-covered movie screen, I am hopelessly caught up in the fantasy of a lifestyle gone obsolete. That screen, whether at Blomeyer or Dexter, is a treasured part of my past. I want to see the vines fall away, see the colors from the projection booth come to life, hear the speakers sputtering excitement, watch the dark figures of the guys in their flat-tops and school jackets, going to the concession stand to get their girl an over-priced Pepsi and popcorn!

Later note: I have had a call from a gentleman from Doniphan, Mo., and he informs me that there is an active drive-in movie theater in that community. Sadly, the the few drive-in theaters left in the nation must operate in summertime, only - so I'll have to wait until May to go sample the heady pleasures of outdoor film delights! I'm looking forward to it!

From the distant hills of Tillman - about ten miles and 55 years years away from that ancient movie screen - this is your backwoods reporter Madeline, daydreaming another golden November day away..

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

MD, you've got to remember the Family Drive-In!! Across the little road west of the Hickory Log, out on west 114...Dr. Neal Garner's parents ran it when I was at DHS, and we even had DJ and dances before the show, weather(summer)permitting.

The Garners were/are great people, and their drive-in was part of Dexter's "growing up"....but do you remember the "Midway Drive-in" between Dexter and Bloomfield????? Up here we still have a drive-in over on Merriam Lane, called The Boulevard, triple features in the summer months, and otherwwise a big flea market other times on weekends during fall/winter and early spring, good thing about the Boulevard is a great BBQ place just out the back gate called Quick's BBQ, great ribs, KC style, thanks for the memories, MD, regards to the Bootheel, kkr

-- Posted by kkcaver47 on Fri, Nov 19, 2010, at 2:05 PM

As I remember back in those days popcorn and a soda were only 20 cents. Often we referred to the drinks as a sewdey....as I remember my honey and I never saw a movie at the drive in, she had to be home before dark. And being a nice boy I always obliged.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Fri, Nov 19, 2010, at 5:31 PM

There are still a few drive-ins still in operation in the area. There is one in Piedmont, one just south of Ellington, and one just north of Potosi. These are open from May through September.

-- Posted by BonScott on Fri, Nov 19, 2010, at 7:56 PM

I remember the name "Midway Drive-in," but I have no idea where it was. That's such hilly country between Dexter and Bloomfield - I can't imagine where they could fit in a drive-in.

Good memories! Steinhoff's account is a hoot! I love the part where one customer drives through in a car with the back scraping the ground, and the fellow taking the tickets knows that the trunk is full of free-loaders!

I would love to go to a drive-in just one more time -- with the right person, of course! For old times' sake!

-- Posted by goat lady on Fri, Nov 19, 2010, at 9:08 PM

I live about 3/4 of a mile form the Twin Drivein here in Independence.this past summer my 2 daughters who are 10 and 9 came up for a week.One of those nights we went to see new Twighlight movie. We had a BLAST!!!We took lawn chairs and snacks of course they HAD to go get popcorn!! People were cooking out it was a great family night out. One I'll remember for along long time.Hopefully so will the girls. I remember the Dexter drivein on 114 saw a lot of movies there in the late 70's Someone always had a pickup a bunch of us boys would all load up and go (mostly to chase girls!!) I remember seeing Smokey and the Bandit when it came out there.

-- Posted by usedtoliveindexter on Sat, Nov 20, 2010, at 7:21 PM

What a great insight into the social lives of Americans in bygone years. We were not blessed with drive-ins Downunder although there is one still operating at a beach resort nearby during the Christmas holiday season.

A few concerns become apparent from some-one who has not experienced this phenomenon, (and may well be the poorer for it).

Overpriced Pepsi and popcorn?

DDT Spray? Mosquitoes? Mozzie Coils?

Steamy windows? Come back Tina Turner, all systems all go below!

Double dating ? Something a bit kinky here, I suspect.

Heat, Cold?


Scratchy speakers ?

Following the demise of drive-in theaters, was there a corresponding reduction of the birth rate?

-- Posted by wartz on Sun, Nov 21, 2010, at 1:58 AM

wartz, double-dating just means that you and two of your friends all go out together. There was nothing kinky about it--just twice as much fun shared. Many movies are remembered as much for the sound-track as for the pictures on the screen. At least, that's what I've been told. I'm sure kk has something to say about that, too. ha!

-- Posted by GONENOW on Sun, Nov 21, 2010, at 1:59 PM

OMG, wartz, what did you think double-dating WAS?? Hahahaha! Thanks for explaining, GN! Can't believe that teenagers don't double-date in New Zealand!

And, mmm, I think maybe GoneNow knows kk! Did you two double-date in high school, perhaps??

Wartz, one practical reason for double-dating was that not all the boys had a set of wheels! In this era of plenty, it's hard to imagine, but in fifties America, most teenagers did not have cars! They drove their parents' cars, if they could get the keys!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Nov 21, 2010, at 7:22 PM

GL; I thought I knew what double dating was until GONENOW offered "you and two of your friends" as an explanation. This,to me, would seem to be a threesome or menage a trois perhaps. Either way, it certainly seems kinky to me !

-- Posted by wartz on Sun, Nov 21, 2010, at 8:45 PM


Glad you enjoyed the piece.

You're going to get in trouble with my mother, though. She turned 89 last month, not 87. When your really young and really old, you want credit for every year you tack on.

I wasn't taken aback by your "backwoods" appearance. I'm proud to say that I've covered Popes and Presidents in my blue jeans.

I'll be back in the spring to shoot some new material. I have some more Advance area stuff in the pipleline. Keep checking back.

-- Posted by Ken1 on Sun, Nov 21, 2010, at 9:05 PM

wartz: My apology! I meant you, your date, and two friends shared a vehicle or event. I did not mean a group of three people went out together. I thought it was apparent that each person was with only one other person, but a total of four were in the car! I should be more careful with communication skills! No, GL, I don't think kk and I ever double-dated. I did know him in HS though. He just doesn't know that he knew me. teehee! (lovebooks, shhh!)

-- Posted by GONENOW on Tue, Nov 23, 2010, at 7:13 PM

GONENOW; No need to apologise, (or apologize for that matter). In fact my philosophy is; never apologise, never admit you're wrong and never back down ! In hindsight I must accept that I am inordinarily thick and should never have got into this debate in the first place. I am now sure that double dating is a fine American tradition - long may it continue !

-- Posted by wartz on Wed, Nov 24, 2010, at 2:42 AM

You made me laugh! Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving to you and all bloggers--known and unknown!

-- Posted by GONENOW on Wed, Nov 24, 2010, at 1:29 PM

Oh, wow, we even heard from Mr. Steinhoff himself! Aren't we glad that he isn't taking MD to court for stealing his material??

Well, well - if this piece leads to more fans for the Cape Central blog, then all the better! It is a wonderful source of entertainment and local history.

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Nov 24, 2010, at 7:57 PM

We used to beg my mom to take us to the drive-in (Family Drive-In run by Winfred Garner). She would say no repeatedly and we kept it up and finally promised that we would NOT ask to go to the concession stand. She would give in on the condition that we wouldn't bug her to go to the concession stand because she didn't have enough money.

We'd get to the drive-in, pick out our parking spot, pull up "just so" on the little hill, pull in the speakers, light up our mosquito coil, watch the heat lightning in the distance behind the screen, and wait for the show.

The second the show started, we started in on Mom to let us go to the concession stand. She would stand her ground for awhile, but every time...EVERY TIME...she would say, "Ok, pull out the seats." We'd jerk out the car seats to look for money under them, and we ALWAYS found enough money to get to go to the concession stand!

-- Posted by lovebooks on Thu, Nov 25, 2010, at 4:30 PM

Hey there, lovebooks! Do you remember that my sister worked in that concession stand? I'm sure she didn't really do this, but she could have "checked out" all the other girls' dates when they went in for popcorn, leaving the girls behind. Now, I would have done that--she probably didn't. Ha!

-- Posted by GONENOW on Fri, Nov 26, 2010, at 4:43 PM

Oooh, GN, I didn't remember that your sister worked there! What a fun job that must have been!! Hehe! She'd have found out all the good gossip about WHO was there with WHOM!! Mmmm...juicy!

I wonder if lovebooks has figured out who your sister is???

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Nov 27, 2010, at 7:20 AM

Lovebooks, that story is PRICELESS! I can just see your family, pulling out the car seats to look for change!

Funny thing is, the concessions didn't cost much by today's standards. I remember when a dime was a significant amount of money. When I lived in the dorm at college, I thought my roommate was rich, because she could go to the basement Coke machine and spend a dime on a soda.

When we were kids, our parents would pop corn at home and take it in a big brown bag, so we didn't have to spend money at the concession stand. I didn't taste concession stand pop corn until I started dating!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Nov 27, 2010, at 7:29 AM

GoneNow, MY sister used to work for Emily Garner in the Family Drive-In concession stand!! I didn't realize she had a buddy working with her! That is so funny.

I have another drive-in story but I'm almost embarrassed to tell it...oh what the heck.

One Saturday night, two of my best friends and I were dateless and cruising the "Pig, A&W, Dairy Queen" route. We were bored and restless, and ONE of us suggested as we drove past the drive-in, "Hey! Let's sneak in and watch the cartoon!" Believe me, at that time, no "cool" girl would have been caught dead at the drive-in because they were always showing Elvis or horror movies. It was on it's way out.

So, we decided we'd try to sneak into the drive-in through the back exit, watch the cartoon, and leave. Just a joy ride. Here we were in my best friend's car...this HUGE, LONG, WHITE Chevy Bel-Air that we called the TANK.

We turned out the lights, crept in the exit, eased up on the little hill, pulled in our speaker, and settled in to watch the cartoon, giggling like goofballs.

About that time, we saw Winfred's truck lights headed in our direction. He got out, came over to the driver's side, and asked us to follow him back to that little building at the entrance. By the time we got there, we were all in tears.

And ME! This was one of my dad's best friends!!! How horrible of me! Oh it was awful. We got out, went in to talk to Winfred, and explained to him that we were only going to watch the cartoon and then leave. He was shocked when he saw who we were because he knew all three of us! It was awful.

After we talked to him for awhile, he was actually laughing behind his ever-present pipe, but I was still scared to death he would tell my dad (which would mean CERTAIN death). I spent the night with my best friend that night, and the next morning when she took me home, there sat Winfred's truck in our driveway. I knew I was dead meat.

He never told my dad.

-- Posted by lovebooks on Sun, Nov 28, 2010, at 2:02 PM

Oh, LB, this is a wonderful story, full of so many items of local color! I didn't remember the part about how the drive-ins showed Elvis and horror movies when they were in their decline!

When your sisters and I were teens, the drive-in was still "in - and how would I remember who worked there, when it was the guy's job to go get the concessions! I don't think I saw the inside of the stand more than once in my life.

I wish I had had the nerve to be one of the "bad girls" who sneaked in without paying!! Your sisters and I would never have done that!

-- Posted by goat lady on Mon, Nov 29, 2010, at 6:22 AM

Miz Goat Lady, Mam,

MD swiped my material with my permission. With the holidays coming up, we bloggers owe it to each other to share to lighten the load.

If it tempted some folks to venture over to

http://www.capecentralhigh.com/ then all the better.

Besides, if MD hadn't picked up the material, I would have missed out on the great comments y'all have posted.

-- Posted by ksteinhoff on Mon, Nov 29, 2010, at 4:01 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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