During my high school years, rather during my junior and senior years after I turned 16, I worked at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville. This would be 1944-1945. I worked at the candy and popcorn stand, which was in the lobby of the theatre. I remember I had to wear a white pinafore apron while on duty. I also worked in the ticket booth, which was a small booth located in the front of the theatre. It was very small and could only hold one person comfortably. The manager at the time I worked there was Stuart Gavett.
Also working there were a few of my classmates – Leo Levora, Andy Nelson, and Marvin Winte. They were ushers and had to wear white shirts, ties, and dark trousers. They always carried a flashlight so that they could seat people and also walk up and down the aisles every now and then to make sure everything was okay. One of them was also stationed at the door to collect tickets. They would tear the ticket in half, giving half to the customer and putting the other half in the large container. They also had to change the marquee in the front of the building every time the picture changed. Movies changed three times a week. One picture would run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday with a continuous showing starting at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. On Wednesday, they would run a double feature, usually B-type movies. They would run the next movie on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. A cartoon and the news were usually run prior to the main attraction.
Another friend also worked in the ticket booth, Esther Bettman Meyer. She was the permanent cashier and worked at the Wildey for quite a long time. I was more or less her substitute in the ticket booth. Sometimes the line to buy tickets would stretch all the way down to the Tri-City Grocery, which is now known as Laurie’s Place. At the end of selling tickets, which was 9:00 p.m., John Huse, a police Officer, would come and escort the cashier into the building as she always had quite a bit of money from ticket sales.
When it was a sellout, the people would have to wait in the lobby until seats were available for the next movie. There were two projectionists, Andy Foehrkalb, and for the life of me, I cannot remember the other man’s name. I remember the large curtain that was used on the stage. If I remember correctly, it was heavy maroon velvet decorated with gold, which they would open before the movie and close at the end of the night.
A man by the name of Frank Carter was the all-around handyman. He kept the theatre very clean. There was a drinking fountain on the corner in front of the theatre and he kept that fountain sparkling clean and shiny.
My job, naturally, was to sell candy, gum, and popcorn. Sometimes we would have a contest to see who could fold the popcorn boxes the fastest. When we got real busy, someone would help fold boxes to keep ahead of the crowd. Popcorn was 25 cents a box. Candy bars and gum were 5 cents. This was during the war and people would ask for Hershey bars, which we could not get. We had a candy bar which was similar, called Nestles, which has now become a household name. I had to go in on Saturday mornings and clean the candy case and popcorn machine, which was never a fun job. I really enjoyed working at the theatre. It provided me with spending money, plus.
Claribel Huelskamp Ramsey
This takes place on Christmas Eve of 1941. There was a bright new white shiny 1941 Ford setting in the Lobby of the Wildey Theater, but let me go back in time.
The merchants of Edwardsville purchased a 1941 to be given away Christmas Eve. When you bought an item from a store, they would give you a ticket which you would fill out with your name and address and deposit it in a container in the lobby of the Wildey Theater. On the 24th my mother bought some meat at Pork House Meat Market. Mom had more shopping to do so she gave the tickets to my Dad. At the time we had a Model A Ford. We could not find anything to write with, but Dad found a stub of a pencil and filled out the tickets on the steering wheel. Needless to say, it was cold and the stub of the pencil he was using was not that good. My brother Earl took the tickets across the street to the Wildey. That night, my mom, brother and I went to church and came home to open our presents. My dad was working the 12 to 8 shift at Shell Oil and was taking a nap before going to work when my uncles and aunt came in and said you won the car. With all the excitement, dad came out of the bedroom raising cane because they woke him up. Al told him we won the car at the Wildey, but he didn’t believe us. When our neighbor Mrs. Moore came over, who was 80 years old, and started to do the jig, Dad finally believed it. He went to work and the next morning he went up to the Wildey with my uncle, because dad did not know how to drive a car with the shift on the steering column. Needless to say, it was a fond and happy memory of the Wildey Theater.
When my dad gave his mother a ride in his new Ford, she said “It’s like riding on a cloud.”
Benjamin Spanholtz ran a cab company from inside the Wildey Theatre during the 1940’s.
Photos from the Schiebel family from the 1940’s.
My favorite snack at the Wildey was the JuJubes. Those darn things came in a box and we would put some in our mouth, and then put some more and then try to chew them all. The problem was that your teeth would not separate. It took the entire movie to consume one box of JuJubes. My experience with the Wildey started in about 1940, in 7th grade. The boys would meet on the Weber Funeral Home side and the girls would meet on the other side. Somehow we would all end up in the movie house and sit in the balcony … that was the place to be seen when you were in middle school. It was a way of sneaking a date when no one knew you were having a date. But the group behaved. If we didn’t, well there was Mrs. Duffey. Mrs. Duffey was a nice lady, but you didn’t mess with Mrs. Duffey. What she said was law, she ran the store and you abided by her rules.
The inside of the Wildey had sconce lighting and cream colored walls. I remember seeing Tom and Jerry cartoons at the Wildey and occasionally a real tom and jerry would run across the stage.
Great memories. I look forward to seeing it open again someday.
Jack Butler, Edwardsville
This actually is not my fondest memory of the Wildey Theater, but is certainly my most vivid one. My cousins and I used to go to the Wildey almost every Friday night and Sunday afternoon. It was a Sunday, December 7, 1941 and I don’t remember the movie that was being shown. Suddenly the movie was halted and a man came from behind the stage and made the announcement that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I was eleven years old but I have never forgotten that day. Everyone was so shocked.
It would be a real boon for Edwardsville if the Wildey could be restored and brought back to its former status.
Long Live the Wildey! My dad, brother and I were in the theater when the tornado hit. I was about eight years old at the time. All of a sudden it went dark. The ushers came around with their flashlights and assured us everything was ok and the movie would continue in a few minutes. Actually, it was about an hour before they told us what had happened. They gave us our money back and let us leave. When we went outside we saw the mess … trees down, roofs off, the feed mill tower blown over. There was debris everywhere.
The school took us to the Wildey to see “Wizard of Oz” and “Popeye.” That was a real treat. Boy did we have a good time. The Wildey holds many memories for me with girlfriends and good buddies; too many to put on paper. I remember the Kyro boys were ushers and Clarabell, bless her heart, was a wonderful person. I left town in 1947 to join the Marines at which time the Wildey was still going strong. I’d like to see it brought back to life in one form or another.
Bill McCracken, Edwardsville Class of 1947
My father was Norman “Bill” Sparks. I have been told that as kids, he and his brothers played music at the Wildey Theater. The band, I was told, was called The Sparks Brother’s Band. My dad was born in 1927 and passed away in 2002 at the age of 75. There is only one brother left and he has confirmed the events. I was raised with music and treasure the moments spent listening to dad and the family play. I only recently discovered that the Wildey’s past was also a part of my dad’s past. I would very much like to know anything I can find out about the Sparks Brother’s Band. It would be greatly appreciated as we have no record of any of it. My heart hopes for a picture as I don’t have many pictures of Dad when he was young …. but anything is appreciated.