Wooster had many movie theaters back in the early 1900s. Among them were the Wallace Theater located in the 100 block of East Liberty Street (the current site of Liberty Street Commons) and the Alhambra on South Market Street (in back of what had been a butcher shop across from today’s Gift Corner).
But in 1916 the friendly competition between several of the theaters escalated when John McCormick — the operator of the Alhambra — attempted to eliminate his competition by stealing the "picture heads" from Ed Mott’s Lyric Theater on East Liberty ... thereby preventing Mott from showing his silent movies.
"Then," explained Wooster historian Harry McClarran, "McCormick tried to blow up Harley H. Ziegler’s Wallace Theater by placing a charge of dynamite at the Werlitzer organ near the screen and by placing another charge under the projection booth. The charge at the organ went off, destroying the organ but the one under the projection booth failed to explode."
Apparently the 30 sticks of dynamite — which had been stolen from the Wooster Hardware Co. warehouse — had been wrapped in separate bundles and a piece of paper that survived the explosion was traced to McCormick’s store.
McCormick was quickly linked to the crimes and confessed. During the trial, the rival theater operator was found guilty and was sentenced to between five and 10 years in the penitentiary.
(Other early theaters in Wooster were the Princess Theater at 213 W. Liberty St., the Majestic Theater at the northeast corner of Buckeye and East Liberty, the City Opera House on East Liberty, the A muse U Theater on East Liberty (the former Majestic), the Grand Theater at 115 N. Market in the northeast quadrant of the square, and the Rex Theater on South Market (the former Alhambra).
Several years ago, Kathy Princehorn wrote to say she’s the great-granddaughter of theater owner Ed Mott — the man who showed movies in Wooster for more than 50 years and whose theater had been vandalized by John McCormick in 1916 when the "picture heads" were stolen.
"I have such wonderful memories of my time in the theaters," she stated. "I began working at Schine’s Wooster Theater when I was just 12 years old. My grandmother, Margaret (Mrs. Walter) Brubaker, was my great-grandfather’s only child. She allowed me to stand behind the candy counter and ‘help’ her sell candy and popcorn ... but what I was really doing was eating popcorn and candy."
She recalled that her grandparents opened another theater after her great-grandfather’s partner, Ed Schine, sold his portion of Schine’s Wooster Theater to another party and her grandparents found themselves without a theater to run.
"They opened the Lyric II on Buckeye Street," Princehorn explained. "It continued until my grandmother died in 1978. That’s why Wooster had two movie theaters downtown for a few years."
The original Lyric Theater (which opened in 1912) was replaced in 1917 by a larger theater at the same East Liberty Street location — across from The Daily Record in the vicinity of today’s White’s Jewelers. Admission was 15 cents when the theater held its grand re-opening that year on Sept. 1.
Frequently playing the piano while silent movies were being shown at the Lyric were Mrs. Ed Mott, wife of the theater owner, and Miss Lucy Follis, aunt of Charles W. Follis of Wooster — the first documented black professional football player. Joe Follis often sang.
Thought you should know.
Columnist Ann Gasbarre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-345-6419.