Celebrating a milestone: Murphy Theatre

Celebrating a milestone: Murphy Theatre

Wilmington’s Murphy Theatre revamped for big event

Story by Tom Barr


Some of the Murphy Theatre boxes as seen from the balcony.

A historic theater, but with up-to-date technology.

It’s not an old-fashioned ice cream parlor — it’s the concession stand at the Murphy.

A panoramic view of the Murphy Theatre as seen from the stage.

Looking down at the Murphy Theatre stage and its boxes.

A panoramic side view of the interior of the Murphy Theatre.

Members of the Buddy Club enjoyed a free showing of Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” courtesy of Varelmann’s store.

Charles Murphy, the founder of the Murphy Theatre.

“Annie Get Your Gun” played at the Murphy Theatre in 1950.

This photo is from 1932. The new marquee was put in place in 1929 to advertise the talking pictures. This group of Clinton County Boy Scouts was invited to see the show free by the management. To get in they were asked to wear their uniforms or bring their Scout I.D. cards.

In 1950 the Murphy Theatre featured a drawing to win a new car from Jack Patton of Patton Motors.

Skitch Henderson (at the piano) and his Philco Radio Recording Orchestra in 1948 at the Murphy Theatre.

Wilmington resident Jennifer Hollon was asked to create some interest in the Murphy Theatre’s lobby display cases, helping to refresh its appearance for the public in 2011.

The Clinton County Historical Society board member already had a curiosity about Wilmington’s history.

Some local residents connected her with people who had links to the Murphy, and she spent many hours in online research, especially combing through old newspapers.

“With the knowledge of the theater’s 100th anniversary on the horizon, I thought a book might be a way to interest the public in its past while having it become a fundraiser for the theater’s preservation,” Hollon said. “It was my goal to get it completed in time for the 2018 celebration and to donate all the research and book sales to the Murphy Theatre.”

The journey

“Built by Charles Webb Murphy, former owner of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series and pennant winning baseball teams and one of the favorite sons of the community, the architectural gem continues to be the centerpiece of Main Street today,” Hollon begins the book.

She said the most interesting part of her historical journey “was learning about the people who were the builders, the artists, and the caretakers throughout this past century. It was due to the love for his community and generosity that Charles Webb Murphy gifted Wilmington with this architectural treasure.”

She added, “It was his vision and the dedication of his brothers Frank and James, who made the Murphy Theatre, from its beginnings, well-known throughout Ohio and beyond, bringing nationally known entertainment to our small rural community in Southwestern Ohio.

“In 1918, it became the center of our downtown and today it remains the centerpiece on Main Street with its marquee of twinkling lights welcoming all to experience the world of imagination and creativity through entertainment, surrounded by the historic beauty of the theatre.

As with any century-old building, the theater also experienced a century’s worth of challenges including leaking roofs, falling plaster and financial issues. But not only has the Murphy remained open, it’s flourished, and it recently underwent a major renovation, both structurally and cosmetically.

And prior to the week-long 100th birthday celebration in July, the theater will have all new seats to replace the originals.

“Historic buildings bring character and personality to our communities, they speak of the past and we are responsible for their survival,” said Hollon. “Our hometown has charm, uniqueness, and a sense of history that I hope to see endure.”

In 1918, following the Murphy Theatre’s opening day ceremonies, the words of Charles Webb Murphy spoke to the grand vision he inspired and followed through with for 100 years:

“That opening handed me the greatest surprise and delight of my life. I have seen many large crowds at the World Series netting me thousands of dollars, but none gave me the pleasure that I got Wednesday. I only wish everybody in the world could have been with us to enjoy what I call the greatest day, thus far, in the history of Wilmington, the town I love and where my heart will always be, regardless of worldly interests elsewhere.”

A week-long celebration

The Murphy Theatre means so much to Wilmington that its 100th birthday can’t be celebrated on just one day — it’ll take an entire week’s worth of events.

“All these things are going to bring people downtown,” said Hollon. “It’s going to make them think about our history hopefully, and have a new appreciation maybe for how far our community has come.

“And yet, how we maintained that downtown corridor for historic reasons is so wonderful for a community our size.”

Murphy Theatre 100th anniversary activities

July 20

• Opening concert with Over the Rhine, 7 p.m., free, sponsored by Main Street Wilmington

July 21

• Face painting and children’s cartoons, 10 a.m.-noon

• Bike Night at the Murphy, 1-9 p.m.

• Miss Lissa & Company Blues Band, 2-4:30 p.m.

• Documentary, “The Making of Easy Rider,” 4-5 p.m.

• Cash prize for oldest motorcycle, 6 p.m.

• Movie, “Easy Rider,” 6-8 p.m.

July 22

• Tours of the theater, 1 p.m., free

• Silent movies, 2-4 p.m., free

July 23

• Brown Bag Lunch, featuring music by guitarist Abby Williams, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., free

July 24

• Birthday Celebration, 6-7 p.m.

• Birthday Ceremony, featuring Barry Campbell’s Big Band presenting “A Century of America’s Best Music,” 7 p.m.

July 26

• Brown Bag Lunch, featuring Celtic music with Catty Wampus, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., free

July 27

• Movie, “Lost in Yonkers” — filmed in Wilmington and in the Murphy Theatre, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Mercedes Ruehl, 7:30 p.m.

July 28

• Closing concert sponsored by the Clinton County CVB; with MC Goat from Full Throttle Saloon

• Dirty Deeds — A Tribute to AC/DC

• Ultimate Ozzy — A tribute to Ozzy Osbourne

• Jack Russell’s Great White

• FireHouse

For more information, visit themurphytheatre.org or call 937-382-3643.

Salt Magazine

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