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October 2, 2001

Before the Perry school system had an auditorium of its own, students used the facilities of the Grand Opera House on the east side of the square for graduation ceremonies, recitals, concerts, and the like. The story of the old Grand is well known. It was one of the city’s most prized possessions when it was built in 1901 by J.B. Tate and John Pressler, and it was privately owned. In its prime, the Grand was grand in every sense of the word. The two-story brick building stood proudly in the middle of various businesses on the square, and its size dwarfed all of them. A loft on the roof at the rear of the building, where stage scenery and other set pieces were raised for storage, gave it an even more distinctive look. Sadly, the tired old structure was torn down in 1960 because its sandstone walls and foundation were crumbling. Today a gaping hole on the east side of the square shows where the Grand Opera House formerly stood.

The Grand’s ample stage was used by touring artists, such as Buster Keaton and Will Rogers, and for local presentations, like those provided by the city schools. In later years it was the home of Henry Tate’s Annex Movie Theater. Thanks to former Perryan David Foster, I have some of the handout programs used at a few of those events and they are interesting for several reasons. David, who now lives in Albuquerque, came across them in going through some things found after the death of his mother, Kitty Marshall Foster. Mrs. Foster’s family was very musical and many of them took part in entertainment on the stage of the Grand. I’m happy to present portions of some of those handouts for your reading pleasure.

The oldest souvenir program appears to be for the commencement exercises of St. Joseph’s Academy on May 25, 1915. A footnote on the cover states that tickets for the event could be purchased at “Beers’ Drug Store” (my Dad’s City Drug) for 35 and 25 cents. Some of the highlights from that program included a piano duet by Misses J. Metz and R. Ableidinger, and another duet by Master A. Lumber and Miss R. Ringler. Following was a violin selection by Masters E. Bowles, J. O’Neil, A. Lumber, A. Mills and Miss E. Soule. Master Edgar Wiegel sang “The Best Country on Earth,” followed by Miss Ethel Knox and Miss Clara Hempfling in a piano duo, “Fantasie Impromptu.” Miss Strothman sang “Rockin’ in De Win’,” and “The Little Girls” performed a rainbow drill accompanied at the piano by Miss C. Hempfling.

Archa Mills played a piano solo and the violin ensemble played another selection with Miss Ethel Edmiston at the piano. A solo was sung by Miss Vesta Clark, accompanied by Miss Wilkerson. A piano quartet composed of Misses A. Strothman, F. Wiegel, and Misses L. Soule and M. Ringler played a number, followed by a play. (The title and cast members were not listed.) Miss Vesta Clark played a piano solo, the “S. Girls” presented a drill, accompanied by Miss Hempfling, and Misses Clark and Wilkerson sang a duet. The violin class played a selection with Miss Ethel Edmiston as accompanist.

The program for the evening was climaxed by an address by the Rev. Father Willebord, pastor of the St. Rose of Lima Catholic church, and the awarding of diplomas and medals. Names of members of the 1915 graduating class at St. Joseph’s Academy were not listed for some reason. We’ll have more about some of these program at the Grand Opera House in a few days.