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October 12, 2001

Recently I’ve been writing about some of the public school and Catholic academy graduation services that were staged at the Grand Opera House in the early 1900s. That was before the Perry school system had an auditorium large enough to accommodate the large crowds that have always attended those services, but, as you know, the Grand was home for many other public attractions. The old building that stood in the middle of the block on the east side of the square from 1901 to 1960 also was home for traveling theatrical road shows, vaudeville, Will Rogers, Buster Keaton and other celebrated artists of that era.

PHS also used the Grand Opera House stage for school plays, concerts and other presentations. I have the remnants of a program that was handed out one year when the school presented a play, “The Pennant,” the night of Friday, April 28. Unfortunately, the year is not shown, but it apparently was around 1915. The single sheet flyer lists these students in the cast of characters. Perhaps you know some of them: Leslie Johnston, Raymond Woodruff, Ralph McCune, Kenneth Kirchner, Lester Bartow, Earl Bechtold, Fred Waltermire, Bernice Guthrie, Florence Kraemer, Lilyan Laird, Lenore Stout and Hope Eby.

The following played “College Girls”: Ada Dishman, Agnes Shaeffer, Virginia Bagby, Edith Dishman, Eugenia Edwards, Mary Tate, Ethel Knox, Gladys Rosa, Ellen Bowles, Agnes Marshall, Nina Thomason and Virginia Merrell. Appearing as “Football Players” were Hugh Shaeffer, Lawrence Wood, Archa Mills, Allan Wilson, Ellis Webber, Robert McCandless, Leo Wetzel, John McCormick, Edwin Bechtold and J.C. Wood.

The sheet also listed “The Mating,” a “play of college life, starring Bessie Barriscale,” to be presented before and after “The Pennant.” Apparently that was a sort of bonus for the audience, but it does not tell us if Bessie Barriscale was a local performer or the star of some touring production.

Another handout sheet gives the order of service for Perry high school’s 14th annual senior baccalaureate service to be held on Sunday evening, May 14, 1916. This one, however, was in the sanctuary of the First Methodist Episcopal church, starting at 8 p.m. After the processional and the invocation, the high school chorus sang a selection, a prayer was given, scripture was read, and the Choral Club sang “Moon-Rise.” After another prayer, Bernice Guthrie and Raymond Woodruff sang a duet, “Hold Thou My Hand.” The sermon, entitled “The Sinews of Character and Achievement,” was given by Rev. Wheeler. To close the service, the congregation sang “America” after which the benediction was pronounced.

The programs and other printed information contained in these recent columns are gifts from David Foster of Albuquerque, NM, whose parents, the late Joe and Kitty Foster, were students at Perry high school in those years. All this material will be presented to the Perry High School Alumni Association for its archives.