Pageant celebrates 50th year
(from the Gyp Hill Premiere - 5/20/2002)
Although advances in technology continue to change the format of entertainment, most people still love to watch movies. With easy access from rental stores, movies can be viewed every day from the comfort of our own homes. Still, there’s something about seeing a movie on the big screen that keeps theaters in business, and although most remaining theaters are enclosed, there’s something about the Pageant Theater in Medicine Lodge that has kept the drive-in alive for almost fifty years.
Explained Amy Sill, "The drive-in is a relaxed atmosphere. People can bring their lawn chairs, and their kids can be noisy and it won’t disturb anyone."
Amy and her husband, Mike, have been running the Pageant Drive-In every summer since 1995, but Mike’s history with the theater goes back much further. Mike was just a kid when his parents, Wayne and Wanda Sill, bought both the Pageant Drive-In and the Pastime Theater.
"We opened on August 10, 1968," shared Wayne. "I don’t remember the first movie we showed, but the second was ‘In Cold Blood’"
The drive-in was constructed in 1952 and was originally owned by Roy and May Culley. Said Wanda, "It had always been Mr. Culley’s dream to have the drive-in, but he had a stroke right before it opened, and he never got to see it."
Following Wayne’s discharge from the Navy, the Sills moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Medicine Lodge to run the theaters. Wayne had received training in projection while in the Navy.
The drive-in was capable of holding around 300 cars and Wayne and Wanda remember when it would be almost full. Ticket prices their first year of business were $1.00 for adults and 50 cents for kids.
"We have a lot of fond memories and most of them involve a variety of people," said Wayne. "I imagine I could embarrass a lot of people if I told them all."
Wayne received his nickname, "Frosty" at the drive-in. "One night there were several kids who had had too much to drink and one of them said, ‘You look like Frosty the Snowman’. From then on, the name stuck."
Some memories involved near disaster as well. On March 17, 1971, the original screen blew down when winds gusting between 100 and 125 miles per hour roared through the community. Another time the marquee burned up and had to be replaced.
The Sills closed the downtown theater in 1982 or 1983, but continued to run the drive-in until 1987. Commented Wayne and Wanda, "The last movie we showed was ‘Benji the Haunted’. You could rent it at the local video store the night we showed it, so we decided it was time to end."
The drive-in remained closed until Mike decided to reopen. Said Mike, "I just hated to drive by and see how run down it was becoming."
Community support for the drive-in has been very good since its reopening, and many come regularly from out of town as well. The Pageant Drive-In is one of only nine drive-ins left in Kansas.
With the help of family and friends, Mike and Amy usually open the theater in May and close sometime in September. Said Amy, "My dad and family have put in so much time here, and we couldn’t do it without them. Tom and Melody Walters and their family are out here helping us all the time too."
The drive-in is now open for the season. Ticket prices are $5 for adults and $3 for kids ages 4-11. Children three and under are admitted free. For listings call 620-886-5358 or 1-800-95-MOVIE (out-of-town only) or check out the drive-in’s new web site at www.pageantdrivein.com.