Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Harrold’s entertainment center, 1955
Lights! Camera! Action! You’re right, there wasn’t movie making in Harrold, but there was movie showing, outdoors, under the stars.
A large slab of concrete was located a half block west of the main street, just south of the railroad right-of-way. It had been poured by the VFW to hold dances on. Lights surrounded the concrete pad, and a bandstand sat in the corner, large enough for a band or a square dance caller to use. Snow fence circled the floor, with a gate in one corner. People paid admission when they came through the gate to offset the cost of the band or the square dance caller.
Saturday night dances would get pretty wild, with a lot of drinking going on, and teenagers from surrounding towns coming to Harrold, looking for girls and starting fights. People would sit in their cars across the street to listen to the music and watch the dancing and the fighting. The city cop and once in a while a county deputy would spend time circling the block, but except for some hangovers and busted lips, nobody ever got seriously hurt. A few spent the night in the county jail.
Square dancing was a different thing. Little if any drinking went on amongst the dancers. All were decked out in colorful shirts, scarves and dresses, men in cowboy boots, women in soft soled shoes. Giggles and laughter skipped across the floor as dancers learned new calls, and the kids formed their own square in the corner and copied their parent’s moves. The caller would set up his sound system, start calling out familiar moves to familiar music, gradually moving to more challenging calls. Everyone went home exhausted and happy, looking forward to the next dance.
The floor became an outdoor movie theatre on the Saturday nights when there wasn’t a dance, with a canvas sheet strung up on a wooden frame built on the back of the band stand creating a movie screen. A projector was set up in the middle of the concrete floor with the sound being channeled into a large speaker sitting on the band stand. The movie was free, and when the sun went down kids would gather, sitting and lying on the concrete in front of the band stand, with adults sitting on folding chairs or, if they got there soon enough to find a parking spot along the snow fence, watching the movie from their cars. Someone made popcorn and sold pop, just like at a real theatre!
This entertainment, along with the town, dried up when travel to Pierre became common, people shopping for groceries when they went to Pierre for machinery parts or doctor appointments. Fewer and fewer people came to town on Saturday nights, opting to stay home and watch the two channels on their black and white TV. Weeds grew up from the cracks in the concrete pad, the fence blew down and was hauled away, leaving only memories of the fun that had gone on there. Sometimes, at night many years later, walking down the street past the old concrete floor, if the wind was just right, you could almost hear the steady beat of the music as square dancers bowed to their partners, so long ago.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood, for the Feb. 20, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News