The Capitol Theatre mural in Milton brings back memories for people beyond the Susquehanna Valley, even as far as Dayton, Ohio.
"I was just under the assumption that after the theater was gone, people just went, 'Oh, well. We'll move on,'" said Jack Oberleitner, co-owner of the theater in 1972. "To hear that it's not only remembered but remembered lovingly, and to hear that, as (muralist Pamela Snyder-Etters) said, it's part of the Milton legend, it's very special to know that I had a small part in that."
Along with Tom Poling, Oberleitner restored the Capitol to its former glory, repairing or replacing the chandeliers and replacing close to 1,000 light bulbs on the old-fashioned marquee.
"It was mainly done by ourselves and our friends," Oberleitner said. "A lot of times we would sleep in the balcony of the theater, and get up in the morning and start painting again. It was a major, major undertaking."
In a tribute to the Capitol's opening year, they showed 1934 films for the grand re-opening on Aug. 6, 1972: "King Kong," Shirley Temple in "Dora Dunking Donuts," Laurel and Hardy in "Night Owls," and W.C. Fields in "The Fatal Glass of Beer." Usherettes wore military-looking uniforms.
"I'll tell you something that no one else knows," Oberleitner said. "They were actually old band uniforms from a school outside of Pittsburgh."
The first 100 women were given purple and white Vanda orchids from Hawaii. Kids got comic books, men a bag of trinkets, and free coffee was offered in the lounge.
As Oberleitner and his partner frantically finished painting the underside of the balcony just before opening hour, the mayor arrived and an usherette said, "Do you realize we have a line out there almost six blocks long?" The 1970s audience was treated to 1930s grandeur when the lights dimmed and the curtain swooshed open.
"The audience, en masse, stood up and cheered," Oberleitner said, pride still evident in his voice. "Oh, yeah. Major goose bumps.
"It was a phenomenal feeling, the outpouring of, just love and support from the community. There is — and I mean this sincerely — nobody in this world like the people in Central Pennsylvania. It made us feel, in turn, like we were doing something worthwhile."
In the next few years Oberleitner sold the Capitol and went on to open other theaters with his company, Cinestage. But he always had a soft spot for the Capitol, and was crushed when he heard it had burned and been demolished.
"I was totally, totally devastated," he said. "It was almost like having a close relative die. I just couldn't go back to that and see an empty lot where a thing of beauty had once been. There was such magic in that building … I just couldn't do it."
When he learned through an online magazine about the Capitol Theatre mural, he contacted Snyder-Etters, who told him that TIME (The Improve Milton Experience) was hoping to host a tribute to the Capitol's 1972 re-opening, with gifts for guests, just as Oberleitner had done 37 years ago."And I said, for that, I will come back to Milton," Oberleitner said.
As of now, some unexpected technical and logistical problems may postpone that celebration until next summer, according to TIME's Main Street Manager, Deb Owens. Whenever it takes place, Oberleitner would like to be there. He once put his heart into restoring the Capitol, and seeing it again, as a landmark mural, will be worth the trip.
n Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Send e-mail comments to her at Cindyherman1@yahoo.com.