© 2014 Enfys McMurry All rights reserved.
July 3 1900: On 13th Street, at an empty storefront, a traveling showman invited people inside. They paid five cents, sat on folding chairs in the dark and watched a screen. Grainy, gray photographic images flickered and moved. For two minutes they saw a coastal scene with waves dashing on rocks. For another nickel and for another two minutes they watched a cross-country runner. There were no stories, no sound, no music, but they were the first motion pictures in Centerville and their popularity was immediate. Three churches (the Christian, Swedish Lutheran and the Catholic) followed suit. They showed images of McKinley’s life and assassination, Queen Victoria’s funeral, King Edward 7th’s coronation, the storming of San Juan Hill, the eruption of Mount Pelee in Martinique. People said they found the images “disturbing” and said they felt “...like moving from their seats to escape harm.” On Independence Day 1907, thousands of people watched moving pictures in a tent on the Square. Two months later the town’s first official movie house, the Lyric, opened on the Square’s west side and a year later, almost next door, the Bijou. It was at the Lyric that people saw Edwin S. Porter’s “The Life of an American Fireman” and his groundbreaking “The Great Train Robbery.” In this 14-scene, 12-minute movie, the characters moved; there were flashbacks and a close-up, uniting to tell what is credited as the first story put into movie form.
July 4 (Multiple years) Part 1: On this day every year, at the first light of dawn, the firing of the cannon on the Courthouse Square awoke the community for this the most patriotic day of the year. Along those 12 streets designed by Jonathan Stratton in 1846, people came in their hundreds to greet each other, to listen to the Centerville Brass and Martial Bands play patriotic music, to salute the unfurling of the flag, to march in parades, to honor the Civil War veterans who still strode with perfect military bearing behind Old Glory, to listen to the reading of the Declaration of Independence by a leading citizen. Ice cream was served and with the dark, people waited for the firework display. On this day in 1881, a rumor began to circulate. People looked at each other with concern. Three news bulletins had arrived that day at the Western Union telegraph office at the Rock Island Railroad Station. Runners carried them the mile to the Square. One bulletin said President Garfield had been shot at Washington’s Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot 2 days previously. The 2nd message was that he was dead. Then came the 3rd.: “...the President is still alive but [with] so much excitement, that the truth cannot be ascertained.” In this state of suspense and uncertainty, the day on the Square continued.( 89, 90, 91) (Part 2 next: That night’s spectacular firework display)