Emmitsburg’s Gem Theater

Emmitsburg’s lone theater, which was located at 125 West Main Street, provided not only theatrical entertainment to the community but also hosted social events and fundraisers.

The earliest mention of Emmitsburg’s Gem Theater appeared in the November 1933 edition of The (Hanover) Evening Sun, when according to the Sun, “Fire broke out in the projection room of the Gem Theater about 10 o’clock Saturday during the last show,” adding, “The flames caused quite a commotion among those in the theater.”

However, the flames were extinguished by projectionist. Arthur Elder, using an “emergency fire exterminator.”  The newspaper noted that the fire did not cause “much damage.”  The causation of the fire was attributed to “a broken film (that was) ignited by an arc light.”

Beginning in  December 1934, the management of the Gem Theater had initiated an annual tradition by offering local children an opportunity to attend free movies during the Christmas season festivities being held in Emmitsburg.  Specifically, in December1935, the children were treated to a free western, according to The (Hanover) Evening Sun, a luxury for the children whose families were financially caught-up in the Great Depression.

In 1940, the owner/manager of the Gem Theater was identified as having been Harry T. Bollinger. Also in 1940, as the United States slid toward an inescapable collision of nations comprising the Second World War, the Gem Theater focused on local needs, and during July 1940 that a special two-night movie would be shown for the benefit of an Emmitsburg playground, The Sun reported. 

In 1952, The Sun identified a new owner of the Gem as being John G. Miller, who also owned the Taneytown Theater and a soon-to-open “open air” theater at Bridgeport. 

The Gem apparently continued to operate normally until the summer of 1954, which “had been closed most of the summer,” according to The Sun, but before it had reopened, the theater was leased by Miller to Clifford “Kayo” Keilholtz and William Rogers. 

Whatever transpired in the wake of that arrangement, it was not noted that the theater would re-open until November 2, 1955, under the new management of “Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Clem.” However, The Sun reported that the theater had been upgraded with a new wide-screen, and an enlarged concession stand.

But the end of the Gem was rapidly approaching. The (Frederick) News reported in October 1960 that the Gem Theater, “which has been closed for several years” will reopen on October 21, and is presently now under new management, and that the theater had undergone “extensive remodeling and improvements.” 

By December 1960, the theater reopened under a new name, the “MG Theater,” according to The News. No explanation was provided regarding the change of franchise, but the newly re-dubbed theater was going to continue with the Christmas holiday tradition of free movies for the area children, a tradition which was continued into 1963.

Bruce Hollinger, II, formerly of Emmitsburg, stated that his father was a partner in the theater operation going into the 1960s, during the effort to save the Gem/MG Theater, noting that the effort  was to have been “more of a benefit to the residents, rather than a profit-making endeavor.”

In spite of those efforts, in 1964, the Gem/MG Theater closed its doors forever, and the building was subsequently converted into apartments.

Emmitsburg area resident David Little recalled that, “The (theater seat) cushions were brown and thick, and you walked in aisles (to get to them) , and then to sit, you pushed the back-up, (whereas), nowadays you push the seat down to sit.”

Little and his family lived above the bowling alley at the time when the Gem was still in business and noted that whenever the doors of the theater were opened, “ We could smell the buttered popcorn from across the street.” He said admission for a matinee showing was ten cents. “My mother would give me a quarter for a Saturday afternoon matinee movie, candy, and a coke.”

 The former 125 West Main Street location of the Gem Theater.

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