While the Mars Theatre offered movies in Springfield, a new experience in entertainment opened in Effingham in 1952. The Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre offered a movie on the big outdoor screen shown only at night just south of Springfield. It was owned and operated by Pat Ingram and Rufus Wilson. The only thing left of the theatre is one building that sits back from the road just north of St. Boniface Catholic Church on Highway 21 South. This building likely housed the projection room.
The late Madeline Ingram Sutton remembered running the ticket booth. She had three children and her youngest child, not yet walking, stayed in a hanging swing in the booth while she sold tickets. She remembered Elvis movies, 10-cent popcorn and teenagers sneaking into the theatre in the trunks of cars.
The first Sky-Vu screen was built of wood. It was struck by lightning and burned. The next one was built of steel.
Like the other theatres, the Sky-Vu offered movies with chapter pictures, the forerunner of soap operas, continuing from week to week. The late Rufus Wilson said that they usually had comedies during the week, Westerns on the weekend and occasionally a musical.
Ellis and Rachael Wilson recall working in the ticket booth and concession stand. They sold hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, candy, drinks and popcorn.
It closed in 1969 after a 17-year run. It was rented out after Wilson and Ingram decided not to run it anymore prior to the closing. During that time, the concession stand burned in what was thought to be an unusual fire.
Patronage continued to decline. The invention of the television and high school football offered local alternatives to the movies.
When the huge outdoor screen was dismantled in 1969, Wilson sold it for $200 to a man who used the steel to build tractor-trailers. The projection equipment went to a company in North Carolina that owned a chain of drive-ins.
The experience was unique at the drive-in. A hose contraption for sound was placed into the car window connected to boxes lined in rows between the parking spaces for the cars. The sound often had static. I remember being taken to see the “Ten Commandments” by my grandmother and shall never forget Moses parting the Red Sea on that huge screen.
Those days in the 1950s and 1960s were graced with wonderful cinema features. Movies like “Bullit,” “She wore a Yellow Ribbon,” “Wichita,” “That Lady,” “The Egyptian” and many more featured actors like Cary Grant, Jane Russell, Elvis Presley, Rory Calhoun, Rock Hudson, Roy Rogers Ann Wyman and James Dean.
The golden movie age will not be forgotten by the teenagers who parked in those drive-in spaces at the Sky-Vu. Ask Max Neidlinger, Harvey or Butch Kieffer and they can share their memories. It was an amazing time in the history of Effingham County.
The movie ad was provided by Max Neidlinger and Linda Webb Hodgson. This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Exley at 754-6681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.