Saturday, January 26, 2013

When Sandusky was a Stop on the Vaudeville Circuit

Before motion pictures dominated our culture and everyone had a record player in the house, Vaudeville was the main source of entertainment, particularly for the working classes. Performers of many types traveled together on "the circuit" from city to city, presenting their acts as part of a variety program in local theaters. For as little as ten cents, people could spend an afternoon or an evening (sometimes there were two shows a day) watching singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians, comedians, and who knows what other type of performers -- and perhaps even get to see a movie with the price of admission. Sandusky had the good fortune of being along the railroad lines between major cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo, so many big stars of the time stopped in Sandusky for a performance.

The Sandusky Theater, built as an opera house in 1877, was the major venue for vaudeville performance in Sandusky, but many smaller theaters in towns offered vaudeville shows -- including, in the early days (19th century, after the Civil War), Norman Hall, Fisher's Hall, and Link's Hall; and in the 20th century, the Majestic Theater and the State Theater.

As mentioned above, many famous performers stopped in Sandusky to do their acts; many are forgotten today (like John Bunny), but were huge stars at the time; others are remembered to this day, at least by fans of show business history.

But by the 1930s, with the advent of the "talkies" (sound motion pictures), the poverty of the Great Depression, and, later, World War II and television, Vaudeville faded in popularity until it was just a memory. Its spirit lived on in television, on programs like the Ed Sullivan show, and even to this day with Leno and Letterman, and other variety shows.

To view original vaudeville programs from Sandusky theaters and to learn more about entertainment in early Sandusky, visit the Archives Research Center at the Sandusky Library.

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