On April 22, 2015, Frank W. McKeel donated a thick book filled with hundreds of movie ticket stubs from the Darlington & Liberty Theaters. Inside the book, on the very first page, Mr. McKeel wrote a message to the Darlington County Historical Commission:
Please remember when!
Because I got such a kick out of combing through decades of old ticket stubs, and grinning like a sweepstakes winner whenever I came across movies that I’d actually seen like Creatures from the Black Lagoon and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, I decided to honor Mr. McKeel’s request. Below is a condensed history of the Liberty Theater, taken, mostly, from a wonderful sketch written by Shaler T. Stanley, who worked in theaters, including the Liberty, continuously for more than forty years.
Around 1915, Earl Baxter, then publisher of the News and Press, leased the Opera House in the Town Hall and called it Liberty Theater with the intention to show movies. According to Mr. Stanley’s article, the Liberty “was only a shell of a movie theatre,” but it did cut into profits for the other theater in town known as The Almo, where, at the time, Mr. Stanley was working. Later, around 1919, George Hendrickson bought out Mr. Baxter, and two years later, Hendrickson gave the Liberty a new entrance and put a ticket booth in. Hendrickson ran the Liberty until 1927 or 1928 and then sold out to Lester Sipe, but Sipe couldn’t make it work and sold it back to Hendrickson. Sipe did, however, make a vital contribution to the Liberty: he put in Movie Tone equipment, which gave the audience its first experiences with Talking Pictures. (Note: Hendrickson took the equipment out whenever he took over again, much to Mr. Stanley’s delight because, apparently, the equipment was difficult to use.)
In 1935, Hendrickson sold one-half interest in the Liberty to Wilby Kincey Theatres, Corp, and that company completely remodeled, turning the Liberty Theater into “one of the finest movie houses in South Carolina.” After World War II, Hendrickson sold out completely to a Marine named Sam Irvin. This took place on January 1, 1948, and according to Mr. Stanley, Sam Irvin “was 100% O.K.” with Stanley and the rest of the employees at the Liberty. Irvin being “an ambitious fellow,” he opened a second theater called the Darlington Theater.
There is no record of when exactly the Liberty Theater closed, but it was torn down in January, 1965. No one has been able to determine when the Darlington Theater closed, either. But still, it’s nice to remember when.
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