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Burlesque shows met resistance from Wabash churches

IT'S ALL HISTORY NOW by PETE JONES

Burlesque shows always seemed to cause a rift in the community when they came to play at the Eagles Theater or Harter’s Opera House in the early years of the twentieth century. Such was the case when a burlesque company booked a performance at the Eagles on April 17, 1908.

The Wabash Ministerial Association let it be known that it did not condone the show, but its members acknowledged there was little they could do to stop it. The show’s road manager offered box seats to any preacher who wanted to attend. “They can see for themselves that nothing will be allowed on the stage that should not be,” said John McKinnon.

Well, the performance went on as scheduled, and the next day the Plain Dealer reported that the show had indeed been cleaned up a bit. Some of the jokes and songs were somewhat sanitized. “It was an expurgated copy of the original show, and many of the patrons were disappointed,” the newspaper said.

But one thing should be noted. At the last moment, the all-male Wabash Athletic Association, then the city’s most prominent and colorful organization, postponed its annual spring banquet originally set for the same night as the burlesque. I think it’s a strong possibility that many of the men of the W.A.A. were present when the curtain went up in the Eagles Theatre that night.

Explosions in the night

Several times in April, 1908, folks living in the West End reported hearing muffled explosions in the early hours of the morning. Poachers were at work along Charley Creek and Kintner Creek, taking large numbers of fish by setting dynamite charges in the deeper places in the streams.

In earlier years, most of the creeks and small streams in the county flowed freely the year around and harbored bluegill, bass and other fishes. Anglers found the stream banks delightful by day, but often at night the dynamiters took over and killed fish by the hundreds if not thousands. Arrests of these poachers were few and far between, and the creeks near Wabash were soon empty of fish.

Fishworms from the sky

That same spring, after a heavy and prolonged rain, newly paved streets here were alive with thousands and thousands of wiggling, flopping fishworms. Young boys, delighted with the prospect of future fishing expeditions, scooped them into buckets and cans. The worms, many said, came from the sky.

But wiser heads noted that the worms were forced from the ground by the abundant rainfall and were more highly visible when they crawled onto the shiny, black paved surfaces than in the grass or on dirt streets.

Nevertheless, people here told and re-told the story of the day it rained fishworms for years thereafter, and some of the boys who gathered up worms after the storm clung to the story well into old age.

Pete Jones writes a weekly column on local history for the Wabash Plain Dealer. He writes about people, places and events in and around Wabash County. Contact him at 1160 Sunset Drive in Wabash, or at: peteinwabash@comcast.net.