Don Burton lived in Fairbury with his single mother and older sister Dorothy between 1936 and 1942. For the first couple of years his mother owned and operated the Carmel Corn shop located in the corner lot north of the Bonham Theatre. Don and Dorothy (labeled by their mother as the “popcorn kids”) sold popcorn from trays strapped to their shoulders. Don remembers walking with his sister to the pavilion in the city park to sell the popcorn. He supposes they also sold to patrons of the Bonham Theatre since the theatre did not have a concession stand in the early years.
Don’s mother was forced by the city to discontinue her Carmel Corn shop, after which she held other jobs. One job was as a waitress in a café across the street from the Pla-Mor Lanes/Café. At times, the Bonham Theatre served as a babysitter for Don. Don was given admission money and allowed to attend the theatre. After the show he was to walk down the alley west to the café.
Don especially liked to attend the triple-western days at the Bonham. For one price (Don recalls 5 cents) you could stay all day and watch three westerns, or even watch the westerns a second time. During the war years, Don remembers the Bonham Theatre held drives for the war effort. Admission was a desired commodity such as sheet metal, iron, or used cooking oil.
One day in the years 1938-1940 when Don was 5-7 years old, Don attended a triple-western day and got locked in the theatre. As was the practice of many youth, Don usually sat in the front rows of the theatre. On this particular day he sat in the second or third row. He fell asleep and later woke to a dark, locked theatre. The ushers had apparently missed seeing him before they left for the night. Don made his way to the lobby only to find no way to open the doors from the inside. He attempted to attract the attention of passersby. Eventually a couple walking by noticed Don in distress in the locked lobby. Communicating through the glass doors, Don requested help and the police were called. The manager arrived to unlock the doors and Don sought out his worried mother.
Don wonders if he was the only child ever locked into the Bonham Theatre.
If you have memories of the Bonham Theatre to share, please contact Debby Ebke at 402.300.7146.