Friday, 11 March 2016

Grahamstown Gazette: the Thames Entertainments featurette

For the March edition of the Grahamstown Gazette, I wrote an feature on old-timey Thames events and entertainment. For this piece, I took the week of the 2016 Thames Heritage Festival - one of the busiest weeks in Thames' social calendar - and wound the clock back a hundred years to see what events were happening during the same week of 1916.

A diary of entertainment and excitement on The Thames, March 13th – 19th 1916.

Monday: Monday night was evidently a quiet night on the Thames, but the Thames Star advertised a long list of clubs, bands and friendly societies where one could wile away the hours. The Thames Bowling Club, Thames Drum and Fife Band, Thames Literary Society and Choral Society were popular options for a night of leisurely pursuits.

Tuesday: A hundred years too early for Netflix, Thames locals flocked to the King’s Theatre (on the site of the modern Embassy Theatre) to see instalment number seven of the Million Dollar Mystery, titled The Doom of the Auto Bandits. The Million Dollar Mystery was a 23-part serial released in 1914 and sensationally written without an ending - the member of the public who wrote in with the best suggestion for the series finale received $US10,000. Unfortunately for the Thames locals in the cinema that night, they were two years too late to cash in on the prize; or to experience the huge publicity stunts which had surrounded the series’ release in America.

Wednesday: Wirth Bros.’ Circus was in town, and a huge crowd packed into their tent to see Captain Huling’s trained seals. Riding, balancing, playing musical instruments and walking on wires, the agile seals were the highlight of an action-packed show. The Wirth family performed a series of stunning acrobatic stunts on the horizontal bars and on the backs of galloping horses. The Wirth Brothers promised to make Thames an annual stop on their touring schedule.

Thursday: Scandal and intrigue at the King’s Theatre on Thursday night, with the screening of two new dramas: God’s Witness and She Walks Alone. Based on the novel At the Mercy of Tiberius by Augusta Evans Wilson, God’s Witness told the tale of a fatal quarrel, and a man proved innocent by a trick of natural photography. The Thames Star noted that God’s Witness was 4000ft long, and called it ‘a drama of rare merit.’

Friday: Friday at the King’s Theatre was just as memorable: it was St. Patrick’s Day, and the theatre celebrated with an Irish Night. As well as screening ‘appropriate’ Irish-themed pictures, the crowd all joined in to sing Irish songs. Meanwhile, the local ‘Catholics, juveniles and adults’ gathered for a day at the races in Parawai, despite the rain.

Saturday: Wirth Bros. were not the only circus to reach Thames this week. On Saturday, the novel entertainments of the Barton Bros. Circus arrived in town. Sixty horses, ponies and mules were on hand to take part in the ever-popular Worley’s Wild West Show, while Dare Devil Dentine gave a free performance outside the tent. Many of the performers were set to make their debut in Thames.

Sunday: Sunday night, and more sedate and educational entertainment was at hand. Auckland astronomer Mr. S. Stuart was in town to present a talk on The Majesty of the Heavens. Astronomy was considered the most perfect of all the sciences, and Mr. Stuart’s talk was bound to hold his audience completely. Entry by silver coin.

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