Hidden Memories of Memorial Opera House
As I sat down nearly 6 hours ago to write this blog, I got all the way finished, and realized just how personal MOH is to me. It is not just about the building (although that is an amazing building). It was about the history, the history that lives in the walls, in the pictures, in the books, in the original lights that hang from the ceiling of the main hall, in the new Bar Room, that used to be the Women's Relief Corp Office/Room where my GG Grandmother had her desk and took care of the building.
Its in the meeting room/special events room upstairs where the Vets of the Civil War met twice a month. Its in climbing the stairs to that room every month that reminds me of the struggle so many of the Vets had getting up there in the early days with their Canes, and disabilities from the war. It going to see the Play Harvey during the same season that our High School was performing it. It was the tour of the pit, the green room, the wall of fame, etc. It's all of this that leads me to write this Blog today.
About a month ago, Kevin Pazour, Director of PO CO Museum, and Sons of Union Veterans Historian, texted me with a picture of a news article on the dedication ceremony for the Memorial Opera House in 1893. This appeared in the Chicago Inter Ocean Newspaper, which was owned by Gilbert Pierce. Nothing too exciting about that right? Wrong... This began a quest for me to verify the information that was listed in this article. Have I found the Answers? Well I suppose the easy answer would be NO- But I am closer to the truth than I was. This may never get solved unless I get a Delorean, some Plutonium, or a Mr Fusion. But I promise to continue to chase the story to get an even more complete story.
But I digress, Let me go back to the beginning, not the first of the month, but rather all the way back to 1861.
It was April, and I guess weather similar to what we have been experiencing this week in Valparaiso. The country was at odds over numerous issues, Slavery, States Rights, economy, and even immigration- not all that different than today to be honest. But it was April 12, 1861, that the entire country would change- When that first shot was fired upon the Fort Sumter, everything would change.
It was not until April 14th the telegram came to Valparaiso giving the news of the firing upon Ft Sumter. The Citizens of Valparaiso got together on April 15th at the courthouse and issued the following proclamation; American ! Union Men Rally. The war has begun. Fort Sumter has fallen ! Our flag has been insulted, fired upon and struck to traitors ! A Pelican and Rattlesnake banner floats in its stead ! Let it be torn down and the stars and stripes float in its place,or let us perish in the attempt. Davis, the traitor, says that next the Secession flag shall wave over the Capitol at Washington! Shall it be so ? A thousand times No ! Then tonight let us rally at the court house, burying all party names, and come to the rescue of the Republic against its mortal enemies. We are beaten at Sumter, but not conquered,and must rally to preserve the inheritance left us by our fathers. Come one, come all who love their country ! To-night let us pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to the defense of the proudest flag that ever waved over a free people !
The courthouse was full of people that evening, it was Robert A Cameron MD., Joseph McCarthy MD.,Mark L Demotte, S.S. Skinner, J.N. Skinner, Jacob Brewer,ICB Suman, Thomas Putnam, Gilbert Pierce, Thomas Lytle, and so many more formed companies and units to go to War. The 9th Indiana was one of the first in the state to be formed- Company H was formed on April 22, 1861 in Indianapolis.
It was these men, and their families that first sacrificed their time, money, supplies, health, and in some cases their lives, for the defense of this nation. It was these Men and their Families that were not only proud of their country, but proud of their city.
The war lasted 4 long, very long years, and millions of lives were affected. over 600,000 casualties, of which approximately 150 were from Porter County.
After the War, the Veterans and their families tried their best to adjust to life again after the War. Henry Binnamon was the founding Charter Member of the second GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) post in the State, located in Valparaiso. Post no.1 The post disbanded in 1869 after little or no support. Most of the Veterans were busy with their families, making a living, and involvement in other organizations. It was not until 1882, that the GAR had a national push to reestablish itself. It was October of 1882, that the Chaplain James Cauldwell Brown Post no. 106 was established.
The new post, Chaplain Brown Post, was charted and formed by Edward M Burns.
This is important to the building of the Memorial Opera House, or as it was called back then Memorial Hall. It was later called Memorial Opera House.
When Memorial Hall was erected and then dedicated in November 1893, the local papers gave a very detailed description of the building including 3 Aluminum Statues. The first was to be Goddess of Liberty to be placed upon the left tower, a Volunteer Soldier upon the right tower, and in the middle above the arch style window on the front of the building was an Eagle.
This first appeared in the Inter-Ocean Paper out of Chicago, and then it appeared in the Valparaiso Messenger.
In looking through other descriptions of Memorial hall, these statues are never mentioned, nor have I have found mentioned in any other Newspaper Articles. These images are fascinating.
The earliest image we know to exist of Memorial Hall is from 4 years after the Dedication, in 1897. In the picture below, you can see that none of the 3 statues appear. This would lead myself to believe that the statues never made it into the final design of the building due to cost. It is important to remember, that the Cost of this building, was $5,000. That is correct, $5,000. We can see from invoices and financial records of the Post, that although bills continued to come in for the building, very little money came into the post after the initial fundraising had occurred.
It would appear that we may never 100% for sure if these amazing statues ever made it to the building, but it would appear at this time, no statues did make it to the final building. However, if anyone has any other information on these statues, please email myself or Kevin Pazour.
Enjoy some pictures of Memorial Hall that I have included below. These were all gathered from the web, and are considered public domain. Should you have any other pictures of the Opera House, please feel free to email them.
As I look over the pictures, and reflect on all that has happened with the Hall over all of these years. I have to say that Committee that got together 126 years to investigate how to go about building this Memorial, I have to believe with all of my heart, would look upon MOH with smiles and excitement that the building is still exactly what they intended for it to be. They would happy that it is the most successful that it has ever been. They would be filled with emotion in that the community is not only still supporting it, but are coming in droves to it, to enjoy a night out. They would be amazed that their legacy is still flourishing, and their memories are still alive in the walls, pictures, fixtures, books, and yes this blog.
So the next time you step in the MOH, think of the past, appreciate the building, and please appreciate the history that continues to live on with every ticket sold.