The Midnight Show
By Bill Shepard
The Liberty Theater, long gone from its position on the corner of the square and North Main Street in Darlington, still lives in the minds of those who spent many pleasant hours inside its walls. This writer is among those who remember the days of the “western movies” that were main attractions shown every Saturday and it only cost a dime!
There was a time in the mid-thirties that a new feature was added at the theater. It was labeled “The Midnight Show!” Now, no kid from the mill village, “over the creek”, would entertain the thought of being in town at midnight, and especially at the theater! Add to that, the movie was to be a blood-curdling movie featuring Boris Karloff and Frankenstein! This movie was for the bravest of the brave! As an extra incentive for attending, a drawing at the end of the movie would be held. The winner of the lucky ticket drawn would receive fifty dollars. Not enough to cause me to be alone at midnight and facing my return to the village. The area behind the old mill included that of the flowing well, the creek bridge that spanned the slow moving waters of Swift Creek, the dark trestle that was built after the flood of 1928, and a dozen other spots that I had heard ghostly stories about. According to the tales I had heard for all my young years, there was no place in Darlington as haunted as those, and they lay in my path to home. The midnight show was off limits for me!
Then it happened! An older friend that lived near the same street as I challenged me to attend the midnight movie, even agreed to pay for my ticket. Reasoning that I would not be alone, I agreed to go. The movie was all and more than it had been advertised to be. Long before it was over, I was wishing I had stayed at home.
The movie ended; we didn’t win the fifty dollars, and the long walk home lay ahead. We left the theater and traveled along Orange Street in the direction of the mill village. I did not want to talk about what was going on inside of me. My friend was quiet also. At the end of Orange we turned on Reservoir Street, so named because of the two large reservoirs at the end of the street, and behind the old mill. Tonight being Saturday, the old mill would be dark, silent, and as ghostly appearing as could be. I had heard scary tales about happenings there also. Nothing adds to an already ghostly scene as do large bodies of water with now and then a splash being heard along the banks. Behind the reservoirs was the hill top overlooking the first part of the haunted area ahead. We would soon be there. Neither had spoken for the past while as we traveled toward our destination. I was so glad he was by my side. At the end of the street my friend turned to me and said, “Bill, I am stopping here and spending the rest of the night with my brother.” I could not believe what I was hearing! Yes, I knew that he had an older married brother that lived on this street, but it never occurred to me that this would be happening! What was I to do? No, I couldn’t stay; his brother wouldn’t like it if my friend invited me in. At first I thought he was teasing, but when I heard the door close behind my friend, I knew this was real! I would rather have died than to be left standing alone in the position I was in.
I could see a fog rising above the water in the reservoir. The moon had hid its face and the stars were in hiding, too. Why? Oh, why had I allowed myself to be placed in such a condition as this? It was repenting time! Had not the preacher at our little church told us to stay away from the movie houses? He said they were dens of iniquity and all evil was bred in Hollywood! Now I was paying for my sins! I promised if I got home safely, I would never again go to another movie. I was gonna attend Sunday School more regularly, even stay for preaching!
I stood for a moment at the top of the hill overlooking the haunted area below. I threw away the half empty sack of Golden Grain smoking tobacco I was carrying in my pocket and vowed I would never replace it, never! I took a deep breath, I though it may be my last, and I was off. By the time I reached where the flowing well stood I was almost airborne! My feet were barely touching the ground and my heart was pounding at an immeasurable rte. Never had I been so scared! Across the bridge and around the trestle, home at last! Never again! It took me a long time to forgive my friend; in time I came to reason that he was as scared as I was, and that was why he had made that decision. Had I been given a choice, I probably would have done the same as he.
I became a regular attendee at the little church, and only I knew why!
• The two reservoirs were later filled in and paved over. The large spaces were used as parking areas.
• The old mill has completely disappeared and only a wide space of nothingness remains.
• The old flowing well was capped off a long time ago, and the space around it is all grown over with trees.
• The bridge, crossing the creek, and the trestle still stand, both reminders of the big flood of 1928.
• A few old mill houses are still standing, all in big need of repair.
I wonder if little boys, playing in the streets, have ever heard the stories that youngsters of other generations were told – I wonder!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. Signed copies of Mr. Shepard’s books “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised” are available for purchase at the News and Press office. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.