There were lots of things for kids to do, and places to visit, in Darlington and the other little towns in Montgomery County in the 1950s. Many of the businesses stayed open in the evening, and the two most popular places were the drug store and restaurant where the town and country folks gathered after a hard day's work. But one place that was really special in our town was the Sunshine Theater, located at the west end of Main Street.
The theater was owned by Charlie Marshall, who also owned the Darlington Herald newspaper and various other businesses from time to time. The seating capacity was approximately 100 to 120 by my best estimate, and it was open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Tickets were 25 cents and popcorn was 10 cents . . . pretty cheap entertainment even in the ‘50s! The front of the building was painted yellow, with bright orange rays of sunshine emanating from the corners. Charlie's sister, Edith, sold tickets through a window in front. I remember that she always wore a hat with a clear, green visor. The projection booth was located above the ticket room, and the two projectors were run by high school boys. A popcorn machine was located just inside, and the aroma would always entice everyone to buy some.
Most all of the movies that were shown would be considered "B movies", but we didn't care. There were lots of westerns, especially those starring Randolph Scott and Jimmy Stewart. And I can remember several science fiction movies, such as "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "The Blob". A movie called "The Fly" scared me to death at the end, and I believed there could be a giant "Tarantula" that was 100 feet tall after I watched that movie. After watching "The Incredible Shrinking Man," I had my Dad measure my height the next day, and he told me I had shrunk a half inch. Thanks, Dad! The funniest movies were the Ma and Pa Kettle adventures. I watched so many of those that I could imitate Pa Kettle to a tee!
While the movie was showing, Charlie would stroll down the aisle with a flashlight and his head held back, looking for anyone who had their feet on the seat in front of them or any kid who was goofing off. He gave one warning, and that was it. There were no restrooms in the theater, so the boys would scurry out the front door and urinate on the side of the brick wall. I guess the girls just had to hold it in! After the movie was over, people would rush out the front and back doors to get a seat at the drug store for a late night sundae or other treat . . . and talk about the movie, sports and any new gossip going around.
One night, after the theater crowd had watched "The Giant Praying Mantis", some teenage boys caught some real praying mantises and let them loose in the drug store. Girls were screaming and hiding under the booths.
As more people bought TVs through the years, and as more TV shows were available, the theater business started to suffer. Charlie was getting up in age, and he sold the theater to the Gene Jackman family, who kept it going up until 1959. The building was eventually purchased by Tom Surface, who removed all of the seats and converted it to an auto body shop. After that, the building was vacant and started to deteriorate. I remember walking past the front years later . . . and I swear I could still smell popcorn! When the west wall started leaning, the town had the building torn down.
I have been collecting Darlington memorabilia and items for many years. I have one of the original projectors and several folding cushion seats from the theater in the library museum. Once in a while, I sit on one of those seats and I think about those bygone days when I was 10 years old and watching a movie and munching on buttered popcorn at the Sunshine Theater.

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.