Topeka's Rochester Cemetery and the horror movie "Carnival of Souls"
Although it's a great description of a cemetery, the title of this hub is not "Rochester Cemetery: Carnival of Souls".
Loyal fans already know Carnival of Souls is a horror flick set in an amusement park in the Utah salt flats. Conceived and written by John Clifford and directed by Herk Harvey (also a co-star), it was made in 1962 for a mere $30,000.
Double-billed with Lon Chaney, Jr's The Devil's Messenger, Carnival of Souls made a decent showing at drive-in theaters in the South. It then slid into oblivion until it was revived and elevated to cult status in the 1980s when it began appearing in indie theaters and on late-night TV. Bootleg VHS tapes made the rounds for years before it was remastered from a forgotten print in a film vault in the UK and made available on DVD.
At the time it was shot, John Clifford (right) and Herk Harvey were each a little over a decade into what would be thirty-year careers as employees of Centron Corporation, also known as Centron Productions and Centron Films.
Centron was the brainchild of Topeka native Arthur H. "Art" Wolf and childhood friend Russell Mosser while they were students at KU in the1940s. After graduation, each left Lawrence briefly, but returned and began making indie films in an old vaudeville theater at 1107 Mass St. (now a bar).
The name Centron was derived from "CENter of the U.S." and "elecTRONics", the new "hot" thing. It was incorporated in 1947. To provide a steady income until they became successful film makers, Wolf and Musser opened a camera store in the front of the building.
Film-making, however, was their first love, and manning the camera store was a problem at times. As Russ Mosser explained in an interview a few years ago, if Art Wolf was off on location, 'there was nobody to mind the store'.
Centron's first foray into film-making was Sewing Simple Seams, followed by more indie shorts made in and around Lawrence, which had an ample supply of KU students and locals to appear in them. Their flat mid-western accents lent an air of authenticity not possible with trained actors.
This homespun air would be a plus when Centron established its niche as a maker of award-winning educational and industrial short-length films. Today, these would be called infomercials or corporate training films.
Locals and KU students also worked behind the camera - writing scripts, building sets, and performing myriad other technical tasks associated with film-making. During its 30+ years of existence, Centron was one of the biggest non-KU employers in Lawrence.
Bicycle Safety (1950)
If you were in elementary, junior, or high school in the United States in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, you've probably seen at least one of Centron's films. More likely, many of them.
The classroom shades would be drawn, the lights dimmed, and Teacher's Pet would start the projector.
Yeah, those films.
For its educational ("classroom") films, Centron utilized the interiors of Lawrence homes and businesses as sets. Familiar buildings and landmarks were often seen in the background.
Centron film crews also traveled all over the world producing films for industrial clients such as General Electric, Caterpillar, and John Deere, as well as Monsanto, Hallmark, Conoco, Exxon, Eli Lilly. The biggies of corporate America.
Quite a coup for a small company in a small college town.
Movie stars and other celebrities were routinely flown into Lawrence to film testimonials for the products of Centron's corporate clients.
In 1955, Centron moved out of the old theater and into a brand-new facility that contained additional recording studios and a set construction area in which an entire neighborhood could be built and filmed. It was the largest sound stage outside of Hollywood; it now houses KU's theater and film departments.
Nominated for an Oscar
In 1969, Arthur H. Wolf and Russell A. Mosser, producers, were nominated for an Oscar in the Documentary (Short Subjects) category for Centron's 14-minute film "Leo Beuerman".
The "Leo film" is about 3-ft tall Leo Beuerman, legally blind and the pride of Lawrence, who spends his days repairing watches and selling pencils. He died in 1974, and the bronze plaque on a Lawrence sidewalk in his memory reads: "Remember Me, I'm that little Man gone blind. I used to sell Pencils on the street Corner."
The film didn't snag an Oscar, but the nomination was certainly a feather in Centron's cap.
The clip below is in Spanish, but showing well over half the film, it's by far the longest of the two clips available on YouTube. Even if you don't understand Spanish, you'll have a good idea of what Leo's days were like selling pencils on Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence.
But what, pray tell, does an indie film company have to do with Rochester Cem?
Well, Arthur Hamlin Wolf's maternal grandparents, Clyde and Nellie (Jenness) HAMLIN, are buried there.
If you've read the other Rochester hubs, you know when I photograph a stone, the next step is to find out all I can about the person(s) under it.
Clyde was a salesman who lived in North Topeka but traveled for a furniture store in Omaha. Nellie was the daughter of early settlers of nearby Franklin County. They married around 1889-90, and their only child, Ruth, was born in December, 1890.
Toward the end of September 1895, when Ruth was 4, Nellie contracted typhoid fever. She languished for several weeks, then seemed to be recovering. On the morning of Sunday, October 13th, however, she had a heart attack - no doubt a result of the typhoid - and passed away. She was 28 years old.
It's not clear what happened to Ruth for the next few years; possibly went to live with Nellie's family, maybe stayed with her father. I don't find either anywhere in the 1900 census.
On 2 March 1904, Clyde also passed away - also from a heart attack - at their home in North Topeka (still standing, btw). He was 37 years old.
In 1905, Ruth was in Topeka, a 14-year-old in the home of a Mrs. Garrie Wilson. She disappears again until 1912, when she married Harry Delmar WOLF, a clerk at the Bank of Topeka. After the wedding, they lived for time with Harry's parents, Cornelius and Laura Wolf.
By 1920, Ruth and Harry had moved into their own home at 1158 College Ave, and were possibly living there when their only child, Arthur, was born on 11 June 1917. They were still at this address in 1930, by which time Harry had been promoted to Assistant Cashier.
Harry D. Wolf died in 1952, and was buried at Topeka Cemetery, 10th & California. At some point, widow Ruth went to live with Arthur in Lawrence. She died in 1973 and was buried next to Harry in Sec. 82 on the west side of a large stone engraved simply "WOLF". Harry's parents and brother David Arthur ("D. Arthur") Wolf are on the east side of the Wolf stone.
Arthur, of course, went off to KU and co-founded Centron. When he died on 22 Nov 2002, he left a widow, Catherine (2nd wife?), two grown daughters, a grown son, and 10 grandchildren. I don't know yet where he's buried.
And now you know how Rochester Cemetery and the horror flick Carnival of Souls are connected.
Black & White, Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, Special Edition, NTSC
More about "Carnival of Souls"
More about Centron's history and its films:
- Old educational films by Centron gaining new popularity
A post on the Showbiz blog recounting Centron's history.
- Ken Smith on Mental Hygiene Cinema
Interview with writer Ken Smith about his book Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films: 1945-1970. "[Parents] were scared. We look back on the 50s as an innocent time. No, parents were scared shitless of the same things [for their kids] as they are now."
One of Centron's educational & industrial training film
- The Bully (1952)
Teenager Chip Allen is a bully, and plans to have three younger boys trash his class's picnic in the park.