Wisconsin Movie Memories at Old Milwaukee Outdoor Drive-In Theaters
Outdoor Drive-In Theaters
Are you old enough to have memories of viewing movies in outdoor drive-in theaters? If you answered yes you are probably close in age to a generation of people who grew up in the post World War II era. Those were the days!
While the original idea by a man named Hollingshead was patented in May of 1933, the peak popularity of such drive-in outdoor theaters was widespread in the late 1950s and early 1960s especially in rural areas of the country. I was growing up at the right time to enjoy this form of entertainment with my family.
Two or three times each summer in the 1950s when my parents would announce that we were going to go to the drive-in movie, my two younger brothers and I would always become excited at the prospect of the rare treat. We certainly fit the profile of people lured to this form of entertainment.
Living in the Country
Living in the countryside of Wisconsin around thirty miles west of Milwaukee most of our fun was self made.
When school was in session we had our school chums to chat and play with during recess. But when we went home we had very few nearby neighbors for most of our early years.
My grandmother lived on a lake. During the summer months when it was warm enough to go swimming that was always a fun outing. In the winters we could ice skate on the lake.
Trees lined the roads coming in to where my parents built the home that I first remember. There was also a woods nearby and as some of you may by now realize who have read some of my other posts my brothers and I loved climbing trees.
We even gave names to some of our favorite trees.
- From the roots going up the Camel Tree curved sideways about three feet from the ground and had a huge hump before straightening and continuing to grow skyward.
- The Fun Tree had a number of limber branches in which we could climb out to the ends and swing down thinking that we were just like Tarzan.
- High up in a notched area of the Squirrel Tree was an opening into the main trunk. As long as we lived there we could take our sack lunches or snacks up in the tree, perch there discussing all the important things of childhood and dispose of our waxed paper or banana peels down that seemingly endless hole into the trunk. We imagined that squirrels made this hole their home thus the assigned name.
Where I grew up as a child
The area in Wisconsin where I grew up as a youngster. My grandmother lived on Okauchee Lake.
Activities That Kept Us Busy
Since I had two younger brothers much to my mother's dismay who always loved dolls especially her Dionne quintuplet doll named Annette, playing with dolls was the last thing with which I wanted to play. Much more to my liking was a great fondness for reading.
With regard to more active activities there was always the bicycle riding, playing on the backyard swing-set or in the sand pile and as we got older in addition to the ever present tree climbing we were allowed to go to the pit.
The pit was an abandoned gravel pit that to us (remember...we were kids) looked like this giant gaping steep hole in the ground where we could slide down the grassy sides using flattened cardboard boxes. Oh it was so much fun!
That was often the preferred form of entertainment especially when my boy cousins from Madison would be visiting on weekends. Up and down the hill we would go flying over and over again until we would finally get tired. In the winter sledding these same hills was a lot of fun.
Many years later when I was showing my husband the area in which I grew up and showed him the pit he laughed!
I"ll admit that the pit barely lived up to its name or my memory of it. It obviously had filled in with dirt over the years and offered the smallest of hills and cavity for childhood fun such as we had shared.
Another strange thing happened! The house in which I had grown up had shrunk in size! Have any of you readers had similar experiences? (Smile)
Drive-in Movie Night!
The night had finally arrived! The outdoor movie theater was between Milwaukee and Oconomowoc where we lived. So it was not too far a drive although to us kids it seemed like quite a trip. But then the pit seemed immense also!
It was a typical big screen and the cars would pull in and line up in prearranged sites where the front of the car would be tilted up so that no matter where one parked they would have an unimpeded view of the raised screen. My dad would then reach out and attach the speaker to his driver's side window so that as the movie was run we could hear what the actors and actresses were saying.
Did we enjoy these movies? My parents obviously did and of course it was a way for them to have an outing without having to pay a babysitter. We kids did but for a different reason.
The excitement in going to the outdoor drive-in movie was mostly the preparation ahead of time and just the rarity of the occasion for my brothers and myself. We rarely stayed awake to watch an entire movie and for certain if there was a double feature we did not see the second one completed. In fact at a certain point my parents could count on being alone in the front seat with three sleeping children behind them.
Oh...but the excitement in getting ready was always so much fun!
My dad would pop some popcorn in an old blackened kettle that he utilized for just making popcorn. Oh...it smelled and tasted so good! My mother would prepare some other snacks and pack the accompanying cooler.
We kids would be bundled up in our pajamas and the back of the station wagon seat would be put down so that when we got tired (which always happened) we could just go to sleep. Pillows and blankets were put into place.
There was a concession stand at the front of the drive-in but we had everything we needed in our family station wagon.
Once we arrived the production of unwrapping all the treats would take place and sipping and crunching sounds would accompany the sounds emanating from the box in the window.
Most of the outdoor movies back then had some cartoons which we kids loved and also an intermission where the owners of the theater hoped to sell more things from the concession stand. There was a playground with swings, etc. at the front of the drive-in theater we attended. It was a very family friendly place.
Do I specifically remember any movies that I ever saw at the drive-in theater? The answer would be "no" but I will always have my memory of the excitement in preparation for going to the outdoor theater. I can almost smell my dad's tasty popcorn!
Fun to remember what was broadcast back then during intermissions...
Do you remember going to drive-in movies?
Great look back at drive-in movies from other people's perspectives...
© 2009 Peggy Woods