The Historic Calumet Theatre
Yesterday, I made a trip to the Copper Country to deliver copies of my newest book My Marquette to various stores. I had never been to the Calumet Theatre but often heard of its historic signficance and beauty so I took the opportunity to take the self-guided tour. Here are a few of the photos from my visit. Sadly, they do not really come close to displaying the charm of this historic theatre. In fact, the theatre’s proscenium arch is too large to get a full shot of it, especially considering how the balconies are laid out so that you can’t fully view it from where otherwise you could get a full shot. The arch is 32′ wide, 26′ deep and 26′ high.
The historic Calumet Theatre was constructed beginning in 1898 and opened to the public in 1900. Opening night was considered one of the biggest social events in the Copper Country’s history. In the years that followed, many famous early twentieth century celebrities performed here, including Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Russell, John Philip Sousa, and Chauncey Olcott (the latter may not be a household name today but
he was a great Irish tenor who first made famous the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Many of these celebrities also visited Marquette’s Opera House (see My Marquette for more about it) but while Marquette is the largest city in Upper Michigan today, Calumet was the largest a century ago so it could sustain an opera house and attract such big names.
The theatre has two balconies both of which are of significant sizes, as well as two boxes on the main floor close to the stage, each seating four people. Today the theatre holds 700 people, but on opening night it held 1200 (420 on the main floor, 400 in the first balcony, and 380 in the second balcony).
The proscenium arch has beautiful murals which were original to the theatre, then removed, and finally restored in recent years.
By the 1920s, films were becoming popular and the grand age of opera passing away. Movies began to be shown in the theatre, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when it debuted in 1937, while plays were also still performed.
Yes, the Calumet Theatre is said to have its ghost. One of the early great actors to visit it was the Polish Madame Helena Modjeska. Rumor has it that in the 1950s another actress was performing but had forgot her line, and she looked up to the balcony and there the ghost of Madame Modjeska was mouthing her lines to her.
In 1971, the theatre was designated as a National Historic Building. With much support from the community, the theatre remains a significant jewel and part of Calumet’s history and social life. In more recent years the Osmonds, Kathy Mattea and the Glenn Miller Orchestra have performed here. Plays including a musical version of Gilligan’s Island have been performed, and later this month Arlo Guthrie will be performing. For more information about the Calumet Theatre and to see a show there, you can visit their website at www.CalumetTheatre.com.
Finally, an excellent recent article about the Calumet Theatre appeared in the June 2010 Marquette Monthly. The theatre has been having problems with its roof, to such an extent that tours can no longer go into the Sarah Bernhardt dressing room. The cost to repair the roof is $200,000. A self-guided tour is only $4.00. Please make an effort if you live in the area to visit this fabulous part of U.P. History. Take a tour (guided or self-guided), or go to their monthly performances, including Dinner and a Movie. If I lived in Calumet, I’m sure I’d be attending performances there every month. The Calumet Theatre not only tells us about Calumet and theatrical history but what life was like at the turn of the century, and perhaps even a glimpse of what Marquette’s Opera House was like. In a future post, I’ll talk about the Marquette Opera House as well.
If you do visit the Calumet Theatre, just make sure you don’t get a seat behind two poles. I hope you’ve enjoyed my photos and that you’ll visit the Calumet Theatre soon. There’s no place like it in Upper Michigan!