Theater to play historic Murphysboro films

By Gus Bode

The Liberty Theater has been a staple of downtown Murphysboro for almost a century; it has gone through many phases, changes, owners and purposes.

The venue now stands as a community arts center for the town with an unparalleled rich history, said Lois Murphy, current theater owner and president.

The theater will add more to its historic resume by screening an unseen series of historical footage films about Murphsyboro this weekend, as apart of the town’s annual Apple Festival.


In the early 1920s, filmmaker Charles C. Fetty was wellknown for going across the country and making films that highlighted hardworking small towns.

Rebecca Ensor, an architectural historian and Murphysboro resident, said a woman in California called her and said there was a movie done in Murphysboro. She found that the Jackson County Historical Society had the film.

“The story goes: Somebody brought a box of junk into the historical society. They were cleaning it out and here they found bits and pieces of this film,” she said.

Murphy said those bits and pieces were sent to a lab and salvaged together into a historical document.

The film, “Murphysboro 1926,” paints a portrait of the southern Illinois town almost 90 years ago. It, along with two other historical pieces entitled “A Day in Hollywood” and “Murphysboro 1936,” will debut this weekend.

“It’s extremely exciting to have a piece of evidence like this for our town,” said Murpysboro resident Donald Daniels. “Many of these stores have been here for over 100 years, and it’d be interesting to see them on film at that time.”

Originally opened in 1913 by resident Jim Marlow, the theater was sold to Kerasotes Theaters in 1968 and closed its doors as a commercial theater 30 years later.


“Kerasotes had an agreement with the city that if they left the theater, it couldn’t be used for mainstream films,” Murphy said. “We wanted to save the theater for the city and we made it an entity for its own. It’s now run by a board and is a non-for-profit organization.”

Ensor said the Liberty is instrumental in depicting not only the town’s history but the country’s. She said the Liberty is a time capsule.

“The American cinema and particularly the Liberty Theater from it’s very onset showed flickers; it was a store-front theater,” Ensor said. “All of the changes the American movie theater has gone through, we see evidence of that in the Liberty Theater.”

Ensor noted the theater’s humble beginnings when the theater showed small 20-minute films. As movies expanded to the full-length-features we know today, the theater added concession, comfortable seating and art-deco architecture.

Murphy said she recognized many faces in the film from living in town for so many years and knowing residents and their families. She said what impressed her the most was that in just a year before in 1925, the town had just experienced a horrible tornado that caused severe damage.

However,  she said the film did not focus on the destruction at all and had an overall uplifting feel.

The film, Ensor said, shows a glimpse at American history she typically doesn’t see, particularly for small towns.

“What struck me more than anything (from the film) was the business,” Ensor said. “It was the physical activity with the stores and the people; I wish we had more of that. I wish we had that back, and there’s a lot of people in town fighting to have that again.”