Revisiting History: The Drive-In Movie Show

by Marilyn Muir, LPMAFA

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As is usual with many of my articles, something will capture my eye and my curiosity, and my Gemini rising is off and running, investigating another facet or incident of Astrology. At times I bite off more than I can chew and it is set aside for a longer yearly journal piece or because it has turned into a book! Last year I was visiting upstate New York in the summer, and a nearby town celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the first outdoor movie showing which had occurred in their village. It was the beginning of drive-in movies, which were the rage while I was growing up. Really? Picked it up, actually figured the time the whole presentation started, assembled the info but never acted on it until now. Why? Yesterday I had an interesting end to a conversation with one of my grandsons. He said he and his lady were going to the drive-in movies that night. Seriously? I thought they were long gone! Apparently, the area where he just moved has an active drive-in movie show. I asked about speakers – that is different now. You just turn on your car radio and a dedicated station plays the movie soundtrack. Talk about nostalgia hitting you right between the eyes! Today my head remembered the previous material… and here we are!

It was 1917 in the small rural village of Schoharie, NY. The Mayor had been considering ideas for evening downtown activities that would give the rural community something to do and to look forward to, for free, boost morale, and generate foot traffic for the small downtown businesses. Remember this was 1917 and the choices were naturally limited to the possibilities of that era. Up here in progressive 2018, we have far more options! The imaginative and enterprising Mayor Perry E. Taylor got the idea of airing the then very current silent movies outside and downtown. A group of village merchants known as the Board of Trade gave financial and organizational backing for the idea, and the drive-in movie was born.

The silent film “The Awakening of Helena Richie” starring Ethel Barrymore was the first offering and was shown in front of the county courthouse. The town people sat in cars or chairs if they could find them or bought their own – improvisation was their solution. The people loved it, the businesses loved it, and a tradition was formed, one that became a cultural norm for decades. The Schoharie Free Street Movies was born on Thursday evening June 7, 1917. How I figured the time in a moment… investigation.

This was a small community and movie night was a hit. Not just the town’s people, but crowds flocked to the Thursday night showings, as many as 5000 a night. Tradition formed. As Hollywood glammed up its presentations, silent films gave way to talkies and that necessitated sound and speakers, provided by the town projectionist Edward Scribner. The first talkie was George Abbott’s “Manslaughter”. The showings flourished thru the Great Depression until World War II interfered.

The Schoharie County Historical Society celebrated the centennial on June 8, 2017 as an official reenactment. At 9:00 PM the streets were closed to traffic and more than a dozen Model-T era vehicles lined up in front of the screen*. Opening remarks for “A Century Under the Stars” were by historian and current drive-in co-owner Dwight Grimm. Believe it or not, they had the only surviving reel of the film on loan from the Library of Congress, hand cranked and accompanied by Dr. Philip Carli on piano (this was a silent film). This was followed by the viewing of a clip of the talkie “Manslaughter”. The viewing ended at 9:45. On June 10th at 5:00 PM more events, old film showings and activities continued the celebration… and a fun time was had by all!

Astrologically, we have the date and place plus the general time (early evening). As I write this, daylight is lasting longer and it is already about 8:00 PM EDT, end of April. If we take them at their statement that it was a “reenactment”, an 8:00 to 8:30 PM start time makes sense. We are on EDT currently, but 1917 was on EST. This was a five-reel silent film; each reel played about fifteen minutes. That’s 75 minutes, followed by the short clip of the “Manslaughter” talkie, with it all “finishing at 9:45 PM [EST]”. 8:15 PM EST puts the Sun about an hour below the descendant, still somewhat twilight, but dark enough to see a film. All I did was toggle the charts between EST and EDT and I got very close! Speculation: What does the 8:15 PM chart look like?

  • The ascendant is 27 Sagittarius 02, introducing something speculative, expanding opportunity for the local culture.
  • The chart ruler is Jupiter at 25 Taurus 10, tightly conjunct Mercury and Mars in the fifth house of fun and entertainment. That’s one heck of a conjunction involving communication (Mercury), autos (Mars) and speculation (Jupiter). Sounds like fun to me!
  • The midheaven is 21 Libra 57, a group, community happening, social and a new art form as the mission or goal.
  • The midheaven ruler is Venus at 28 Gemini 03 directly on the descendant widely out of sign conjunct Pluto, which had not even been discovered yet (1930). The sharing (Venus) of a new experience and the subject is a lady (Venus). We were just beginning to explore the inner dimensions of humanity (invisible Pluto). When a planet is not visible, it is not in a conscious state. It is still there, still operating, but is subliminal, unconscious in effect. We were on the verge of awakening, explorative. Change of signs conjunction indicates things were about to change for the silent movie industry, talkies were being developed.
  • The South Node is in the 7th along with an out of sign Saturn/Neptune conjunction. The world was turning imagination and creativity into concrete manifestation, the dream becoming tangible. It took awhile and is truly still happening, but look at what this combination has manifested over that century.
  • The Moon is 20 Capricorn 04, trine that Taurus stellium. The public could see but not hear, usually a piano accompanied silent film showings. Film titles were common; black and white images and hand cranking gave an almost mechanical feel unless you had a really accomplished cranker! Besides that, the Moon was applying to a gorgeous trine to the Taurus stellium!
  • What about the Sun? 16 Gemini 40 in the sixth house. Remember the Mayor’s reasons for the idea? Small town looking for something new socially and to increase small business participation. Free attendance to promote local business, with the whole enterprise backed by the trade association comes from Leo on the eighth of joint finance.
  • An innovative way of making money off a “free” social event is shown by Uranus in and ruling the second house of value and money in the pocket. To go from a few town people attending to 5000 participants an evening should have been profitable (if not overwhelming) for the downtown businesses.

The drive-in movie phase eventually ran its course with the attention on WW II, but apparently there are some communities that support the modern version. I am delighted to hear that! Just couldn’t stop myself, but I wondered what the 100-year celebration chart looked like as an event. This splash pattern lacks the intensity of the launch chart. This is a buoyant, convivial Gemini/Sagittarius pattern. What you would expect from a party!

  • Sagittarius was rising again. This time ruler Jupiter is 13 Libra 13 in the tenth, close to the eleventh cusp and retrograde. This was a go-back moment, to celebrate what had begun in a moment of time a century before, a community came together to remember and to honor.
  • The midheaven was 17 Virgo 10 ruled by Mercury 3 Gemini 49 conjunct the descendant, communication, conversation, neighbors or local attendees (the “others”).
  • The spotlight (Sun) was in the seventh of “others’ in Gemini. An applying Full Moon would light up the eastern sky as the Sun set in the west and the celebration continued.

Drive-in movies were the norm after this first introduction, and generations were entertained. This small community did a good job of setting it all in motion, then honoring it a century later.



“About 15 minutes at silent film at the more-or-less standard speed of 16 frames per second.”

Published in AFA Today’s Astrologer Jun 2018 vol 80#6, republished with slight editing.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.