Pawnee Drive-In Theater

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to on August 6, 2021.

If you are of a certain age, I bet you remember a drive in theater. Today’s North Platte History looks back at the Pawnee Drive-In Theater.

The two drive-in outings I remember the most were, “Paint your Wagon” (1969) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974). I remember going there as a child with my family, in a station wagon (of course!). I vaguely remember playing on the playground equipment as we waited for it to get dark; and I also remember falling asleep somewhere during the first film of the night (never could make it past about 10:30pm). Mind you, most drive-in theaters didn’t start showing the first movie until 9:45pm. Later on, I remember, as a high school student, packing as many teenagers as we could into a pickup to get in on a $5.00/vehicle night. And, of course, as a teenager, I had no problem staying up and watching double or triple feature movie nights, until 1am-2am.

This was a unique way to spend time with your family, a safe and fun way for teens to hang together as a group and see a movie. Not to mention a romantic getaway for couples! Drive-In theaters were in their prime in the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the time VHS tapes came around in the 1970’s most all of the drive-in theaters had closed; and families and couples had “movie night” at home, with a rented VHS tape.

If you aren’t quite old enough to remember a drive in theater, well, it was a very large outdoor space with an outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand, and a large parking area for automobiles. Customers could view movies from the privacy and comfort of their automobile. The screen could have been as simple as a wall that was painted white. Originally, the movie’s sound was provided by a speaker that hung from the window of your car, which were attached to a small pole by a wire. Later speaker systems used micro-broadcasting to utilize the car radio to obtain the sound for the movie.

Many readers will remember the Pawnee Drive-In Theater located at 4426 Rodeo Road or just off of West Highway 30. We would love for you to share your memories, and the movies you remember seeing out there in the comment section below.

The Pawnee Drive in opened on September 18, 1948 and could accommodate up to 350 cars. Not only did it have a playground for children, but during the 1950’s, it also had a petting zoo, driving range, and miniature golf course.

Sadly, the Pawnee Drive-In was demolished around 2009. Oddly enough, drive-in theaters have been experiencing a slight revival in 2020 to 2021. During COVID, citizens have enjoyed watching movies in the safe environment of their own car.

Drive-In theaters STILL IN OPERATION in Western Nebraska are:

  • Sandhills Drive-In, located in Alliance, NE. Showing “Mortal Combat” on August 6-7, and “Two Mules for Sister Sara” on August 8;
  • TK/Starlite Drive-In, located in Neligh, NE (closed for the season).
  • Midwest Skyview Drive-In, located in Scottsbluff, NE. Showing “Disney’s Jungle Cruise!” on August 6 and “Charming the Hearts of Men” on August 13.

Enjoy our photos and newspaper articles from North Platte’s very own drive-in theater; and we’ll see you back here next week for more North Platte History! Thanks for reading!

Cole Bros. Circus

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to on July 30, 2021.

While now controversial and almost non-existent, a Circus coming to town in the latter part of the twentieth century was an affordable event for everyone to attend. Children dreamed of running away to become a circus performer. And North Platte in 1940 was no exception.

Here is what the North Platte Daily Bulletin article dated (7/25/1940) had to say when the circus came to town:

Fond memories of youth will tug at the hearts of many North Platte folk Friday – for it will be circus day. The huge Cole Brothers Circus, one of the two largest in America will pitch its “big-top” at Seventh and Willow Streets at an early hour Friday morning.

It’s seldom that the word “circus” does not bring retrospect to those who are now middle-aged and to those in the older stages of life. What a thrill it gave you when the youngsters yelled, “the circle is in town!”

Popcorn and peanuts – munching gobs of taffy – watching the breath-taking displays – the laughable antics of the clowns and the trumpeting of elephants – the somersaulting equestrians – and the blaring of the circus band – who can escape its lure?

To the youth of North Platte, it will be another thrill –the first in three years and which will be remembered indefinitely. And, –to the grownups, it will be retrospect. Besides the gigantic big-top, there will be scores of others hoisted when the big show arrives. There will be the big double-sided show top and the dining department tent, where more than 2,000 square meals are served each day. Then, there will be he blacksmith top, the traveling hospital tents, the commissary tents, and the six long draft horse tents. And too, the concert band headquarters tent and the elephant trainer’s top, and the dozen of more private dressing tents for the stars and featured performers, not forgetting the tents that house the mechanical departments and those used by the circus business staff. A total of 26 tents of varying sizes will be hoisted early tomorrow for the one day stay.

Two performances will be given. The first at 2 p.m. and the last one at 8 p.m. The gates will open one hour earlier in each instance allowing leisurely inspection of the huge menagerie before the performances begin.

Ken Maynard, the world famous Western motion picture star heads the list of features, from among the more than 250 men and women stars and performers assembled from all parts of the world for this year’s mighty program.

The photograph of the tent with elephant in front of it was actually taken at West 7th and Jeffers Streets at the U.P. Show Grounds in North Platte around July 25, 1940.

This researcher was unfamiliar with the name “Ken Maynard” and did a little research on him. <see photograph> Ken Maynard (July 21, 1895-March 23, 1973) was an American actor and producer. He was mostly active from the 1920s to the 1940s and considered one of the biggest Western stars in Hollywood. He first appeared in silent motion pictures as a stuntman or supporting actor. In 1924, he began working in western features, where his horsemanship and rugged good looks made him a cowboy star. Maynard made a successful transition to talking pictures, but eventually turned his back on the movies and started making appearances at state fairs and rodeos. He owned his own small circus operation featuring rodeo riders, and eventually became a part of the Cole Bros Circus.

The roots of the Cole Bros Show went back to the early 1800’s. It all began with a contortionist named William H. Cole and his wife, the tightrope walker and equestrienne Mary Ann Cooke. Their son, William Washington Cole (1847-1915), founded W.W. Cole’s New Colossal Shows in 1884. In 1906, the brand was purchased by a Canadian entrepreneur and altered to “Cole Brothers Circus.” During the teens and nineteen-twenties, Cole Brothers kept absorbing smaller circuses and growing their own circus company. By the mid-1930’s, it took 35 train cars to move the circus. By the time it came to North Platte—the circus was in its finest time. By 2016, Cole Bros Circus was essentially defunct, largely in response to animal rights activists advocating against the use of animals for live performances.

Thank you for looking back at our North Platte History today on an event that brought smiles to thousands, and is now a thing of the past. See you next week for another look at our North Platte history.

Leota Bebee

Written By: nppladmin - Aug• 27•21
Originally published to on July 23, 2021.

Today’s Friday history salutes a patriotic American woman, who made North Platte her home. A street in North Platte even bears her name! Read on to learn about his incredible woman.

Leota Hannibal was born on September 17, 1915 to Sankey and Clara Hannibal in McGrew, Nebraska. As a young child, she moved with her family to Dannebrog, Nebraska where she graduated from high school in 1934. Sometime after graduation, Leota moved to North Platte, Nebraska and worked as a Northwestern Bell Telephone operator.

Everett Lester Bebee was born on January 10, 1903 in Ord Nebraska. He moved to North Platte in 1936 and worked for the Texaco Oil Company as a bulk plant operator.

Leota married Everett on September 10, 1943 at Grand Island, Nebraska. Both were dedicated to helping the war effort during WWII; so she served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps at Fort Banks, Massachusetts in the Motor Corps. Everett was a private in the US Army.

The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was the women’s branch of the US Army. It was created as an auxiliary unit, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on May 15, 1942, then converted to full status as the WAC in 1943. The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the Auxiliary Territorial Service or ATS. In 1942, the first WAC contingent of 800 members began basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The women were fitted for uniforms, interviewed, assigned to companies and barracks and inoculated against disease during the first day.

Approximately 150,000 American women served in the WAAC and WAC during WWII. They were the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army. In the early days, the conservative opinion in the leadership of the Army and public opinion was initially opposed to women serving in uniform; the shortage of men necessitated a new policy. While most women served stateside, some went to various places around the World, including Europe, North Africa and New Guinea. Leota was one of those women.

Throughout their marriage, Leota and Everett never had any children. From 1944 to 1960 they owned and operated the McCabe Hotel in North Platte. Leota volunteered tirelessly for the many organizations she belonged. She was a member of the First Christian Church; served at the North Platte Canteen; Fraternal Order of Eagles Auxiliary 2839; P.R. Halligan Post 163 American Legion; Lincoln County Historical Society; Lincoln County Republican Women; and past president 1990-1994 and charter member of the B.P.O. Does Drove 107. She was even a founding member on the Board of Directors for the 20th Century Veterans’ Memorial located in Iron Horse Park.

Leota Street was named after her in 1949, when she and Everett purchased 13 acres there and put the street through.

Leota died on July 25, 2008 in North Platte. Sadly, she did not live long enough to see the statue of Rae Wilson added to the 20th Century Veterans’ Memorial. The Everett and Leota Bebee Fund at the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation donated the money for this bronze statue, called The Canteen Lady. Of course Rae Wilson-Sleight was the inspiration for this statue.

We salute this inspirational woman. Thank you for reading her story!

Keith Theatre / Keith Opera House

Written By: nppladmin - Jul• 16•21
Originally published to on July 16, 2021

Today’s history salutes another beautiful downtown building, the Keith Theatre or Keith Opera House, located at 412-414 North Dewey Street. Today’s article primarily comes from the book, “City Bones: Landmarks of North Platte, Nebraska” by Kaycee Anderson and Steve Olson.

The Keith Theatre, also called the Keith Opera House, opened on September 23, 1908. It was built by Keith Neville (1884-1959) as a wedding present for his future bride, Mary Virginia Neill, and named after his grandfather, Morrell Case Keith.

Keith Neville was born February 25, 1884 in North Platte. He received exceptional educational advantages and graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland in 1904. Upon Keith’s return to North Platte, he managed his grandfather’s valuable estate. On October 21, 1908, Keith married Mary Virginia Neill, daughter of Dr. William Neill, a prominent physician and surgeon from West Virginia. Both Mary and Keith were active members of the Episcopal Church. They had four daughters:

  1. Mary Nelson (married to Frederick William Sieman);
  2. Frances Elizabeth (married Willard Daniel Newberry);
  3. Virginia Neill (married Donald Frederick Robertson); and
  4. Irene Morell (married to Roy Victor Emanuel Bystrom).

Keith Neville was twenty-four years old when he had the theatre built for his new bride. The Keith Theatre sported an asbestos curtain, full equipment drops, and scenery. The furniture was considered “tasty, artistic, and serviceable.” It opened with 650 seats, a fire escape, and numerous exits; and it was considered completely fireproof.

The grand opening live performance for the theatre “The Burgo-Master,” a comic opera described in the Daily Telegraph as, “a decided success from every standpoint.” Between the first and second acts, a speaker thanked Neville for making the theatre possible, and “three cheers were given for the Keith Opera House, of which North Platte is justly proud.

In 1920, the building was painted and partially remodeled. North Platte’s first all-talking movie was shown on December 26, 1928. Then, in 1929, Keith Neville opened the Fox Theatre and that meant a very different future for the original Keith Theatre. It (Keith Theatre) disappeared from theatre listings in the city directory in 1932. And by 1930/31, the Keith Theatre as a “theater or stage venue” was gone and the building separated into 3 store-fronts for businesses.

Elaborate stained glass skylights from the Keith Theatre glory days currently decorate the front of Sandhills State Bank, located at 200 East B Street. <see photographs>

Brown Harano Studio, originally the Brown Studio, has occupied part of the ground floor from 1929 to approximately 2018/2019. Brown operated the studio until 1945 when he sold it to Earl Harano, who continued to use Brown’s name for the business along with his own. It was later owned by Roy Harano and Don Milroy, and eventually, Milroy alone. The photography business is no longer located there.

Ray Young opened their hardware and sporting goods store in one of the store-front sites (formerly the “Keith Theatre”) in 1963, after moving from 101 East 5th Street. In 1978, Dennis Young, Garey Yocum, and Dave Bargell bought the business. The group conducted a major remodeling project in 1979. Ultimately, they closed their doors in March of 2003, after 57 years in business as Young’s Sporting Goods. Hogans Sporting Goods was there for a few years and is now gone.

Today, the building is still home to two Businesses: Pro-Printing and Graphics (412 N Dewey St), and Excel Screen Print (414 N Dewey St). Over the years, the building has housed many businesses, including: the U.S. Post Office, a radio station, Austin Jewelry store, Walker Music Company, and a doctor’s office.

We hope you enjoyed today’s look at North Platte History!

John “Jack” Sullivan

Written By: nppladmin - Jul• 15•21
Originally published to on July 9, 2021

Today’s North Platte History salutes our early railroading days, as many of our early pioneers worked for the railroad. As well as an interesting tale of a man who fought for BOTH sides of the Civil War.

John “Jack” Sullivan was born on a farm in Brookfield, Massachusetts, in 1840. A lover of baseball, John spent much of his youth on the baseball diamond, and went as far as semi-pro. He was also fascinated with train locomotives and the railroad industry.

When John was 12 years old, he was set to live with his sister in Virginia. By the time he was 19, he enlisted in the Confederate Army, 1st Virginia Cavalry.

According to an interview with Sullivan, by the Omaha Bee newspaper on January 12, 1908: “He was assigned to duty at the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry. He was on duty there at the time it was stormed by the famous “Osawatomie” John Brown; and later he was at the last scene of the tragic career of that enthusiastic pioneer abolitionist. “It was in December, 1859,” he says, “John Brown had been tried for the crime of treason and had been convicted and sentenced to death for attacking the arsenal. I was assigned to guard duty at the gallows the day of his execution. I shall never forget the look on his face as he walked up the scaffold steps. He did not seem in the least afraid though he was weak with long confinement in the close air of the prison. I was very patriotic, but I could not help feeling that there was a man being hanged for a crime which while technically treason, was not really that. Within a year, the great civil war had begun to settle the very question which John Brown had tried to settle by taking weapons forcibly from the government arsenal.”

When the war began, Sullivan found himself almost before he knew it, a member of the rebel army. He had lived with his Aunt in Virginia for seven years, and ended up fighting under the stars and bars of the confederacy. His record in the confederacy was creditable and honorable.

But, his northern sympathies with his family in Massachusetts brought about an inner conscience and he ended up revolting against the cause he originally fought for. Once his decision to desert was made, he undertook the dangerous trek of deserting and running the blockades. He left his Confederate camp one night and made his way through forests, across rivers, plains, and mountains; swimming, rafting, rowing, undergoing great hardships and risking his life at every step. But he finally got within the Union Lines. John J. Sullivan enlisted again, but this time, for the Union Army and served from February 1-July 11, 1865 in the 17th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment through the remainder of the war.

During the 1860’s (between serving as a soldier), John began working with the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad as a wiper in the roundhouse. After two months, where he was quickly promoted to fireman.

John wanted to move west; and in the spring of 1871, he moved to Kansas City, eventually joining the Kansas City baseball team. Unfortunately, his baseball career only lasted one season, but while in Missouri, John married Catherine B. Bowler on June 17, 1873. After their marriage, they moved to Omaha, and then further west, “down the line” to North Platte, where he was hired on as an engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad. John and Catherine made their home on the corner of Fifth and Pine, where the Fox Theater stands today. They had seven children, however only four survived past age 22:

  • 1. Francis Joseph (1874-1941) “Frank”. Became the chief clerk of the Heintze copper mining plant at Bingham, Utah.;
  • 2. John William (1875-1952) “Willie”. He was a machinist in Salt Lake City. ;
  • 3. Mary J (August 3, 1877 – August 9, 1877);
  • 4. Daniel Leo (1878-1942) “Mickey”. He also became an engineer with the Union Pacific and ran a line from Omaha to Grand Island. ;
  • 5/6. Twin Girls— Mary Bebeanna, also spelled Bibiana in some research) (1881-1965) and Theresa (1881-1881). Researchers are pretty sure that Mary B. and Theresa were twins, but cannot conclusively prove this, even after reviewing census records,,, Family Search databases or Both females are buried in the family plot, with the same birth month and year. Theresa died in infancy and Mary B went on to live until age 83: Mary B. Sullivan was a very well read, educated, and quite literary. She wrote a number of articles for newspapers, including a poem dedicated to her brother entitled “Mickey the Engineer”;
  • 7. James S. (1885-1906). James drowned in an accident at Schimmer’s Lake, along the Wood River, near Grand Island. He was 21 years old and worked at the Union Pacific Machine Shops.

John kept advancing his career with the Union Pacific, and became a fireman, eventually working his way up to passenger service. In 1888, Jack pulled the Golden Gate Special which was billed as “The Finest Train in the World!” It consisted of five vestibule Pullman cars. Passengers could go to a library, a barber, enjoy a luxurious bath, eat a five-course meal, smoke and converse, or sleep. All cars had electric lights and a steam heating system!

On December 5, 1888, the Southern Pacific Railroad joined with the Union Pacific Railroad to introduce its first deluxe transcontinental service, the weekly Golden Gate Special, between San Francisco/Oakland via Ogden to Council Bluffs where passengers connected with the C&NW’s (Chicago & Northwestern Railways) trains to and from Chicago. The cost for travel between San Francisco and Council Bluffs on this train was $60 for the First Class passage and $40 in extra fare for sleeping accommodations and meals in the dining car.

John J. Sullivan retired after 35 years of service and moved to Kearney. He was a member of the Division 88 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. After the death of his son, James, he moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1908. He died June 1, 1913 at the age of 72. John and most of his family are buried in the North Platte Cemetery.

Thank you for reading and learning our North Platte History! I hope you join us next week!