Gig Line: The Pioneer Theatre = happy memories

Published 1:41 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2023

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Some of the best news I’ve heard lately was that the Pioneer Theater in downtown Manteo had been purchased and will maintain the special place it has always been: putting smiles on the faces of countless locals and visitors alike.

Originally known as Ye Olde Pioneer Theatre, it has been a mainstay for so many of us and just getting ready to go into the fourth grade, it was the first place I can ever remember being allowed to go to with my friends unaccompanied by my parents. Times back then in the late 50s were golden.

Daddy being a native Dare Countian had retired from the U. S. Coast Guard after 22 years having served in Key West (where I was born), St. Petersburg and Miami, Florida. We had just moved back to his hometown of Manteo following his retirement and life was different for us kids. While Miami was wonderful in many ways with frequent family outings, swimming, picnics at Crandon Park, visits to the Seaquarium that had just opened in 1955 and cookouts with friends, it was at a point that neighbors were just starting to install iron bars on their windows before we moved. And while our quiet neighborhood, with its typical stucco “cracker box” houses with terracotta orange barrel tile roofs, was full of nice families, children riding their bikes and skating down the sidewalks, it was subject to change. Well-manicured yards enhanced floral accents everywhere, fruit trees, bananas, avocados, limes, guava and mangos were also so pretty and delicious and life seemed really good for the most part. As a third grader, the Fairlawn Elementary School my sister and I attended (she being a sixth grader) was only a block from our home and it had been safe enough there that Mama and Daddy would let us walk to school and home every afternoon. That last year we were there though, neighbors had just started installing decorative iron bars on their windows for night security. Once we were out of school for the summer, Daddy was homebound and headed back to his favorite place on earth – Manteo.

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It was so different in this sweet little town by the water. Daddy, having been raised here, knew everybody and he never even locked the front door when we went to bed at night.

Things had been changing in Florida and once we got to Manteo and saw the beautiful old house my grandparents had built in 1936 that was located across the street from Manteo Elementary – I too fell in love. My parents had bought the old homeplace from Daddy’s two siblings and life was wonderful. I made a good friend right away, Ginger Powell, (I miss her) only three houses from ours and I was so happy.

My parents were very protective, but they had every confidence, my sister and I were safe if we walked downtown to watch a movie at the Pioneer Theatre. It was in that very special place that we all looked forward to going on a Friday or Saturday night. It was where I saw the first scary movie, Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), which scared the britches off me. Oh, my word! I had only been used to watching Mickey Mouse, Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges, Queen for a Day, Gunsmoke and Dick Clark and the American Bandstand after school and at night in Florida – I had never seen a movie that made my curly hair go straight until … the Pioneer Theatre. Back then I was such a wimp that when the actress in the movie looked into a pair of binoculars, changed the focus and two metal things instantly poked her eyes out and left blood streaming out of her eye sockets, I went outside and hung out with the lady in the ticket booth for the duration of the movie. I waited for my first cousin CC Evans and Mary Wescott to finish watching it … like I said, I was the wimp!

Later, as I grew older and continued my first-choice entertainment at the Pioneer Theatre, it was where I first sat with a boy who held my hand. He was a Wancheser and like all Wanchesers, he was special! We’d sit there and stare at that great big screen and eat the best buttered popcorn you could hope for, drink our fizzy fountain drinks and eat Boston Baked Beans. It was so wonderful! And folks for me, well, I stuck with great films like To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Cleopatra (1963), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and The Green Berets (1968). Once Rocky came out in 1976, my sweet Billy and I were already married eight years and at the end of it, everyone in the theatre jumped to their feet, clapping, whooping and hollering cheering Rocky’s success! Sheer joy took over us. Popcorn boxes went flying, much to the chagrin of owner/operator H.A. Creef, but the happiness we felt seeing the underdog win over his competitor was rich. I remember Ben Creef, too, who worked there for years – a sweet dear man and another treasure at the Pioneer! The elation we felt watching Rocky win was a blast and that awesome experience was unforgettable!

No matter what movie, what time of the year, the Pioneer Theatre was always a place that made us happy. It makes us remember the very kind but businesslike nature of H.A. and the feelings we felt. We experienced handholding, first kisses, flirts, yummy treats at the concession counter and just that warm embrace that only the Pioneer Theatre could generate. Precious memories with every turn … and even if we didn’t watch the movie playing at the time, we’d go downtown and buy a box of that delicious popcorn to take home!

The vision of H.A. walking up and own the aisles checking to make sure we were behaving will stick with us for years to come. The gray light that cast those memorable movies stirring emotion in everyone blasted out of the little projector opening in the balcony and just every single thing made it exceptional.

Thank you, Michael Basnight and the Hatchell family, for jumping in and maintaining an icon that we all love and can’t wait to see re-open! You guys and your spouses (of course) have come in like Supermen and saved the day and we are thankful. Thank you too, Liz Ann, Tim and Buddy for keeping it going for as long as you did – no doubt sacrificing much to see it through.

We’ll all wait for the grand opening, the re-birth of something that means so much to all of us and for the new experiences we’ll have with your unique plans! Thank you, we’re happy for you guys and we’re happy for us, too!

Remember: If you have attended Peggy Snead’s Grief Share Classes – great! If you’d still like to, then jump right in! The classes are every Wednesday from 4-6 p.m. at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, located at 300 Ananias Dare St. in Manteo. I promise you will not feel left behind. Each week the classes, topics and videos are new and you’ll feel like you haven’t missed a class! Trust me when I tell you it’s great therapy and free of charge!

Dare County Veteran Discount Card? If you don’t have one, call my cell at 252-202-2058 so we can arrange a time to meet. You’ll need your DD-214 showing honorable discharge, your driver’s license and either a Dare County tax bill or residential lease to prove you live here or that you own property in Dare County. That’s it! Also, if you have a medical condition that is or may be service connected, please contact veteran service officer Patty O’Sullivan on her work cell at 252-473-7749 or at her office at 252-475-5604 and she can help you file a claim or address your questions that need answers!

Until next time, be healthy, safe and happy! Be generous with your love of and for others, show kindness and mercy and pray, please pray for our troops; pray for our political leaders whether you like them or not, pray for the Ohio families dealing with the aftermath of that train derailment and mostly, pray for our nation … things seem more unsettling by the day. For previous Gig Line columns, see and if you wish to email me, my email address is God loves you more than you can imagine and He can bless your socks off if you just invite Him into your heart and let Him. Remember this, too: God taught me how to love everybody whether I know you or not! Stay tuned!