Thursday, January 21, 2016

Madame Schumann-Heink & the Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra

A few months ago I was invited to give a presentation about Myrtle to a local club. The months leading up to the presentation had been pretty tumultuous for me, and I had piled all my research in the corner of my home office and hadn't looked at or thought about it for some time. I thought about preparing for the presentation, but just wasn't inspired. I'll be honest, I was still very sad about Movie Mouse, and was just feeling bummed. I decided to print out some photos and a basic timeline and just wing it.

I arrived, and realized they had chocolate cake and wine so I was all set.

I started talking, and remembering little tidbits, and coming up with new questions for myself to follow up on. The group of ladies there were wonderful, and really brainstormed with me, sharing ideas about the historical context of events in Myrtle's life, and stories of old Baker.

My friend Ann Clark was there, and started to reminisce about Myrtle. Myrtle died when Ann was a little girl, but she remembers her. And then Ann started to talk about her childhood vocal coach, and the time that Madame Schumann-Heink visited Baker. She told me I ought to look Madame Schumann-Heink up, and that she had a book she'd like me to see that featured this woman.

A few weeks ago, Ann loaned me the book and I spent part of the day learning about this amazing Madame Schumann-Heink, and I learned one story about her that stood out above the rest, the story about how she funded a children's symphony in Burns, Oregon just before World War 1, which became the inspiration for the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

The story goes that years ago a musician named Mary Dodge moved out to Burns to live in an engineering camp with her husband. She often played her violin, and found that children would gather around to hear her play. So she began to teach them, and little by little she built up a youth symphony, which was eventually named the Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra. Local ranchers and businessmen donated money so the kids could tour on the Chautauqua circuit. Their tour took them to Portland, where they played a few shows. World renowned vocalist Madame Schumann-Heink was there for one of their shows and was blown away by their performance. She was so inspired by them that she vowed to support them financially and host a benefit concert so that they could continue to tour.  Unfortunately, the war put a damper on things and the orchestra disbanded upon Mary Dodge's move to Portland. Once in Portland, Mrs. Dodge used her experience in Burns to build a new youth symphony, which is known today as the highly regarded Portland Youth Philharmonic--the oldest youth orchestra in the United States.

I don't know about you, but I had no idea that the Portland Youth Philharmonic has its roots in Burns.

You can read about it here:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Frank & Myrtle

On the left is a photo of Frank Buckmiller in the 1920's, sent to me by a family member of his. On the right is the only photo I have of Myrtle, from the Seattle Times in 1920. In the center is a photo I found online of a group of people standing outside the Moreland Theater in Portland in 1930. I think it is Myrtle & Frank. What do you think?

To see the whole photo and the article about it, here's a link (it takes a while to load):

As always, if you have any old Eltrym photos, please let us know.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Myrtle's Mother

I'm continuing to research Myrtle Buckmiller. In the last few months, I've been working with libraries and historical societies across the country, and together we've discovered all sorts of neat things. Today I received photos of her childhood home in the mail along with newspaper clippings and property records. I already knew that in 1898, Myrtle's dad founded a town where she grew up, but today I learned that it wasn't her dad that founded the town, it was her mom!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I've been looking for a photo of Myrtle Buckmiller, the namesake of the Eltrym Theater, for a long, long time. I figured she had to be out there somewhere. Today, I spent $29.95 for access to the Seattle Times Archives and found this photo in an article about the theater company she started with her second husband, Donald Geddes. This article was dated January 25th, 1920, eight years before she married Frank Buckmiller, bought the Clarick Theater and moved to Baker City.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kindness of Strangers: The Smith Plane Search

For the past month, myself and thousands of others have been doing our best to assist the search and rescue effort to find the Smith family, whose plane went missing after taking off from Baker City. It was an effort that brought a lot of people together and stretched the boundaries of technology used in search and rescue, and it was incredible.

I only know the Smiths through Steve and Terri, who are kind and supportive customers at the theater. When I heard that their family was missing, my heart sank for them. So in early December when a facebook page was created to bring people together to analyze satellite imagery (and later, still images derived from GoPro videos) to try to locate this family, I jumped on board. I wasn't able to do much, and I may not have had the patience and dedication that the others had, but I witnessed all that occurred on that page, watching it like a hawk nearly every hour of every day. Yesterday, the plane was found. I saw Terri's update on my phone while I was waiting at the bank, and I was rendered speechless. The finality of finding the plane and the ending of the search effort was such a bittersweet and jarring moment. I can't imagine how this same moment felt for people who actually knew and loved the missing members of this family.

I was amazed and humbled by the effort put forth by so many people to find this family. My faith in humanity was almost entirely restored in watching so many people come together for a common goal all the while treating each other with nothing but decency and respect, even on the internet where people often feel more free to treat each other harshly.

The thing is, my faith in humanity needed restoration. And it might mean something to someone to know how this experience has had a positive affect on my life. In my personal life and through my volunteer efforts in the community, I've experienced a few too many instances lately of people (including myself) working against each other with fear, jealousy, animosity, defensiveness in our hearts, unwilling to let bygones be bygones and move forward in a positive way. Too often, I see people criticize the actions of others without first trying to understand those actions. At the same time, I see people hunker down with their bad attitudes unwilling to get up and help. I didn't see any of that with the Smith plane search. I saw the opposite. It was exactly what I needed, and it meant everything to me at this time in my life.

Watching this search and rescue effort unfold, seeing people disrupting and rearranging their daily lives to work for the common good of finding the missing plane against all odds and then succeeding was a moving experience.

Dale, Daniel, Sheree, Amber and Jonathan brought a lot of people together, helped to create many new friendships and changed the reality of search and rescue forever. This is small consolation for their hurting loved ones, but it really is significant.

Thank you to the Smith family, especially Terri, for letting me be a part of your lives this past month via the search effort.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Now Hiring

We are taking applications through May 15th for a Projectionist/Supervisor and a Concessions Worker (frontline staff). We hope to have someone hired and ready to work by June 1st.

Our Projectionists must be over 18, and able to work evenings and weekends.  For our new projectionist, we are looking for someone who is seeking long-term, part-time night & weekend employment. We are having a baby in September and this person will be taking my shift hours while I attempt to spend the evenings at home with my family.

Concessions workers just need to be over 16 (so you are legally able to work after 7 PM in the evenings) and be able to work nights and weekends. Though this is a great job for a student, applicants of all ages are always considered.

Click Here for a Projectionist / Supervisor application and job description

Click Here for a Frontline Staff application and job description

Please bring your completed application and resume to the theater to drop off when we are open (evenings and weekends-- you can check our showtimes).


Friday, August 31, 2012

Our Mysterious Myrtle

Last week I learned a little bit more about Myrtle, our mysterious namesake. Previously, the only information I had on her was what was contained in her obituary, and some tidbits from US Censuses.

Among other things, I learned that Myrtle moved to Seattle in 1916 with her second husband, Donald Geddes.  They opened Ye College Playhouse, located in the University District on 14th Ave, which would later be renamed University Way.

In 1921, Donald & Myrtle incorporated  G & G Theatre Co., which owned five theaters and had plans for an additional four theaters. Their intent was to specialize in smaller neighborhood theaters. The registered address for G&G Theatre Co. was 4322 University Way. Curiously, the current Varsity Theater is located next to this address at 4329 University Way. I wonder if there is a connection here, or if the addresses are coincidental.

In the mid twenties, Myrtle and Donald divorced, and Myrtle soon married Frank Buckmiller. Frank was not in the theater business, he was a salesman for Wallin & Nordstrom. They moved to Baker City in 1928 to start a theater company of their own. Once here, they incorporated the Baker Theatres Co. and  purchased The Clarick, The Empire and The Orpheum.

In November, 1937 the Clarick burned down and the Buckmillers immediately began working on plans for a new theater, which would be the Eltrym.  In the meantime, Myrtle opened The Polka Dot Confectionery (The Polka Dot Cafe) in the building right next to the Orpheum, where the Chamealeon is today.  She opened this business in the year before her death, as they were working out the plans for the new theater on 1st Street.

Myrtle was a busy woman. She was a wife, a mother, a musician and an owner of multiple businesses. In the early 1900's and through the 30's, when Myrtle was conducting business, businesswomen weren't as common as we are today. I admire Myrtle, and I wish I could know more about her. So if you, or anyone you know (like your elderly family members) know anything about Myrtle Buckmiller or her family (her kids Ardys Ferguson, Freeman Geddes and stepson Charles (Chris) Buckmiller) please contact me.


As a side note: After Myrtle & Donald divorced, Donald continued to work in the theater business. He managed the Winter Garden Theatre for a time, and appears to have spent his later years managing the gigantic, grandiose and magnificent Orpheum Theatre, which was demolished in 1967 to make way for a Westin Hotel.