Several communities in Sherburne County, today, present outdoor movies to entertain the local residents. The first outdoor movies presented in Sherburne originated nearly 85 years ago in Elk River. Interestingly, the band concerts and the park gatherings inspire long memories, these first outdoor movies remain nearly forgotten.
Manager of the Elk River Theater, Mr. Christiansen, developed plans to present an outdoor movie in conjunction with a band concert on Thursday evening, July 19, 1934. With expenses paid for by a long list of business sponsors, “Arizona Terror” starring Ken Maynard became the first outdoor movie projected in Elk River. The Elk River Star News described the presentation as “a story of an innocent cowboy who become a fugitive from justice.” For audience members not favoring the western story line, the newspaper added, “a western love story helps keep up the interest, and there is a lot of shooting and adventure before it turns out happily.”
Mr. Christiansen developed a portable projection booth with sound speakers. The plan developed to project the movie on a blank wall situated behind the Standard Oil Station. Unfortunately , the presentation lacked crowd control. “Some difficulty was experienced,” the paper reported. “the projecting booth was hit by a truck and one of the lights was broken. The crowd was not well handled and automobiles were parked in various positions leaving little room for people to sit or stand and watch the picture.” The newspaper also estimated an overly large crowd at “close to 1000.”
After a few days to review the presentation and improve conditions, the outdoor theater projected a second movie on the next Tuesday, July 24. Elk River police controlled the crowd and parking at this second viewing. The smaller crowd and traffic control allowed for a pleasant presentation of another western, “Wyoming Whirlwind.”
The newspaper announced future movies after dark. Unfortunately, the newspaper makes no mention of the later presentations.
The limited newspaper coverage may explain the limited memories of the first outdoor movies in Sherburne County. These first movies, however, mark the development of a unique form of entertainment briefly available in Elk River.