"It wasn't exactly a parade. It wasn't a time for celebration. It was a time to run for your life."
Oh, Glory! Residents and visitors of Moundsville may notice that their lives have literally been turned into a movie Saturday, May 26, when the city changes its name for a day to Glory, W.Va. in celebration of the historic Strand Theatre's grand reopening.
After 11 years of being closed, the Strand, located at 811 Fifth St. in Moundsville, has officially announced its reopening to the public and the entire city is celebrating. The theme for the day is the 1971 film, "Fools' Parade," which was filmed almost entirely in Moundsville and was adapted from Davis Grubb's 1969 novel of the same name.
Grubb, a novelist and short story writer, was born in Moundsville in 1919 and was a descendant of one of the oldest families in the city. Also, he was quite the character. After the filming of "Fools' Parade" had ended, Grubb took a $750 round-trip cab ride from New York City to Moundsville to join the festivities at the "Glory Days Dinner" with his dog, Rowdy Charlie.
Grubb's "Fools' Parade" is set in1935 Glory, W.Va., a fictional town based on Moundsville, and tells the story of three released convicts who attempt to cash a check worth $25,452 of prison savings, but are repeatedly thwarted by a band of corrupt characters. The novel was turned into a film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring James Stewart as Mattie Appleyard, the story's hero.
The movie also featured several local residents, including Jim Cochran who worked as an extra on the set when the filming began in September 1970. The late Kitty Doepken, then the family editor of the Wheeling News-Register, had a memorable turn with a brief speaking role in the film.
"It kind of slowed down the town 'cause everything revolved around it," Cochran remembered. "Of course, there were a lot of old cars running around and they took the heads off the parking meters."
Cochran recalled the city welcoming the movie crew with open arms and, in return, the film often used the residents to play parts in the story.
"They didn't have any sign-ups, they'd just see people on the street," Cochran said. "I was a prisoner one day and then I'm a hobo and I was reading a newspaper in a western of all things one day."
Extras on the set were rewarded with a $16 check at the end of each day, a free meal and, if the extras were really lucky, a chance to meet the stars.
"Even as an extra, you got to eat with them and the last day they were here, they brought in these trucks with food and they fed you on the courthouse lawn," Cochran recalled. "It just so happened, I was one of the last ones to go through the line and the only seat I saw was the one beside Jimmy Stewart and I just sat down beside him."
The film premiered with much hullabaloo on June 17, 1971 at the Court Theatre in Wheeling. The city conducted an extravagant parade that brought an estimated 12,000 people to downtown Wheeling to see the stars of the movie ride down Market Street in antique cars.
The film featured some familiar sites in Moundsville including the West Virginia Penitentiary (changed to "Glory Penitentiary" in the film), the Marshall County Courthouse and the Marshall County Bank building, which served as realistic sets.
"Since the movie was filmed here, it has a special place in all of our hearts," Tiffany Turner, who is on the board of directors for the Strand Theatre Preservation Society, said. "It's one of those films that everyone has been wanting to see and they've been wanting to see it at the Strand."
The Strand Theatre was built in 1920 as a Vaudeville theater. When it closed its doors in 1996, Dave Knuth, president of the board of directors of the Strand Theatre Preservation Society, saw an opportunity to bring back the arts to Moundsville through the theater. In 1999, a group met at the Chamber of Commerce to talk with an architect about restoring the building.
"The building was found to be in sound condition, it just needed a lot of work," Knuth said. "We decided to pursue the funding through Congressman Alan Mollohan and we chose to go through him because of his interest in restoration of historic properties. We felt that the theater, the only theater left in Marshall County, was eligible for restoration."
The building cost $120,000 to purchase, which was provided by Mollohan through the U.S. Department of Housing and Development. The West Virginia Division of Culture and History also has been instrumental in approving grants for the Strand and thus far has funded about $685,000 toward the $1.7 million project.
"We really felt that we need to do something in this area to have the lights on and have something inspiring going on in the evenings in Moundsville," Knuth said.
So far, renovations have included sealing the building, installing a new roof, installing new fire doors, cleaning and repointing the brick, installing a new ceiling, insulating the ceiling and the floor, installing six new heating and air conditioning systems and repainting the side walls of the theater. According to Knuth, there are still further renovations to be done.
The building opened its doors Aug.t 20, 2011 to the Wheeling Jamboree which has been using the theater as its main venue. Now the time has come for the Strand to open its doors to the rest of the public.
"It makes me excited to have people in the doors. Anytime I can drive by, walk by or be there when there's sound and music and lights and the theater, it makes me personally proud for our organization," Turner said. "We've worked very hard to get to this point."
Participants in Saturday's events can enjoy an array of celebratory activities. A tour of the Davis Grubb home on Seventh Street will be offered from 10 a.m. to noon where visitors can see some interesting memorabilia. Alexander's on 7th will serve a special menu from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Strand Theatre will have a matinee of "Fools' Parade" at 1:30 p.m. The former West Virgnia Penitentiary will hold a reception at 4 p.m. Participants will also be delighted by a Jimmy Stewart impersonator, dressed as Mattie Appleyard, who will be coming to entertain at these locations throughout the day. An antique vehicle that was used in the film can be seen driving around the city that day as well.
"The whole town has come together," Turner said. "We've had this idea to show this movie and now the whole town has kind of jumped on board with it and provided photos and memorabilia and stories."
"Fool's Parade" also will be shown at the Strand Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, May 22-25. Tickets will be sold at the door.