Cleveland dies in spiraling plane crash

Hannah Gross

Photo courtesy of Leonard Cash

Newcastle Drug & Jewelry located in the lot 11 building.


Hannah Gross

NLJ Correspondent 

With Leonard Cash


In this installment of the “History on Main” series, historian Leonard Cash concludes his series on the Castle Theatre, which was located on block 10 of lot 11 until 1950, where we pick up this week by exploring the history of the Dogie Theater. 

The March 9, 1950, issue of the News Letter Journal announced that a new theater was being built for $125,000, located between Modern Cleaners and Wallack stores. It is the home of the present-day Dogie Theater. The building erected by Esther Cleveland, owner of the theater at the time, was 50 feet by 130 feet wide. Garland Construction Co. was awarded the bid, and the building was to be tile and brick “with a modernistic front.” Each side of the theater was to have two office spaces, and the front of the second story was to be an office space or apartment.

“The new theater will be one of the most modernistic and attractive buildings in this part of the country and will have a seating capacity of 600 patrons,” the article says. 

The former Castle Theatre was opened as Dogie Theater on March 21, in association with the Black Hills Amusement Co., according to the March 15, 1951, issue of the paper.

“Truly it (theater) belongs to Newcastle. It is your theatre—yours to cherish and enjoy … it belongs here and is a definite, integral part of the community, fitting into and suiting itself to the life and activities, the temper and mood and desires of the citizens of the community,” said Richard Klein, general manager of the Black Hills Amusement Co., in the article. 

The projection equipment in the Dogie was the latest scientifically developed technology of its day. The projectors were twice as large as others in the area, with the newest available type, known as Motiograph A-A. The lamps, reflectors, lenses and heavy duty General Electric rectifiers that were installed were all of high quality. 

“An important feature of this equipment is the unique speaker system which disseminates the voices and musical effects to cover every seat in the theatre with a ‘blanket of sound,’” the article says. 

For the “hard of hearing,” special seats with wiring and adjustable volume control were made available. The article contained many other detailed descriptions of the new theater design, including flooring, the cry room, lounge room, heating, lighting, snack bar and other features. Additionally, Jack Smith of Rapid City created a mural of “a restful atmosphere produced by subdued colors and beautiful indirect lighting effects … to give the theatre-goers of Newcastle a beautiful, serene and quiet atmosphere so that they will be able to relax and enjoy the entertainment that is before them.”

According to another article from the same issue, Gov. Frank A. Barrett was invited to give a dedication at the opening of the theater, and Mayer F.B. Thomas was to give the welcoming address. Other celebrities from the Black Hills Amusement Co. were to also be present. The Newcastle High School band directed by F.R. Bond provided music for the event, and Judge Harry P. Isley was master of ceremonies. The first movie that premiered in the theater was a musical called “Two Weeks of Love.” And two days before its showing, 450 tickets were sold for 65
cents each.

Eventually, after Castle Theatre vacated the lot 11 building, Newcastle Drug & Jewelry moved in, and the Aug. 3, 1972 newspaper said that Jim Roger was hired as the new pharmacist. He was a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming and was married to Cathy Helmer of Sundance. 

Cash wanted to include the obituaries from some of the prominent men involved with this building.  

Starting with Nov. 27, 1908, we read of the life of William Johnston McCrea, who was known for starting the McCrea Mercantile. McCrea was born in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, on May 17, 1851, and he passed away in Newcastle on Nov. 21, 1908 at age 57. 

McCrea moved to Wyoming in 1881 to the Little Powder River area, which is near modern-day Gillette, and was in the cattle business with Harry Watson and Robert Johnson. He retired from cattle ranching about five years later to enter the mercantile business with Alf Diefenderfer in Sheridan. In 1891, he began a mercantile business in Newcastle with Robert Douglas and Meyer Frank and “has been closely identified with Newcastle business affairs since.” He was president of McCrea Mercantile when he died, cashier of Stock Growers and Merchants Bank, manager of Robinson Mercantile Co. in Moorcroft and director and organizer of Moorcroft’s bank. He was a member of Newcastle Lodge No. 13 A.F. & A.M., Knights of Pythias, Commandery in Meadville, Pennsylvania. McCrea’s fellow lodge members, accompanied by his family, escorted his remains to Blairsville. McCrea was known as a well-balanced man, giving the idea of “bigness” to those around him because of his intelligence and generosity. He was said to have a broad outlook on life with keen insight and no bigotry. The article could not say enough about him — he was kind, courteous, helpful to all, tenacious, honorable and didn’t allow personal likes or dislikes to affect
business judgment. 

“His few faults became akin to virtues because they made him charitable towards the faults of others. He was a well-rounded, capable lovable man—a man whose passing leaves more than a ripple on the surface of humanity,” the article says. 

Next is Dr. J.R. Beatty, who was the brother-in-law of Mrs. O.S. Cleveland. Beatty passed away due to an illness, according to the Oct. 5, 1939, issue of the News Letter Journal. His funeral was held in Omaha, Nebraska, and Mrs. Cleveland and Max Lamson left Newcastle to attend. 

“Dr. Beatty will be remembered by local persons, for he lived in Newcastle about eight years ago, and was the first manager of the Castle Theatre here,” the obituary says. 

O.S. Cleveland, the theater man, died in a daring flight adventure. The paper reported on April 8, 1943, that Cleveland, the manager of Castle Theatre since 1930, lost his life in a plane accident on April 7 at about 6:50 p.m. He took off at Mondell airport around 5:30 p.m., “circling and banking over the city.” However, he banked too sharply over the west side of town and crumpled the neon sign over Toomey’s Mill. Having lost control, Cleveland spiraled down, crashing between Continental Oil’s gas station and some empty storage tanks, “miraculously missing the structures” before exploding in flames. The Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department kept the flames from spreading, but the “plane had been reduced to a bent and distorted tangle of blackened metal; the body burned beyond recognition.”

“Upon examination of the remains, it was found that both legs had been broken just above the ankles, indicating that Cleveland had braced himself for the crash. According to a physician who examined the body, death probably resulted from a severe head wound and not from the fire,” the
article says.  

With that, we conclude the series on lot 11 of block 10 and the Castle Theatre. Next week, Cash continues down the street by beginning a series on First State Bank.


News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
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P.O. Box 40
Newcastle, WY 82701
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