By Emmalee Laidacker, Chapman Center for Rural Studies Intern
Each semester, Dr. Morgan’s Lost Kansas Communities class researches and writes a study of lost Kansas towns in order to preserve each community’s memory. One recent student, Rachel Tucker, chose the Pearl Opera House, located in Alta Vista, as the subject of her study. Built in 1904 by a married couple who were early settlers in the town, the theater was an instant success with over 300 people in attendance opening night. The Pearl featured live performances as well as motion pictures, allowing residents of small communities to enjoy a new form of entertainment.
“When I was talking to Dr. Morgan about a research paper, I was telling her about my interests and I mentioned theater…she mentioned doing a small town opera house and as soon as she said that it just kind of clicked with me and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Rachel is a junior studying journalism, but is also working toward a minor in theater which provoked her interest in studying the opera house.
“I followed when it first opened and everything that went in there, not only theater productions, but since it was in a small town, a lot of times they used those spaces for all different kinds of gatherings. They even used it as a skating rink for part of the time; it’s very interesting to see what the community can do with a space like that.” said Rachel.
During the lengthy and complicated research process, all students are faced with obstacles of some form, but the roadblock Rachel surmounted was quite significant. She visited the Pearl three times with the hopes of getting to view the inside of the theater. The first two attempts, the store on the first floor was closed. “When I went to Alta Vista and saw the outside of it, it was just so exciting and I really, really wanted to try to get upstairs.”
Finally, the third time she visited Alta Vista, the store owner was present and allowed her to come upstairs to the second floor and finally look inside of the theater she had been studying throughout the semester.
“It was weird to be able to go into the space and see where everything that I was writing about had happened and taken place, so it was really surreal to see that…I was so glad that I had tried the third time to go, because it was really incredible.”
Rachel decided to take the class because of her long-time passion for history, but also because she found the title of the course very intriguing. Click to read Rachel’s paper, “Pearl Opera House: Phantom of the Flint Hills, Alta Vista, Wabaunsee County, Kansas, 1880s – 1970s“.