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Green Lantern Attracted Dancers

 
 

To those who can remember the Green Lantern, the mere mention of its name elicits a big smile and brings forth a flood of wonderful dance hall memories.

Just exactly where the name originated is unknown, but one former band member who played there recalls a large green, lighted sign that was the size of a refrigerator and shaped like a lantern hanging from the side of a utility pole out front on Moss Island Road.  Regardless of whence the name came, it was one of the more famous dance pavilions in the Midwest.

Five Anderson men formed the Moss Island Amusement Company on July 1, 1924.  Those men were Joe Campbell, Cecil Whitehead, Harry Harter, Ervin Miller, and Edward Bricker.  Construction began on the seven-acre site almost immediately at a cost of $20,000.

When the single-story frame building was completed, it contained a dance floor capable of holding several hundred dancers.  Suspended from the ceiling over the dance floor was a mirrored ball that glistened in the low light.

At the south end of the dance floor was a raised bandstand.  Opposite the bandstand on the north end was a concessions area for rest and refreshments.  Four large heaters, one in each corner, provided warmth in the winter.  There was a porch area on the back or west side of the building with screened openings for fresh air in the summer.

Fred Waring, Dick Powell and Others

The porch overlooked a deep gravel pit filled with greenish colored water.  The pit was dug in 1872 to provide gravel for the construction of the Anderson and Hamilton Turnpike that later became West Eighth Street Road.  The area that was to become the Green Lantern was home to the construction workers and was given the name Rockport.

The entrance was located on the east or front side of the building just off the parking lot.  It was not uncommon for the lot to be filled with flashy and sporty automobiles, some with rumble seats.  The overflow parked on both sides of Moss Island Road and even on Eighth Street.

Bold newspaper type announced its opening early in 1925.  Soon afterward, customers began pouring in, some from 100 to 150 miles away, to dance to the popular music played by the big bands featured there.  And big names they were!

Under the managerial skills of Bert Culp, the biggest names in America played there on weekends.  After spending the winter in Florida, the bands would come north for the season.  During its years of operation familiar names such as Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Wayne King, Guy Lombardo, and Don Redman were routinely booked to play through the efforts of Mr. Culp.  Although the Lantern booked the big names for the weekends, local talent was utilized through the week and thus it remained opened every night.

One famous Hollywood celebrity got his start at the Lantern.  Dick Powell was a twenty-two year old unknown when he appeared on many occasions as a vocalist with the Ross Reynolds orchestra.  He also was a soloist for Charlie Davis and the royal Peacocks.  Later, he went to Hollywood as an actor, producer, and director.  Powell spent a whole summer in Anderson while performing almost every Saturday night.  Some years later, he would say he could not recall where he lived but that it was two blocks from a restaurant where he was able to procure his one hamburger a day on which he subsisted.

A Skating Rink

Admission to the Lantern varied from a set fee per person or couple to other times when couples paid a dime a dance.  The average wage earned by an Andersonian in the 1920's was $15 a week but somehow the men wore their best suits and the ladies arrived in their finest evening dresses.

They came to hear the music of Cab Calloway, Vaughn Monroe, and the ever popular, Louis Armstrong.  Singer Lena Horne and jazz great Duke Ellington played several engagements there as well.

Patrons would dance the waltz, fox trot, and the double shuffle.  Older patrons would make room for the younger crowd who came to dance the Charleston.

The great depression of 1929 left millions of Americans out of work.  Many amusement centers similar to the Green Lantern came to an end.  It is speculated that the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 was responsible for the closing of the Green Lantern.  The sale of alcohol was once again legal but the management refused to serve liquor and it closed its doors in 1935.

Between 1935 and 1942, the building operated as the Eyers Skating Rink.  In the spring of 1942, the Green Lantern Inn re-opened under the ownership of George and Robert Lanane.

Donald Maines of Anderson played there with his own group, the Donald Maines Band.  His band would play for crowds of 300 to 600 people.  The Glenn Miller Orchestra played there as well as Ozzie Nelson and his future wife, Harriet Hilliard.

For the next six years it almost regained its former status as a top notch entertainment center.  However, the public's musical taste was changing and in 1948 the Green Lantern closed for good.

From 1949 until 1980, The Anderson Roller rink and Skatemor leased the building.  Once again music could be heard through the open doors and windows as a new generation enjoyed roller skating to music that was popular in their time.  Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" and Cab Calloway's "Hi-de-ho" had been replaced by the new sounds of the 1950's, 60s, and 70s.

Today, the site is abandoned with nothing to reveal its presence to those traveling on Gene Gustin Way.  But, for those of us who remember wither the Green Lantern or Skatemor, or both, a simple glace towards the former site brings back fond memories and a desire to once again be a part of something very special.

By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian

Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net