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Marmarth’s Mystic Theatre

Few places in North Dakota capture the Old West like the town of Marmarth, a former railroad boomtown in southwestern North Dakota, about a half hour from Bowman. In some ways it has the same charm of Medora, another village on the Little Missouri River in the Badlands. But Marmarth isn’t a tourist town.

One of Marmarth’s early buildings still stands: the Mystic Theatre, which opened on this date in 1914, 7 years after the town was founded. 

It was a project of professional baseball player Guy Johnson. He built and managed the theater, which was one of the first houses built specifically for film showings. It seated about two hundred people. Nightly shows were ten to fifteen cents – a nickel more on feature nights. The theater added sound equipment for talkies in 1930, but times began to get tough for the theatre. Its name changed to The Palace and then The Marmarth, but as the town continued to shrink, and with more services available in the neighboring towns of Bowman and Baker, the theater closed in the 1950s.

As an American bicentennial project, the Marmarth Historical Society began a restoration of the Mystic. A vaudeville show put on by local residents marked the theater’s grand reopening on this date in 1976. Tickets were sold across the Dakotas, Montana and Minnesota. The performers didn’t use microphones, relying instead on the theater’s acoustics. The next year, the Mystic Theatre was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places. The Marmarth Historical Society holds the deed.

The Mystic stands across the old Barber Auditorium on Marmarth’s Main Street, near the gourmet Pastime Steakhouse. The theater still hosts occasional events, such as cowboy poetry gatherings, and it has seen additional renovations in recent years.

As for one-time pro ballplayer Guy Johnson, he didn’t live to see the rebirth of his theatre, passing away in 1971 – 5 years before the grand re-opening.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Slope Saga Committee (1976). Slope saga. Pioneer Print: Bowman, ND

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