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Turning to Talkies


When Al Jolson's voice soared through theaters in "The Jazz Singer" in 1927, and movies began their transition from silence to “talkies,” the theater-going experience changed forever.

The technological advancements behind a talking picture would have seemed quite avant garde at the time. The continued advancements in film and other industries resulted created quite a rush of change for the men and women who had settled the plains of North Dakota, where carts, buggies, covered wagons, and horse-drawn farm equipment had been the norm.

One witness to the changes was John Bartu, an early settler. He, his mother, and four siblings came to Emmons County in 1886, joining John’s farther, who had proceeded them. Bartu would claim some major roles in the development of Emmons County; he was elected to the school board before he was 21. According to family stories, he won because he did not oppose holding dances in the school house. As constable in 1899, he was among the group that took the county’s records from Williamsport during a dispute related to the location of county seat. Later, he operated a livery stable in Linton.

Bartu was 68 when The Emmons County Record saw fit to comment on his attendance at the Willows Theatre in Linton where he saw his first talking film, "The Passion Play." The paper reported that "John remembers attending the silent movies about 20 years ago, but in those days they were so blurry … he lost all interest." It had taken coaxing from his son to try again. The paper went on to say, "We haven't seen John to get his opinion on the modern way of showing pictures, but chances are he found there was a big improvement."

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


Emmons County Record, June 29, p1

History of Emmons County, p116