by Stan Bargmeyer, Coma News Daily Intern
“Going to the theater” in Coma usually means a movie or a performance by the Coma Backgate Players. But in the early 1900s, people who wanted to be entertained in Coma had a range of strange options to choose from.Perhaps it was the town’s methane boom or the once-thriving silly hat industry that brought both prosperity and a range of curious entertainments to the region. In its heyday, Coma supported more than half a dozen theaters that featured questionable shows ranging from bovine burlesque to meat-themed vaudeville.
In fact, between 1870, when the vaudeville theater Washington Hall opened, and 1928, when the Riviera opened the town boasted at least 19 performance halls.
Washington Hall once featured Joan Crawford in the chorus line of sultry farmers years before she became one of the biggest names in motion pictures.
That venue was the first of several performance halls to burn to the ground amid the fad of fire-and-straw-dress dancing that swept the region.
Cowboy comedian Will Rogers played a one-night stand at the old Academy of Music. Then-Coma Mayor Edmund B. Jallopy was there that night, when the famed comedian started joking about how hard it was to find a decent junk yard in town after the mayor had instituted the town’s first ban, which barred all such facilities from the town limits. Rogers joked that he had always assumed Coma was a giant trash hole before coming here and was deeply disappointed to find otherwise.
The audience, including Mayor Jallopy, roared with laughter and Jalopy lifted his junk yard ban the next week.
The old Academy of Music, like many other venues in the town, was lost in a tragic methane mine collapse and explosion.