The theatre stood empty and virtually unused for two decades. But for fifty years, The Midland was alive … alive with the sounds of laughter, music, applause, sobs, even a blood-curdling scream of fright every now and again – all the sounds of people enjoying an evening of entertainment, surrounded in the magnificence and opulence that the movie palaces of the early twentieth century were known for.
On December 20, 1928, just a few days before Christmas, the sidewalks of the Newark, Ohio Town Square were filled with shoppers in search of last-minute gifts. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, on North Park Place there was a line of people – hundreds of them – people standing in place for hours, or, according to an account in the local paper, paying young boys to stand there for them. They braved the elements so that they could be the first to get a glimpse of Newark’s newest entertainment establishment.
But the action on stage and screen was only half the show. What the first-nighters really wanted to see was the magnificent Midland interior...and on this score, they are not disappointed. Passing through the lobby and foyer, the customers marveled at the marble pillars and atmospheric design of the ceiling. Once seated in plush upholstered chairs, they took in the unique Spanish architecture. Everywhere you looked, there was velvet – red velvet carpeting, walls draped with rose velvet and gold fringe, velvet rails on the stairways and orchestra pit. Even the balcony was trimmed with lace. And suspended from the ceiling, a beautiful art glass chandelier. This was the setting in which audiences on the evening of December 20, 1928 – and thousands of audiences on thousands of evenings thereafter – experienced The Midland’s many offerings. Finally, at 6:30 PM, the doors opened, and the excited throng filed inside. A half hour later, the Mammoth Moller organ rose from the floor, and house organist Helen D. Longfellow joined the orchestra in a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The silver curtain opened, revealing a suspended American flag. Newark Mayor Robbins Hunter welcomed everyone, and then the show at long last was underway. The opening was a hit! The paper said that a "splendid program was arranged." It began with a "colored art film, showing the American Indian and many scenic spots in the West." Two vaudeville acts were followed by "The Shopworn Angel" starring up-and-coming actor Gary Cooper. One of the Vaudeville acts was the Columbia Quartet, which the review called…"four boys who sing a lot and chatter a bit. The voices are well-harmonized and they took several encores." The review of Cooper’s performance was less flattering: "Gary Cooper is not the dominate lad he usually is…."
By the way, the movies on December 20 were silents, but only a week later, the theater played a talking picture called “Manhattan Cocktail” – the first time a sound movie played in Newark.