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Joyce Endee

Old popcorn machine reunited with Rialto

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter

The Rialto's Dave Fuller is pictured here with the old popcorn machine that once served many at the Rialto. The machine went missing for twenty years, and is finally back home. (Photo by Tara Giles) (click for larger version)
October 07, 2021
LANCASTER — An old 1950's Manley Popcorn machine was recently re-united with the Rialto Theatre in Lancaster. When that machine was brand new, movie goers in Lancaster were chomping on butter salted popcorn to classics like "Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion" and "All About Eve" starring Bette Davis.

Anyone who's ever been to the theatre remembers this machine, that has been missing for the past 20 years. As you walked into the theatre, the machine was to your right, the smell of popcorn greeting all movie goers right away.

There were hundreds of comments and well wishes when locals learned of this unexpected re-union. With that came an influx of childhood nostalgia.

Longtime Lancaster resident Prudy Baker recalls, "I'm just one of hundreds who have enjoyed the delicious popcorn from this popper served by Fuddy Donovan; he is very missed."

Paul Koch also shared a memory from the 1960's: "I remember asking my mom for 50 cents to go to the movies. Thirty-five cents for the picture, and 15 cents for the popcorn. The drinks from the water fountain were free!"

The popcorn machine was a staple at the theatre since the 1950's. So where did it go? A change in ownership over the years led to the sale of many items inside the theatre. Alan Hodgdon of Guildhall, Vt. purchased the machine, along with the items from Evan's Market, including the old candy counter. Hodgdon owned and operated the Guild Hall General Store until recently when it was purchased by Bruno and Brenda McKenzie, also of Guild Hall.

When McKenzie discovered the items in the back of the old store, he noted that they must have at least sentimental value to someone.

"I'm a friend of the fire department, so it just made sense to call them and see if any of these items could be used in their auction," McKenzie explained.

"I initially thought they would be brought to the historical museum in town, but I'm glad to see they were put to good use and that the department is supported," he added.

Every year, the Lancaster Fire Department holds an auction. This year the old popcorn machine, a soda fountain and nut warmer from Evan's Market were big ticket items on the list.

Co-owner of the Rialto Theatre, Dave Fuller was ecstatic when he heard his business partner Greg Cloutier bid on the machine and won it. Cloutier won the bid at $300, but donated another $200 to the department.

Fuller said, "It's been one of those things that we've thought about for years, about how cool it would be to find that machine and bring it back home. I never thought we'd ever get it back."

When asked if the machine still worked, Fuller said that the plan is to try to get it up and working, but for now it needs a good clean up but is still rock solid.

"Right now, we'll put it on display until we can at least see if it'll light up," said Fuller.

The old soda fountain and nut warmer from Evan's Market, also landed back with family members of Eleanor Bell who owned and operated the store.

An old employee of Evan's, Bill Bucklin, commented, "Eleanor would make piccalilli to put on the hot dogs. She also made maple walnuts to put on the ice cream. If you happened to have bagged a partridge or two, she would bake them into a couple of partridge pies, give you back half for free and sell the other half there at the counter."

Mike Kopp, Assistant Chief of the Lancaster Fire Department and local history buff, was happy to see the popcorn machine and other items find their way back to their rightful places.

Kopp notes that the best memories come from places where people gathered, adding "People always have the fondest memories of places where people would come together, that are no longer around."

The auction raised roughly $4,000 on Saturday.

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