The Orpheum Story

During the last days of an early-day oil boom in Okmulgee County, the Orpheum Theatre was built.  This was 99 years ago, in 1920.  A few years later, the ghost of actress Zillah Mae Bristol took up residence in the theatre.

Of the three grand theatres that Okmulgee once had, which were the Yale, Hippodrome, and Orpheum theatres, only the Orpheum is still here.  Ghosts from the other two theatres had no place to go, and the Orpheum ghost wouldn't share her theatre with them, so they had to go to the theatre in Henryetta.

The Orpheum's architecture, which is an elegant derivation of Spanish Baroque Revival, was the finest of the the three theatres, and many original decorative architectural elements remain.  Its colorful polychrome terra cotta Lobby is the finest example in Oklahoma of the interior use of polychrome terra cotta.

The theatre's original name was the Cook Theatre, and it can be seen in raised ivory terra cotta at the top of the Orpheum's Facade. The Cook name was used for only 10 months, however, because the theatre's name was changed to the Orpheum Theatre.  But the Cook Theatre name at the top of the facade wasn't changed.

The Architect was Leon B. Senter, who also designed Okmulgee's Commerce building, the One Grand Place Building, the former Salvation Army Building, the Presbyterian Church, and the City Library.  The Orpheum was Architect Senter's favorite building of his career, which also included buildings and residences in Tulsa and other cities.

The Orpheum was built on a combination movie and stage theatre.  Movies at the time were silent, and depended on an orchestra or a pipe organ to provide music for the movie.  When sound movies came, the Orpheum was one of the first of six theatres in Oklahoma to be equipped for sound.

The Orpheum had a "Flying Screen", which Stagehands could hoist up into a 50-foot-high Stagehouse to switch from movies to stage use.  An official ghost light on the Stage burned all night long so ghosts wouldn't get mad and cause damage.  The Orpheum is currently a member of the Ghostlight Society.

Houdini, Sally Rand, and Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz" are example of performers on the stage.  A circus with 3 elephants and 4 Shetland ponies also performed on stage.  Dressing Rooms are under the Stage.

Okmulgee had a good reputation, and the Orpheum was one of the few theatres to preview new movies for publicity purposes, before the movie went into statewide release.

For 60 years, the Stage was blocked, but it was unblocked in 2014.  The original "Flying Screen" was lowered and widened and returned to service, which made the Stage usable.  Ms. Kirsten Jackson of Ms. Jackson's Theatre uses the Stage for acting classes, and members of her troupe fly the screen for class, and then lower it afterward for the movie.

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