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The Thurber Opera House

By Frank Chamberlain 

The opera house was the cultural and entertainment center of life in Thurber. These facilities were host to many operatic and theatrical productions. Throughout its years of operation, most of the major entertainment troupes to visit Texas performed at this venue. The Thurber opera house represented one of the only stops between Fort Worth and El Paso for many of these companies. However, the performances were not restricted to large productions. Local performers frequently displayed their talents on the opera house stage [Hardman 120].

The opera house was built in 1896 and stood on the north end of the town square. The interior of this building contained a large lobby, private box seats, a balcony, dress circle, and parquet circle. The parquet (center section of the lower floor) was used for social activities of the company executives. The entertainment facilities included a 30 X 50 foot stage, an orchestra pit, a 28-foot loft with many backdrops, and three dressing rooms. In total, the opera house could seat 655 people [Bielinski unpublished paper, Hardman 120].

Almost any form of entertainment could be seen at the opera house. Large companies performed well-known productions such as “Race for the Widow”, “Kentucky Colonel”, and numerous other nationally known shows. The local schools frequently performed plays or recitals, and local musical groups played concerts for the community. The opera house stage was also a showcase for individual talents as well. It was not uncommon for Thurber citizens to perform magic shows or music recitals for the public. One of the most popular spectacles to be staged at the opera house was the “badger fights.” Large crowds gathered to see a bulldog face off against a “badger” that was concealed inside of a box. A guest of honor (always a person from out-of-town) was selected to pull the rope that released the creature. The onlookers raised quite a scene on these occasions by yelling at the bulldog and exchanging wagers. Finally, the guest yanked on the rope, revealing a chamber pot instead of an actual badger. The Thurberites apparently derived a great deal of amusement from this prank, while the visitor was left with a unique memory of the town [Hardman 120, Spratt 32].

A particularly interesting Thurber story relates to the opera house. According to legend, the ghost of an opera singer walks the streets of Thurber while singing in a foreign language. She is reputed to be an attractive young lady who vanishes when approached. Unfortunately, no photographer has been able to capture this elusive specter on film and the only available evidence consists of hearsay and an occasional eyewitness report [Dallas Morning News, July 6, 1966].

Bielinski, Leo S., “Thurber’s Opera House,” unpublished paper, September 1994.

Hardman, Weldon B. Fire In A Hole, Gordon, TX: Thurber Historical Association, 1975.

Spratt, John S. Thurber Texas . Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Tolbert, Frank X., “About Opera House And Singing Ghost,” Dallas Morning News, July 6, 1966.