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Wisconsin Movie Memories at Old Milwaukee Outdoor Drive-In Theaters

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

drive-in-theatres-remember

Outdoor Drive-In Theaters

Are you old enough to have memories of viewing movies in outdoor drive-in theaters? If you answered yes you are probably close in age to a generation of people who grew up in the post World War II era. Those were the days!

While the original idea by a man named Hollingshead was patented in May of 1933, the peak popularity of such drive-in outdoor theaters was widespread in the late 1950s and early 1960s especially in rural areas of the country. I was growing up at the right time to enjoy this form of entertainment with my family.

Fun Times!

Two or three times each summer in the 1950s when my parents would announce that we were going to go to the drive-in movie, my two younger brothers and I would always become excited at the prospect of the rare treat. We certainly fit the profile of people lured to this form of entertainment.

My younger brothers and me

My younger brothers and me

Living in the Country

Living in the countryside of Wisconsin around thirty miles west of Milwaukee most of our fun was self made.

When school was in session we had our school chums to chat and play with during recess. But when we went home we had very few nearby neighbors for most of our early years.

My grandmother lived on a lake. During the summer months when it was warm enough to go swimming that was always a fun outing. In the winters we could ice skate on the lake.

The home that my parents built & the first one in which I first remember growing up.

The home that my parents built & the first one in which I first remember growing up.

Tree Climbing!

Trees lined the roads coming in to where my parents built the home that I first remember. There was also a woods nearby and as some of you may by now realize who have read some of my other posts my brothers and I loved climbing trees.

We even gave names to some of our favorite trees.

  • From the roots going up the Camel Tree curved sideways about three feet from the ground and had a huge hump before straightening and continuing to grow skyward.
  • The Fun Tree had a number of limber branches in which we could climb out to the ends and swing down thinking that we were just like Tarzan.
  • High up in a notched area of the Squirrel Tree was an opening into the main trunk. As long as we lived there we could take our sack lunches or snacks up in the tree, perch there discussing all the important things of childhood and dispose of our waxed paper or banana peels down that seemingly endless hole into the trunk. We imagined that squirrels made this hole their home thus the assigned name.
Pictures of my brothers climbing trees in the Wisconsin wintertime.

Pictures of my brothers climbing trees in the Wisconsin wintertime.

Where I grew up as a child

Activities That Kept Us Busy

Since I had two younger brothers much to my mother's dismay who always loved dolls especially her Dionne quintuplet doll named Annette, playing with dolls was the last thing with which I wanted to play. Much more to my liking was a great fondness for reading.

With regard to more active activities, there was always the bicycle riding, playing on the backyard swing-set or in the sand pile and as we got older in addition to the ever-present tree climbing we were allowed to go to the pit.

The Pit

The pit was an abandoned gravel pit that to us (remember...we were kids) looked like this giant gaping steep hole in the ground where we could slide down the grassy sides using flattened cardboard boxes. Oh it was so much fun!

That was often the preferred form of entertainment especially when my boy cousins from Madison would be visiting on weekends. Up and down the hill we would go flying over and over again until we would finally get tired. In the winter sledding these same hills was a lot of fun.

Many years later when I was showing my husband the area in which I grew up and showed him the pit he laughed!

I"ll admit that the pit barely lived up to its name or my memory of it. It obviously had filled in with dirt over the years and offered the smallest of hills and cavity for childhood fun such as we had shared.

Another strange thing happened! The house in which I had grown up had shrunk in size! Have any of you readers had similar experiences? (Smile)

Drive-in Movie Night!

The night had finally arrived! The outdoor movie theater was between Milwaukee and Oconomowoc where we lived. So it was not too far a drive although to us kids it seemed like quite a trip. But then the pit seemed immense also!

It was a typical big screen and the cars would pull in and line up in prearranged sites where the front of the car would be tilted up so that no matter where one parked they would have an unimpeded view of the raised screen. My dad would then reach out and attach the speaker to his driver's side window so that as the movie was run we could hear what the actors and actresses were saying.

Did we enjoy these movies? My parents obviously did and of course it was a way for them to have an outing without having to pay a babysitter. We kids did but for a different reason.

The excitement in going to the outdoor drive-in movie was mostly the preparation ahead of time and just the rarity of the occasion for my brothers and myself. We rarely stayed awake to watch an entire movie and for certain if there was a double feature we did not see the second one completed. In fact at a certain point my parents could count on being alone in the front seat with three sleeping children behind them.

Oh...but the excitement in getting ready was always so much fun!

Popped Popcorn

Popped Popcorn

Popping Popcorn

My dad would pop some popcorn in an old blackened kettle that he utilized for just making popcorn. Oh...it smelled and tasted so good! My mother would prepare some other snacks and pack the accompanying cooler.

We kids would be bundled up in our pajamas and the back of the station wagon seat would be put down so that when we got tired (which always happened) we could just go to sleep. Pillows and blankets were put into place.

There was a concession stand at the front of the drive-in but we had everything we needed in our family station wagon.

Once we arrived the production of unwrapping all the treats would take place and sipping and crunching sounds would accompany the sounds emanating from the box in the window.

Most of the outdoor movies back then had some cartoons which we kids loved and also an intermission where the owners of the theater hoped to sell more things from the concession stand. There was a playground with swings, etc. at the front of the drive-in theater we attended. It was a very family friendly place.

Do I specifically remember any movies that I ever saw at the drive-in theater? The answer would be "no" but I will always have my memory of the excitement in preparation for going to the outdoor theater. I can almost smell my dad's tasty popcorn!

Fun to remember what was broadcast back then during intermissions...

Great look back at drive-in movies from other people's perspectives...

Sources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 07, 2012:

Hi Alastar,

The pit is probably just about level by now. Haha! Oh the anticipation for those family nights out at the drive in movie theatre was so much fun! Your movie theatre hubs are a hoot to read. You certainly had some crazy experiences! Thanks for your comment.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on April 07, 2012:

Those were the days indeedy! Saw this on the feed yesterday and you know I just had to read it. Like your tree names and oh does that pit sound like fun! Enjoyed reading about your drive-in movie days Peggy, yes, half the excitement was the anticipation. Your dad was wise bringing the families snacks along too. Probably tasted better than the concessions did anyway. As you maybe know from reading the movie series Pop T and Mr B had several drive-ins and one time we caught a family with 7 or 8 people hidden all in it, including the trunk, despite the sign that said $2 dollars a carload LOL! Thanks for the look back from your wonderful perspective my friend!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 06, 2012:

Hi moonlake,

Nice that you also got to enjoy the drive-in theatres. I had to laugh to myself that you also had the "pit" experience for your kids. It surely seemed big to us when we were kids! Ha! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 06, 2012:

Hi Charlu,

I can't even imagine how wonderful it would be to swim with horses. Will think about that in my dreams tonight. Hope your dreams come true!

moonlake from America on April 06, 2012:

I remember the first Drive-in I went to. My Dad took us and we saw Pinocchio. That was a real treat for us.

The next time I went to the Drive-In was on a date with my husband.

Our kids had a pit in WI also I know to them it seemed big but it was just a tiny little gravel pit.

Enjoyed your Hub. Voted UP

Charlu from Florida on April 06, 2012:

I have two horses one that is a paint Gemini who thinks he is a dog who I ride, and another sorrel mare which is Gemini's daughter (2 light blue eyes) who I don't ride. She is ready to be trained but healing from a cut that is good on the outside but I always want to be sure it's healed inside. Even if I didn't ride them (not as often as I used to by far)like your neighbor I would keep them anyway. They are part of the family and my serenity.

Swimming with horses to me is the ultimate experience of a lifetime. You hang on literally while on their back or next to them and it is incredible. My bucket list is to do that at the beach!!!

Have a great weekend and talk to you soon.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 06, 2012:

Hi Charlu,

Sounds like you had a great time with your horses and swimming in the pit when you were young. I think that many kids have wished for a horse of their own. You were lucky to have had that experience and you still have horses to this very day. Nice!!! How many do you have? Can you ride all of them?

We have a friend down here that has 2 and one is now too old to ride but she keeps it as a pet and pal to the other horse.

Charlu from Florida on April 06, 2012:

Hi Peggy Oh yes, we were always swimming in the pit and the lake (the lake was to far for us to go on our own), especially with the horses it was great. I'm not quite sure if it was the safest or healthiest but we were kids and nobody worried about all that stuff back then. At least not like they do now. We even tried one time to tie a rope to a tree to swing off of it, which didn't work at all. But we would brush ourselves off ride back to the barn and nobody knew but us kids. Again great hub and thanks for the memories of the drive in and the pit.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 06, 2012:

Hi Charlu,

As you said...those were the days! That sand pit sounds like fun. Did people swim in it as well as horses? Amazing that something has yet to be done with the land that the old drive-in movie theater was situated. That goes back many years now! Nice to know that you also have fond memories of those times. Thanks for your comment and votes.

Charlu from Florida on April 05, 2012:

Oh those were the days. We had a sand pit where we used to take the horses swimming it was great. I loved the drive in movies but like you for the fun, popcorn, and all the goodies. In a nearby town there is an old closed down drive in that has never been redone into anything else You can still see the poles where the speakers used to hang. Great hub and voted all the ups.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2011:

Hello jreuter,

Happy that I could bring back memories of your own experiences with outdoor drive-in movie theatres. Slowly but surely they are disappearing and few remain today. Thanks for your comment.

Jason Reuter from Portland, Oregon on December 02, 2011:

I miss these so much! We had one close to my hometown of Onalaska, WI in Sparta. It stayed open until the early 90's actually, but alas, it is no more. It was a very nice memory of my childhood. Thanks for this fun hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2011:

Hi Ben,

You had better hurry. I don't know how much longer there will be any drive-in movie theatres left. They were quite something in their day! Thanks for your comment.

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on December 02, 2011:

Great topic and thanks for adding your personal experience Peg. I got to see maybe a dozen or more movies at Drive Inns when I was a boy. I saw that there's still one in operation somewhere near Deerfield here in Wisconsin, I hope I get to share this right of passage with my kids.

Ben

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 26, 2011:

Hi justom,

Glad that you liked reading about my memories of going to the (now) old outdoor drive-in theaters. They were fun, weren't they! Thanks for your comment.

justom from 41042 on April 26, 2011:

Peggy you have a great way of telling a story. I remember going to drive-ins as a kid and on dates and the way you described it was pretty much the same as when I went as a kid. It really was great fun. You're also totally right about how things that looked so big then were just no big deal as an adult. I have a very funny story about a date at the drive in but this is a public forum so I won't even go there :-P Great hub! Peace!! Tom

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 07, 2010:

Hi Billy,

Yes...those were fun days...going with our families to the outdoor drive-in theatres. And yes...getting a treat from the concession stand was always something special. Ah...memories! :-)

billyaustindillon on August 07, 2010:

I remember drive in movies growing up - intermission used to be so exciting if the movie wasn't good. As kids that was the highlight chocolate covered ice cream cones or a drink. Was a big night out when we went.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2010:

Hello epigramman,

Amazing how our years most often don't match what we feel inside. Ha! Yes, the memories of the old drive-in movies brings back happy family memories for me. Glad to hear that it resurrected good ones for you as well.

epigramman on July 25, 2010:

....yes this brings back a lot of memories for me also -

I am 52 (but secretly when I read your hubs - 29) and I remember these days gone by with fondness and sentiment!

A very nice hub you have here - well researched and written as a labor of love!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2010:

At least we can make that circle in our memories. :-)

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 26, 2010:

Yes, they are =) A great way to do a family outting, only paying per car load! And here we are, full circle with nostalgia on our tongues. ;)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2010:

Ah...let's see... Comfy couch, nice clean bathroom facilities, food and drinks available if desired, air-conditioned comfort, can get up and walk around at will verses a more cramped car with dirty bathroom facilities...need I go on? I pick the home environment! OK, OK...the outdoor drive-in movies are still a nice memory! :-)

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 26, 2010:

You're right, keeping it guarded 24/7 would be an issue. Besides, what's more comfortable--the car, or a comfy couch at home as you stare at a giant LCD screen with surround sound?

Then again, some cars have butt warmers...hmmm..choices, choices.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2010:

I'll bet families would still frequent them if still available as a fun family outing at more affordable pricing. Perhaps it would be difficult to keep outdoor screens from being tagged (covered with graffiti) in these times in which we live? Oh well........you and I and other fortunate souls have our good memories!

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 26, 2010:

I agree, but with ticket sales climbing and gimicks like 3D and IMAX rising it's just not the preferable format anymore.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2010:

So true! Sorry the vast majority of outdoor drive-in movies have disappeared.

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 26, 2010:

Haha, I can't remember the last time I saw a drive in. Such a brilliant concept--and relatively cheap, too.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2010:

Hello Ixxy,

Hahaha! Being just a kid the last time I saw an outdoor drive-in movie, my memories are all about the big screen and what was being played on it...the popcorn and other treats and even the playground in front. Your memories seem to be good ones also although slightly different. :-)

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 26, 2010:

Ahh, drive in theaters. I miss those. Such a great way to watch a movie...or, not really, in the privacy of your own back seat.

Wait..what?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 06, 2010:

Except us (sometimes) and the effects of gravity. Whoops! That's another subject. Ha! Nice that we both have our beloved pit memories, Duchess, as well as our outdoor drive-in theatre experiences. :-)

Duchess OBlunt on January 06, 2010:

Everything shrinks in size as we grow older :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 05, 2010:

Hi Duchess OBlunt,

Outdoor Drive-In movie theatres are few and far between in the U.S. these days. You are so fortunate to still have them where you live. Has your Pit also shrunk in size as you grew older? (Smile) Happy to hear that you had as much fun as we did. Thanks for the comment.

Duchess OBlunt on January 05, 2010:

Oh dear, mmm mm mm mm mmmmmm.

I seriously must be from hick country! We still have drive in theaters here! They can be enjoyed 3 out of the 4 seasons up here in Canada. At least where I come from. (I really AM a country girl). They are still popular with young families with young children, or depending on the movies playing, with the young people dating and the young at heart - who can still remember and appreciate what it is like to date.

About the Pit. We had one too, an old quarry on my grandparents "wood lot". Hours of fun!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 29, 2009:

Greetings Mike,

So happy that these memories of outdoor drive-in movies brought back good memories for you as well. Thanks for the comment.

Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on December 29, 2009:

The last drive-in in our town went away about thirty years ago, but I have some great memories of the time when it was there. The last movie I ever saw at the drive-in was a goofy martial arts flick called "Force Five", one of those unintentionally funny movies. I just loved going to the drive-in.

Thanks for such pleasant reminders!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 03, 2009:

Hi William,

We occasionally got to go up to the drive-in movie theatre snack bar for some special treat, but mostly we ate what my parents had prepared and brought with them in the car which was OK with us. :-)

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on December 03, 2009:

I didn't mention it originally, Peggy, but, since I've always been a "chow hound," I probably enjoyed my visits to the drive-in theater snack bar more than anything else.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2009:

Hello William F. Torpey,

Nice that you also had fun experiencing the outdoor drive-in movie theatres. Since you also dated...you probably had even MORE fun! Haha! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 02, 2009:

Hello again William,

As to your memory...not all that bad. At least you remember a film you saw. Better than me! Ha!

William F Torpey from South Valley Stream, N.Y. on December 02, 2009:

I went to the drive-in theaters often when I was in high school. It was always fun -- even more fun if you were there with a date. Too bad they're not popular any more. I have a bad memory, but I'm sure I watched "Alexander the Great" at an outdoor theater in Stamford, Connecticut. Mostly, I frequented the one that used to be in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 28, 2009:

Good morning dahoglund,

In addition to the drive-in movie theatre, we also had the drive in eating place in our area which served the best frozen custard cones among other things. That was a rare treat to be taken there.

One of my mother's best friends was one of those roller skating carhops earning extra money on her way to becoming a nurse.

85 cents certainly bought more back then! Ha!

Thanks for visiting and leaving your interesting comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on November 28, 2009:

I can't recall the name of one movie I saw at a drive-in but it was a 3-d one where you had to wear those paper glasses to get the effect. It was based on an Edgar Alan Poe story. In high school, or right after, I got into foreign films such as Alec Guiness's comedies, some Hitchcock and various others. They only seemed to be shown at Art theaters which back then were for real art films, not pornography. Unlike you, I grew up in the city and there were two such theaters that I recall, one by the university. Everything California was invading us. More than drive-in movies, we frequented drive in eating places.As I recall a good hamburger, french fries and a malt cost about 85 cents. I think these drive in started losing their appeal when they quit having carhops. We never did have roller skating carhops that I recall.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 18, 2009:

Hi Truth From Truth,

Yes, the drive-in movies were great for families. Nice that we both have our memories of them! :) Thanks for reading and commenting.

Truth From Truth from Michigan on November 17, 2009:

and I will always remember the double feature. just a good time

Truth From Truth from Michigan on November 17, 2009:

Yes I remember drive ins, I wish they were still around.It's nothing like going to the regular theater. It felt more family oriented. Thanks

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 17, 2009:

Hi Lisa HW,

Sounds like you and your friends and dates really enjoyed the drive-in movies. You brought up a good point...the sound from the speakers WAS tinny now that you mention it. Thanks for adding that additional bit of information to this hub.

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on November 17, 2009:

My friends or dates and I always went to the drive-in. There was one in my town, one in the next town over, and several others not far away. It was great, even if those speakers were tinny.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 16, 2009:

Hi James,

It is a shame that outdoor drive-in theatres have almost completely vanished. That would have been quite the dating venue! :) I only enjoyed them as a child with my entire family. Happy that this gave you good memories. Thanks for the comment.

James A Watkins from Chicago on November 16, 2009:

I absolute loved Drive-In Theaters and I love this Hub! I am sorry they went away. I went as a kid and later, I had quite a bit of fun with my dates there. We had two in my home town of St. Joseph, Michigan. Thank you for the memories.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 16, 2009:

Hi agusfanani,

Happy to have been able to give you an idea of how outdoor drive-in theatres operated. The memory of the times I spent with my family all snugly gathered together in the car watching a movie is a good one for me. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

agusfanani from Indonesia on November 15, 2009:

There used to be a drive in movies in Jakarta but I'd never visited this movie since I lived in anther city, but your story gave me enough idea how a drive in movie like.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 15, 2009:

Hi Pete,

Wow! That had to have created an uproar! My drive-in movie experiences were definitely all family friendly ones when I was younger. Perhaps what you related was one extra reason they started closing those type of theatres? Happy to have the memories that I have of them. Thanks for your comment.

Pete Maida on November 15, 2009:

I remember drive-ins very well. The good old West Side Drive-in with still running in the late sixties when the X-rated movie became a fad. The people that ran it didn't know how many people in the surrounding hills could see the movie until they ran "I am Curious Yellow."

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 14, 2009:

Hi LoveEarthAlways,

Oh yes, after getting back home from the drive-in theatre, we kids would all have to be awakened to walk like zombies into the house to fall into bed and resume sleeping. My youngest brother, until he got a bit bigger, would be carried. Fun memories! Thanks for your addition to the comments.

LoveEarthAlways from Burlington, Vermont, USA on November 14, 2009:

Thank you for doing this. Drive-ins were everywhere in my rural corner of America in the 1960's and they have pretty much vanished.... I remember going with my parents- kids in the back seat in our pajamas and blankets! Getting home and having to wake up to go to bed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 14, 2009:

Greetings Its Angel and welcome. Nice to hear that you and your kids got to enjoy the drive-in theatre while it still existed in your area. It was an inexpensive evening out for families and time spent together which was also nice. Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 14, 2009:

Happy to hear you also have good memories of drive-in theatres, Hello, hello. Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 14, 2009:

Hi Ethel,

It is amazing how everything looks bigger to us when we are children. Makes sense...WE are smaller...then as we gain in stature, what appeared big to us gets smaller. I STILL cannot believe what happened to the Pit! Ha!

So.....no drive-in movies in England. Maybe the invention did not get past the United States?

Thanks for sharing your shrinking school toilet story in the comment. (Smile)

Its Angel from Charleston, SC on November 14, 2009:

Wonderful memories,. Peggy this was great. When my kids were little in the 80's we had one drive in in town left, but it wasn't going to last long they had already started to turn it into a flea market, but still it was the best thing for a family that was struggling, we took the kids and they could snuggle up while we enjoyed the movie. Those were the days..

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on November 14, 2009:

What lovely memories Peggy. I remember going back to my infant school, ten years after I left, and being amazed at just how small the toilets were :)

Drive-in movies were not around in the UK but I wish they had been.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 14, 2009:

We have a lot of good memories. Thank you for yur hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 13, 2009:

Hi dohn121,

I am happy to be responsible for bringing back some good memories of your own regarding drive-in theatres. I guess a few still exist in various places around the country. But most are gone, of course, except in our memories. Thanks for the comment.

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on November 13, 2009:

What a great nostalgic story, Peggy. I remember going to a few drive-in theaters in rural New York--one in Rome, NY (near Utica) when I was dating my college sweetheart and then later on in Hyde Park, NY when I was going to school in the Hudson Valley. This brought back so many memories. Thanks for sharing this with me.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 13, 2009:

Hello DiamondRN,

At least you remember the movies! Ha! The whole experience of going to drive-in movies was fun. Thanks for the comment.

Bob Diamond RPh from Charlotte, NC USA on November 13, 2009:

The best movies I remember seeing at a drive-in theater were the James Dean classics "East of Eden" and "Rebel without a Cause."

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