BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- During its 90 years, the Indiana Theater has filled the various roles of a showplace. It has been, as Indiana historian James Madison put it, the "anchor" of Bloomington's downtown.
While the Indiana Theater, now known as the Buskirk-Chumley, was a social center in the 1940s, the fabric of that society for local icon George Taliaferro was one of exclusion. He remembers coming to the theater, but he was only allowed in the building on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and only in a dimly lit balcony, all because of the color of his skin.
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Taliaferro, who starred on Indiana University's football team in the 1940s, held from the podium of the Buskirk-Chumley Thursday a marker from one of the darker periods of American history, a placard he removed from the wall of the old Princess Theater that read "COLORED" or, as Taliaferro pronounces it "for the ignorant people" who hung it, "Color-red."
Despite such bitter memories, Taliaferro told his tale as a piece of the vast history of the Indiana Theater, a history the establishment sought to reclaim during its anniversary celebration Thursday night. About 75 guests sat in the audience and heard his story, which he has recounted for grade schoolers and college students alike, reminding them racism wasn't just a part of Mississippi and Alabama.
"Try Bloomington, Indiana," Taliaferro told The Herald-Times.
An 85-year-old Taliaferro, while still irked by the memories of seeing a giant picture of himself playing football inside of a restaurant he wasn't allowed to be served in, was able to share his memories with the confidence he "was somebody." He suffered through discrimination to get an education his parents weren't allowed to attain, and, in the end, became a man who played professional football and whose wife, Viola Taliaferro, became a successful judge.
He helped celebrate the Buskirk-Chumley as the one original showplace left standing in Bloomington. Along with Taliaferro, Bloomington native Angelo Pizzo, the director and writer best known for such films as "Rudy" and "Hoosiers," reminisced about the times he would sit in the front row of the Indiana, taking in newsreels, a cartoon and a double feature, only to have his father call the theater to order him home.
Pizzo grew up during a time when going to the movie theater was a five-hour experience, taking in classics such as "Ben-Hur," "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Ten Commandments."
"I didn't come here to watch a movie. I came here at noon to watch a movie four times, over and over and over," Pizzo said. "I felt like I was a different person when I came out of those movies."
After Taliaferro and Pizzo recounted their memories, the theater announced it would be working to collect audio sound bites and video recordings of other patrons' recollections of the establishment.
Amos Hayes, 92, remembered being 9 years old and sneaking into the Indiana Theater with the help of his brother, who operated the "picture machine." There, he watched films such as "Gone with the Wind" and flicks starring Clark Gable and Bette Davis.
"I'd open the doors and let all of the other kids in, too," Hayes joked.