You know an issue is divisive when a vote to resolve it is quite close. In Oneonta during the early 1930s there were probably plenty of discussions or arguments at the family dinner table or sermons from the pulpits on Sunday mornings, regarding whether or should be able to see a movie in Oneonta on Sunday.
The debate about Sunday movies was very visible in the form of advertisements in The Oneonta Star leading up to the November general elections, held on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 1932.
“Shall we commercialize the Sabbath Day? Do we want to make the movies a preferred business?” asked the potential Oneonta voter to choose no to Sunday movies.
From the other side, “To Set Aright Any Misunderstanding or Misleading Information — the American Legion is to receive 50% of the Net Proceeds from Sunday Performances to carry on the much needed Welfare Work.”
Voters went to the polls and the “no plurality” was 133 votes, with 1,960 residents voting yes for Sunday movies, 2,093 opposed. Oneonta’s First, Fourth and Sixth Wards had “yes” majorities.
With that vote, the Sunday movie issue didn’t go away, as witnessed at a Common Council meeting on Tuesday, June 20, 1933.
“Over 5,000 signatures to a petition requesting the Common Council to call a special election to determine the desire of the people of Oneonta as to the showing of moving pictures in this city on Sunday were presented…at its regular meeting,” the Star reported the next day.
A few people from both sides of the issue attended. While no action was taken that evening, a public hearing was set for Friday evening at the Municipal Building, then at today’s 242 Main St. Those opposed to an election had charged that signatures on the petition had been obtained through misrepresentation, and this hearing could allow people to have their names removed.
At the Friday night hearing, 10 requests were made to have names stricken from the petition. About 100 attended, arguing for and against the election. Common Council, at its July 5 meeting then introduced a resolution calling for a special election on Tuesday, July 25.
That vote never took place, as state Supreme Court Justice Andrew J. McNaught granted a show cause order in an action instituted by city resident Lynn W. Hathaway against the city, to hold such an election. Hathaway, the plaintiff, felt that the special election would be illegal. The case was argued by both sides at McNaught’s chambers in Stamford on July 19. The next day McNaught ordered a halt to the July 25 election.
Common Council met again on Aug. 1, and based on the court’s restraint for a public vote felt that the 1932 election results still stood. The Council voted unanimously to be opposed to movies being shown on Sundays.
Apparently the mood had changed by 1934. With the end of Prohibition, sales of liquor after noon on Sundays had been permitted in Oneonta. Not only did the theater owners want to bring back the issue of Sunday movies, some residents wanted to see baseball games played on Sundays, which had also been traditionally forbidden.
J. Kenneth Yager, an Oneonta Alderman, offered an ordinance to legalize Sunday movies and baseball at a Common Council meeting on May 1. Yager argued that with the Sunday liquor sales, “clean and wholesome recreation should be made available Sunday afternoon.”
No vote on the ordinance was taken, so there could be public discussion. The Oneonta Ministerial Association was present at the next Common Council meeting on May 8 to make their protest known.
Common Council met again on Tuesday, May 15, for an historic vote.
“A compromise ordinance which will allow the showing of moving pictures and the playing of baseball in this city, for which admission may be charged, on Sundays after 2 p.m. excepting between the hours of 6:30 and 8:45 p.m. when regular church services are being held, was unanimously adopted…to take effect immediately,” it was reported on May 16.
The first Sunday movies shown on May 20 were “A Very Honorable Guy,” starring Joe E. Brown and Alice White at Schine’s Oneonta Theatre, while Zasu Pitts starred in “Sing and Like It” at the Palace Theater.
On Monday: With the growing popularity of the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, Bainbridge established a great place to observe at the finish line in 1972.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.