Just over the hill from my Missouri hometown of Langdon, in Rock Port, population 1,316, the nightlife has definitely seen better, well, nights. On weekends, you can still see young people gather at the Casey’s General Store, or along Main Street, but Saturday nights here are a far cry from the time when the main drag was packed with cars from 5 pm until midnight.
When I was a kid, Langdon was home to the train station, the Langdon Garage, and Langdon Post Office/General Store, but on Saturday night, EVERYBODY went to Rock Port. Getting there too late in the evening meant that there might not be a good parking spot on Main Street. All the stores were open, from dry goods and hardware to groceries, along with eating and drinking places like the Central Café and the Downtowner. Some folks walked up and down the street just to talk to friends, while others spent the entire evening sitting in their cars people-watching.
Down at the south end of the street, the Paramount Theatre started showing at 7:00, and there was generally a midnight show following that. Farmers in pinstriped Big Smith overalls brought their families to town for groceries, country kids perused the five and dime for cap guns and peashooters, and Moms shopped for a new dress pattern and some cotton print fabric.
Today, when we talk about a business district, if a town is lucky enough to have any businesses left, they’re usually on the edge of town surrounded by 3 acres of concrete parking lots. The way most rural towns are today, it seems strange to look back 40 years and remember a brightly lit business district full of stores and restaurants. Stranger still to remember that church, 4H, and Saturday night represented the joined social lives of the entire community.
With the death of Main Street in so many small towns, we have seen our sense of community decline as well.
I’m not the first person to notice, because a few years ago in Rock Port some people decided that tradition needed to be revived. Now, each year in September, Rock Port has one more Saturday Night, or, as we call it, “Old Fashioned Saturday Night.”
Both ends of Main Street are roped off for four blocks from the library to the firehouse. Groups of every description sell food, merchandise, or offer games and rides as fundraisers. This year the sixth grade class raffled off a quilt to raise money for the continuing restoration of an Atchison County landmark built to honor the veterans of World War One, the Memorial Building. A George Burns impersonator was featured at the Liberty Theatre on the newly remodeled second floor.
Hey, this year’s Old Fashioned Saturday Night had a George Burns impersonator. What more do you want?
Photo: Courtesy of WC Farmer Photograph
The Rock Port Volunteer Fire Department gave rides on a real fire truck, and cow-chip bingo was played with a real live cow!
Of course, a lot of this stuff never happened on Saturday night in the old days. In the first place, closing the street to cars would not have been popular, and funnel cakes, watermelon seed spitting, and dunking tanks would have been considered fare for fairs and carnivals, not Main Street. But the Liberty Theatre once had moving pictures on the second floor of the Memorial Building before the Paramount Theatre was built. So now that the Paramount is only a memory, it’s good that we still have Liberty.
By nine o’clock the cleanup is getting under way, and by 10 — early compared to the old days — town is nearly deserted. Just the same, it’s nice to see Main Street filled again, even if it only happens once a year.