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Posts Tagged ‘Keene Drive In’

Anyone who has been to an outdoor drive in theater has probably heard the “It’s showtime folks!” announcement coming through the speaker that hung on their car window. It came right after the film clip showing all the delicacies found at the snack bar, I think.

Keene had a drive in theater and though this isn’t a photo of that screen it’s very much how I remember it. The drive in held 400 cars and once you paid the entrance fee you parked wherever you wanted. Each of the poles seen in this photo would have held 2 speakers. You parked beside a pole, rolled the window down about half way and hung the speaker on it. I don’t know how many people drove off after the film with the speaker still on their window but I’d be there were a few.

This is what the Keene drive in looks like today; an open meadow full of flowers, birds and insects. I decided to explore it last weekend just to see if I could find anything interesting. There is a gate that is locked but since there is a big missing part of the fence right next to the gate it was easy to walk right in. There were no signs telling me not to.

I found these few photos of Keene Drive In memorabilia, apparently uploaded by Charles Dean, online. I couldn’t find the date the drive in opened but it must have been in the 1940s after the war ended. That was a popular time for drive ins and that’s when many of them opened.  The prices on this menu are certainly from a few years ago. I can’t remember ever paying as little as 35 cents for a hamburger.

But I was here to see nature doing its thing and I wasn’t disappointed. St. Johnswort plants grew here and there. I think these grew somewhere near where the projection booth originally was.

Drive ins did their best to keep people from sneaking in without paying but it was a right of passage for a teenage boy and I went through the main gate in the trunk of a car more than once. Many others did the same and I don’t think I ever heard of anyone climbing the fence. That’s a good thing, by the looks of all the barbed wire.

The grasses were waist high. Even yarrow couldn’t out grow them.

In this spot something had flattened the grass just like a bedding deer would, but it could have been a human. As few as 10 years ago this piece of land had grown up to be almost completely forested and a sizeable homeless population lived in here. I came through once a few years ago just to explore and found a small town of tents and tee-pees tucked into a back corner. The town (I think) came in and cut all the trees and brush and evicted the homeless and now the place is mown once each year. It’s a shame that anyone has to be homeless in this, the richest country on earth, but the reality is almost every town in America has a homeless population.

I could see the old crushed gravel parking surface in places.

But mostly all I saw were grasses and flowers, like this ox-eye daisy. I also saw more blue toadflax here than I’ve ever seen in one place.

Can you see the little hoverfly on the extreme right of the hawkweed blossom on the right? I saw lots of insects here including dragonflies, which seemed odd since there isn’t any water close by.

I saw my first mullein (Verbascum thapsus) blossoms of the year here. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. It is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid.

I saw a paved area but I couldn’t figure out if it was part of the original entrance road or if it was where the screen stood. It’s hard to navigate when there are no landmarks to go by but I think I remember the screen being on this end of the lot.

There was just a single light pole left, with its light still on top. These lights used to ring the lot and when they were turned on you knew the show was over and it was time to go. There used to be 2 films shown but I can’t remember if the lights were turned on during intermission or not. I do remember some dark walks to the snack bar and then trying to find the car in the dark afterwards.

There were lots of bristly dewberry plants (Rubus hispidus) growing here. Bristly or swamp dewberry is a trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Its leaves live under the snow all winter. It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring so they get a head start over the competition, and this plant certainly seems to benefit from it. Swamp dewberry looks like a vine but is actually considered a shrub. It likes wet places and is a good indicator of wetlands, but I’ve seen it growing in dry waste areas many times. It’s also called bristly blackberry because its stem is very prickly.

I was surprised that there wasn’t more vetch growing here. I saw just a few plants. Hairy vetch (Vicia vilosa) was originally imported from Europe and Asia to be used as a cover crop and for livestock forage. It’s now found in just about every meadow in New Hampshire. This might have also been cow vetch (Vicia cracca,) but I didn’t check the stems for hairs. Cow vetch is also invasive.

There was lots of rabbit’s foot clover (Trifolium arvense.) You have to look closely to see the almost microscopic white flowers poking out of the feathery, grayish-pink sepals on these flower heads. These feathery sepals are much larger than the petals and make up most of the flower head. This plant is in the pea family and is used to improve soil quality. It is originally from Europe and Asia and is considered an invasive weed. It gets its name from the fuzzy flower heads, which are said to look like a rabbit’s foot. 

You can see the tiny white flowers in this shot. This bee (I think) was gathering a lot of yellow pollen from the clover plants. Its pollen sacs looked to be full of it.

Other clovers attracted other insects. I saw this little skipper on a red clover but I haven’t been able to identify it.

This program is from the year I was born but I don’t remember ever seeing any of these films. The only drive in movie I remember seeing at the Keene Drive In was the original Star Wars. Since it came out in December of 1976 I’m guessing it must have been the summer of 1977 when I saw it. For its time it was an amazing movie. I think I was driving a Volkswagen Beetle at the time. I like the way the program says “Air conditioned by nature,” which was a good thing since my Volkswagen didn’t have air conditioning. Unfortunately it didn’t have heat either so winters were a little more exciting than usual.

In the 1950s, there were around 4,000 drive-in theaters around the United States. Today, there are only an estimated 300 left, and only two or three are in New Hampshire. Most closed because film companies went digital and stopped delivering the films on 35mm reels.  Digital film projectors cost many thousands of dollars and many drive in owners simply couldn’t afford the changes. The Keene drive in closed in 1985 and the screen, snack bar and projection booth were removed shortly after. Now it’s a meadow which, if it was no longer mowed, would return to the original forest that was here before the drive in was built. And it wouldn’t take long; I saw it go from drive in to forest to meadow in my own lifetime.

It’s amazing how quickly nature consumes human places after we turn our backs on them. Life is a hungry thing. ~Scott Westerfeld

Thanks for coming by.

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