Over half a century ago Minden had carnivals visit at least once a year. My recollection is that they were located across from the Coca Cola Bottling Company on Pine Street. The road into the cemetery today has a sign that says “Rephart”, but old maps show it was named “Red Heart.” With Pine Street it forms a triangle of land that now has lovely brick homes on it. Back then it was vacant and that is where the carnivals put up their rides and booths.
There was petty thievery all over town. Most of those who worked with the carnivals looked like they might be hoboes. They were not very clean, and shabbily dressed. These were the depression years and hardly any of us had more than a dime to spend on rides (which cost a nickel).
Still, there was an air of excitement when we knew the carnival was in town. I remember going with a girl friend out to the carnival and just walking around looking at the various booths (where you took a chance to win some worthless doll or object.) The money spent trying to win the doll would have more than paid for a similar doll.
There was always a booth where you had your picture made – a tiny little picture hardly bigger than a postage stamp, but it brought back memories of the excitement of the carnival. On several occasions the local police checked out those booths where you tried to win a prize, and they were “rigged” so that you could not win. The police closed those booths down. Also, they checked for “girlie” shows.
I remember when the carnivals pulled out of Minden, they took not only their rides and booths but on two occasions young girls ran away with them. The officers found the carnival and brought the girls back on both incidents.
Minden did not host the Webster Parish Fair back then, so the Louisiana State Fair in Shreveport was a really big event in our lives. The School Board set aside a day for the pupils to attend the fair – on the day the State Fair designated as “Children’s Day.” There was no charge for children to get into the fair on that day. Not only did we have a day out of school for the fair,but a school bus carried us to the fair for a small fee – about a nickel.
One of the bus drivers that I remember was a man that everyone liked, his name was Ray J.Talley. I did not have very much money to spend at the fair, probably a quarter. That had to cover food, the bus ride and whatever was left for rides. There was so much free to see that I only remember riding the merry-go-round once. The exhibits were free and people had entered the best that they had made – canning, quilting, dress making and many other categories. The thought of a trip to the fair filled us with excitement.
Today, Minden is the home of the annual Webster Parish Fair. The spacious facilities at the Fair Grounds have been updated, along with the parking area. The Minden Police are there to see that everything and everybody is safe. The pretty girls from all over the Parish vie for the honor of being Webster Parish Fair Queen. With local residents manning the food booths, we feel safe letting the children eat there. The displays always point out the various talents the Parish residents possess. We even have a “Senior Citizen Day” (which covers me.)
Minden had two movie theatres – one that I think was called the Rex back then, and another that was located by City Drug where the jewelry store is now located. I remember it as the Scout Theatre, others remember further back when it was called the Brownie Theatre or later it was the Tower Theater.. The Scout had western movies, that closed each episode with a “cliff hanger” so that you would return the next Saturday to see what happened. Some children had enough spending money to go each Saturday. The Christmas of about 1937, in addition to getting the compact with MHS in Green (when the colors had been changed to red three years before), I was given a nickel to go to the picture show (as my mother called them – not movies but picture show.) When we visited relatives in Shreveport they had Sunday movies. Once a cousin offered to pay my way if I would go with her to a Sunday movie. I knew my mother did not approve of such things on the Sabbath Day, so I was not surprised when she said, “Now if Jesus comes back today and He could, how will you explain being in a picture show on Sunday?” That scared me so badly that I turned down the opportunity to go (even though I really wanted to go.) Did you know that on April 5, 1956, the Minden City Council passed an ordinance to allow showing of Sunday night movies in Minden.
During the war years we acquired at least one drive-in movie theatre out the Shreveport Road past Mcintyre, near where I-20 crosses Highway 80. Later, the Joy Drive-In on the Shreveport Road inside Minden opened. Earlier there had already been the Rex Theatre and the Scout Theatre. Later the Joy Theatre (the indoor version) opened down on Pearl Street. This was a great place to go to pass the time. Often there were double features – two movies for the price of one. I realized that most of these double features were Class B movies and the stars were not very well known. Still, during the war years it was a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours since there was so little to do during the war years for pleasure.
In 1940, while I was attending Meadows Draughon Business College, the Strand was showing “Gone with the Wind” during the day as well as night. I checked out of school and went to the movie – it began at about 10:00 a.m. and with the intermissions it lasted till after 2 p.m. That allowed just enough time to walk back to the parking lot for my ride back to Minden with Mrs. Pauline Oliphant and Judge Harmon Drew (the grandfather of Richard Carey, and the grandfather of the current Judge Harmon Drew and also the great grandfather of Drew White.) Two other students rode with Mrs. Oliphant. —- Mildred Hobbs and James Stahl .
Of course, there was no television and only a few had radios. I listened to other people’s radios but I never had one of my own until about 1941. The churches provided some activities for young people, but there was still a great deal of leisure time. So all these carnivals, fairs, and cheap movie theatres help fill the war years until the Minden boys came home.
Time has gone by and now we do not have even one movie theater, but we do have television and videos. And Minden still has the annual Webster Parish Fair, and Shreveport has the annual Louisiana State Fair. Do you remember the excitement when the carnivals came to town?
Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.