Main Street at The Olde Main Street Museum became a true "Memory Lane" recently as Chris Hart and Ray McFadden presented "The Last Customer" on two successive nights.
This information was provided by the Newcomerstown Historical Society, which hosted the event: "Set in 1967 at the Post House on Old Route 21 in Newcomerstown, the short order cook is played by living historian Chris Hart and his last customer before closing of the establishment iss played by living historian Ray McFadden. The two reminisce about how State Route 21 affected the many lives of those living in the area and express concern of how the coming Interstate will affect the community. They look back at the many families and generations who used the road to come to the area seeking a better way of life during post and WWII.
"The discussion leads to many of the old timers and the well repeated education they received on the three r's, reading, ‘ritin and Route 21. Such jokes abound among those who made the journey from West Virginia and points south.
"Another of the repeated jokes recalls the journey up Route 21 making their way to Akron to work in the rubber mills. As it goes, the old car broke down in Newcomerstown and Heller’s Tools was hiring so they stayed on in Newcomerstown..
"The completion of sections of Interstate 77 necessitated the use of portions of Route 21 that was never intended to carry the volumes of traffic as it funneled into the single lane from a two lane highway. The winter brought many accidents and tragic loss of life on the slick, hilly and winding road between Cambridge and Strasburg. The heavy traffic of Friday nights was testimony to the many from West Virginia returning home for the weekend. Likewise, Sunday night would see a reverse in the massive flow of traffic for those returning to points North like Akron, Cleveland and the many small towns between.
"This writer recalls growing up on a farm on the hills adjacent to Route 21. On cold snowy Friday and Sunday nights, a continuous flow of lights appeared as a snake winding its way over the hills. Many cars, trucks and buses ended up in the ditches along the curvy slick roads. The local farmers would take their tractors, at risk of their lives and pull the stranded travelers from the ditches. The grateful travelers usually rewarded the farmers with a token gift of a few dollars."
Hart said the idea originated with McFadden.
"The idea was actually Ray’s," Hart said. "He thought it would be fun to see how much the town had changed with the oncoming of the interstate. He thought the closing of the palace marked the beginning of many changes and Cookie (Hart’s character) would be a good person to tell the story then we added the character of Bill (McFadden) so there could be a dialogue.
"Bill Casteel helped me find the actual date the Post House closed and provided photographs. Dwight Van Sickle shared stories about the timeline and what happened after it closed. Our two favorite comments (from those attending) were that it sure looked natural, just like two guys having a conversation and that’s what we were going for and when people tell us, ‘Hey, I remembered every one of those names you said.’ When that happens you know you have done your job."
Hart said his favorite part of the production was the natural chemistry between himself and Ray.
"He and I were having so much fun having the audience was just an added bonus," Hart said.
Hart also had a special thanks to the Newcomerstown Public Library because of the hours spent there going through the old microfiche of The Newcomerstown News. Which by the way, it’s so much fun just to see all of the old stories of our village."
Some of the old names and places that became part of "The Last Customer" and remain a part of the lore of Newcomerstown:
Greyhound Post House
Home Building and Loan
Dr. William McCulley
Dr. W.R. Agricola
Pharmacist Robert Morgan
Pharmacist Robert Lawler
Kroger’s (with tomato soup on sale for nine cents a can and two heads of lettuce for a quarter, plus Top Value Stamps!)
Thompson’s IGA (with eight cans of baked beans for $1 and hot dogs for 49 cents)
Lenzo’s Car Wash
Harry’s Barber Shop
Poland’s Barber Shop
Ourant Funeral Home
The Coffee Cup
Dun Rovin Restaurant
Russell’s Dairy Delight
Coach Ward Holdsworth
The Orange & Black Trophy
And Chris Hart, as Cookie, ends the conversation, with "They said just lock the door and leave the keys on the counter. You know something, Bill, I just realized, you’re the last customer of The Post House. Let me just turn the lights out."