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Century-old opera curtain resurfaces

Joanie Kramer and Marge Fabre look at a poem written by Grace Edwards on the back of the curtain in 1911. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

When the curtain closed decades ago, no one expected to see the Lovin Opera House curtain again — or likely, never really thought about it.

That changed this year when the Flicek family donated the curtain, now over 100 years old, to the B.C. Ness Mahnomen County Museum. The museum is hosting a Night at the Opera on May 19, with an unveiling of the curtain — which is in great condition for being so old and stored in an attic for years. The event also includes a tour of the new building the museum just purchased, live music and refreshments.

Hanging in the museum, getting ready for its grand unveiling, the curtain, while in excellent condition, also shows its history with signatures covering the back dating back to 1911. Grace Edwards left a note on it from 1911; the McIntosh High School left a note from 1914. Some are readable, some are too faded to decipher the entire message. All are fun to see the history behind the curtain, though.

“The Lovin House was the very beginning of Mahnomen,” Mahnomen County Historical Society Board President Marge Fabre said.

In 1909, Joseph Lovin bought the store at the corner of Main Street and Adams Avenue in Mahnomen. It housed a furniture store on the ground level and the opera house upstairs.

“The opera house hosted traveling actors, magicians and vaudeville troupes regularly. It was a very nice theatre with a stage,” a history book at the Mahnomen County Museum states.

Lovin also served as a mortician.

Lovin’s daughter, Rose, married Louis Flicek and he took over the business in 1939 from his father-in-law. He discontinued the mortuary business but continued with the furniture sales and the opera house.

The Fliceks had a son, Cy, who took over the business from his father in 1958. He eventually sold the business, but he still had the opera house curtain in his attic, which has now been donated to the museum.

“These curtains are few and far between,” Fabre said.

She said that they have known for years that the curtain existed, and had hoped it would one day be donated to the museum, but they don’t know the history of how it was hung or any details like that.

Though the back of the curtain is filled with signatures, the front was hand-painted with advertisers and a mural of a river from the Scenic Art Studio. Most of the businesses are no longer in existence, but there are one or two like the Mahnomen Pioneer newspaper that are still in business.

Fabre and museum curator Joanie Kramer said there are a couple other businesses that exist now but haven’t continuously existed over the last 100 years, like Mahnomen County Abstract.

Next door purchase

Next door to the existing museum on Main Street in Mahnomen, the historical society purchased the adjacent lot and building, which was formerly the Model Meat Market years ago. A piece of history came with the building as well.

The rail that was used to bring the meat into the building is still attached to the ceiling in the back room of the building.

The building will be shown during the Night at the Opera celebration, and the refreshments and food will be served in the building as well.

George Perra moved to Mahnomen in 1924 with his wife and children and purchased Model Meat Market. His son, Raymond, worked with him for years, and worked at the meat market until it was sold in 1948.

Since being a meat market, the building has been a tattoo parlor and an office building for Continental Land Co.

And now it belongs to the historical society. 

Night at the Opera

The museum and historical society is hosting the fundraiser on Sunday, May 19, from 4 to 8 p.m. There is a $10 suggested donation for the event.

Besides the unveiling of the Flicek Lovin Opera Hall curtain, there will be live chamber music, vintage fashions on display and modeled (including an opera coat from the turn of the century) and refreshments served.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.