I still remember the night the old Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall burned down. I was assisting a photographer shoot pictures of the Brownwood High School graduating class in the old football stadium.
About halfway through the proceedings, a thunderstorm unleashed its full fury with roaring thunder, lightning and a deluge of rain. Several hundred people made a mad dash for the school auditorium, none of whom arrived there dry.
The photographer said somebody stole his raincoat in the stadium and he was mad. He accused me of doing it. How he arrived at that conclusion, I donít know since I was not wearing it and I was as wet as he was.
At some point during the big storm, lightning, they said, struck the Memorial Hall and in spite of the efforts of our fire department, it burned to the ground. I never heard anybody complain. I am sure, had they known about it, musicians all over the state would have celebrated the fact that they would never have to play on that terrible slanted stage again.
At that time, it was used mostly for country music concerts and wrestling matches. In the late í40s, the National Guard met there, having no other place. The building could in no way have been regarded as attractive and an architectural triumph, it wasnít.
A city official who had no love for the place was often jokingly accused of setting it on fire. He never admitted to the deed and when accused would just grin. Actually, Iím convinced that a Higher Power also didnít care much for the building either and sent the lightning to get rid of it.
As for breaking up the graduation ceremonies and getting several hundred people wet, that was just ďcollateral damage.Ē It is hard to do anything constructive these days without that happening. Another example: when they made Austin Avenue four lanes, the concrete driveway entrance to my house was torn out and never replaced as promised.
At least, the burning of the Memorial Hall provided a reason to build our coliseum on the same site. People watched with interest as the construction started.
Few could figure out what the end result might be. Herman Bennett, the contractor, was the only one who knew for sure and he watched it all with a worried look.
First, a large dome-shaped pile of dirt was put on the site, and then concrete was poured over the pile of dirt forming the top. Then, hydraulic jacks were placed on steel posts around the concrete dome and it was slowly lifted to the present height.
I was employed at time as an insurance investigator for a firm in Atlanta, Ga. I took time off to watch the whole operation and in the event the thing fell on somebody I would have first-hand information.
Anyhow, I was as curious as everybody else about the final outcome. Large crowds watched the entire procedure.
Also, at the time, I owned a 16 millimeter movie camera and I filmed any newsworthy event for KRBC in Abilene. I filmed the raising of the dome from the roof of the Brownwood Hotel. It all went smoothly with no mishaps.
I also filmed the first ever ladies only chili cookoff at Luckenbach, and later, the second cookoff ever held at Terlingua for KRBC.
Video cameras with sound hadnít been invented then which saved a lot of time editing the sound track. As Martha Stewart might have said about the Memorial Hall burning and the lack of sound on my camera, ďIt was a good thing.Ē
Harry Marlinís column is featured every Tuesday on the Brownwood Bulletinís Viewpoint page. E-mail him at pilgrimB17@verizon.net.