Historically speaking

Ed Butler had storied history

The Butler Theater in Ishpeming is pictured. (Journal file photo)

ISHPEMING — No other citizen of Ishpeming had as much to do with the entertainment industry than Ed Butler. Long before the Butler theater was erected, he managed various theaters and opera houses.

“Born in Rockland, Ontonagon county, August 28, 1865, he came to Ishpeming in 1869. The family traveled from Rockland to Marquette by boat, taking the train from Marquette to Eagle Mills with their belongings on a flatcar. Horse-drawn vehicles brought them to Ishpeming, where the family settled in the Barnum location, later moving into their own home on Strawberry hill near the Barnum mine, on what is now the corner of Spruce and Ridge streets.” (Mining Journal, November 5, 1937)

In the 1880 census, father Thomas was listed as a brakes man, although which mine he worked for is not known. Ed was already working in a printing office. He had previously worked as a lather for three years, but at 14 years old he started to work for George Newett, then the publisher of the Iron Agitator.

“By the same energetic and painstaking attention he always gave to his work, Mr. Butler rose to the position of shop foreman in the newspaper plant.” (Mining Journal, November 5, 1937)

Butler’s first experience in theater management was at Austin’s Hall, located on the corner of Pine and Division Streets. The hall was located on the second floor of a meat market and was rather rough, but it was the first such venue in the city.

“He started in the business 41 years ago next November, when he took over the Gylling Hall, which, up to that time, had no regular manager.

The hall was in poor condition and was used largely for dances. It was not well equipped for the presentation of stage shows.

Mr. Butler was at that time foreman of the Iron Ore office. He was induced to take over the place by the agent of the Mason & Morgan Stock company, which was billed for the following week. The hall lacked sufficient chairs to seat the audience. It lacked scenery and other necessities. Benches were hurriedly erected for the occasion and later a raised floor, removeable in sections, new scenery and opera chairs were added, making it a fairly good place for travelling attractions.” (Mining Journal, June 17, 1929)

In addition to managing theaters, Butler was also employed by the Marquette Mining Journal as its Ishpeming representative.

“When he took over the managerial duties in Ishpeming for The Mining Journal, it had a limited circulation here. Within a comparatively short time he brought it over the 1,000 mark. Characteristic of the man was the fact that from the time he took his job he carried with him, regardless of where he went, a subscription book and no matter what else his business at the time, he never left without knowing whether the person he had visited was a Mining Journal subscriber.” (Mining Journal, November 5, 1937)

In 1903 Butler was instrumental in getting the opera house project started.

“If the Elks had not taken the matter in hand, Ed. J Butler, manager of the city’s present theater, had arranged to tackle the project single handed. A proposition which would surely meet with favor would have been presented to the council at the next meeting. The manager was assured by members of the council and prominent citizens that the proposition would be accepted.

At the meeting of the local lodge of the Elks Tuesday evening, Mr. Butler gave way to the society and will assist in promoting the enterprise.” (Mining Journal, January 22, 1903)

When the opera house, aka Ishpeming Theater was auctioned off to pay its outstanding mortgage in 1913, the Miners’ National Bank purchased it, and Butler then bought it from the bank in July of 1913 and promptly remodeled it.

“A new picture operating booth constructed of sheet steel and asbestos, and meeting all of the requirements of the state fire marshal’s department, has been constructed at the rear of the house.” (Mining Journal, November 8, 1913)

Fireproof projection facilities were a must as celluloid film could and did burst into flames during projection.

The Butler, built in 1915, was a movie house only and did not have a stage, while the Ishpeming theater retained its stage. While traveling productions were not as prolific as before, there were occasional shows, including John Phillip Sousa and his band. In 1931, the Ishpeming High School used the stage for its graduation ceremonies, as the new high school was still being constructed.

“Mr. Butler was a charter member of the Knights of Columbus and an early Grand Knight of the Hematite camp, Modern Woodmen of America, one of its early executives and served for several years on important committees I the state and national organization of the Woodmen.

He was also affiliated with the Ishpeming Industrial association, the Town Club, Rotary club and the Holy Name society.

In addition to his theater and outdoor advertising business, he was a director of the Peninsula bank.” (Mining Journal, November 5, 1937)

In the fall of 1937, Butler’s health was failing. He traveled to Detroit with his wife to visit one of his sons, Laurence, and to receive a thorough medical examination. He was in the hospital when he suffered a heart attack and died a few minutes later. At the time of his passing, he was the dean of all theater moguls in the Upper Peninsula. His list of honorary pallbearers was long and contained many of Ishpeming’s finest.

The op-ed section of the Mining Journal had this to say about Butler: “In the death of Ed J. Butler the city of Ishpeming has lost one of its most valuable and loyal citizens. It marks the passing of a man whose friends were legion because those who had business or social contact with him during his active and successful career as newspaper man, theater operator and bank executive were impressed with his nobility of character and downright honesty.

Mr. Butler lived a long life and it was a life of hard work. With a keen mind to back up his courage and vision, he not only succeeded in his own undertakings, but became an important asset to his community. It will be hard to think of Ishpeming without Ed Butler. Living there 68 years he leaves a record of many accomplishments and personal deeds that will not be forgotten.” (Mining Journal, November 5, 1937)


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