Rural entertainment venue still going strong

The Clarkson Opera House is a gem of a building in northeast Nebraska.

This building was built in 1915 by the ZCBJ, which is a Czech fraternal organization. "It was used for dances, theater productions, and all sorts of things," Clarkson Mayor Chuck Hamernik said. "Then, it was leased to the VFW in the 50's or early 60's, and they managed the opera house and took care of it for a number of years until 2002, when we started a non-profit organization to take over the operation of the opera house."

Over the years, the building has been host to school dances, plays, and even all-star wrestling. There are some unique features of the building. For example, there's a room upstairs that Hamernik didn't even know existed until the non-profit group started working with the building. There's a set of stairs that goes from that room down to the street, and there's a peep-hole that you can open up, much like a place where someone would have to say a password to get in. "We believe the room was the 'speakeasy' in the day," Hamernik said. In that old room there are tons of ceremonial sashes, a voting box where you vote with marbles, and many other fascinating items.

What helps make the Clarkson Opera House a memorable place are the hand-painted curtains on the stage. The main curtain depicts the story of Svatopluk, the Moravian king, and his three boys. The other curtains include a castle scene, a forest scene and a veranda scene. These curtains are in very good condition for being decades old. "We've been trying to keep this building as original as possible," Hamernik said. "6 or 7 years ago, we sand-blasted and repainted the tin ceiling. We've refinished the main floor numerous times."

Hamernik says the town tries to have a polka dance at the opera house every month. Concerts have also been held here, including several performances by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. "That is a fabulous show here, because this is the kind of place that they used to play back in the day."