Get a taste of liberty and homemade chili at the Liberty Theatre.
Get a taste of liberty and homemade chili at the Liberty Theatre. Photo by Grant Leatherwood
To many residents in Carnegie, Oklaahoma, the Liberty Theatre is a staple of daily life. It is as common as the fried catfish in Georgia’s Country Kitchen or the town’s Annual World Championship Domino Tournament. To the first-time visitor however, the theater is a stroll back in time.
The Liberty Theatre sits on Main Street in downtown Carnegie, easily found by its marquee which features neon-lit Lady Liberty herself. Behind its glowing facade, the oldest continually operating movie theater in Oklahoma is busy entertaining movie-goers.
“This theater was built in 1915,” owner and operator Jerry Applewhite said. “My parents started renting and running it in 1952 and I took an interest in it. In 1972, I bought the theater from the original owner’s wife, who was 96 at the time. So it’s only had two owners all this time.”
Applewhite has worked enthusiastically to create a fun and customer-focused atmosphere for all ages, and started doing so with a few renovations. After he took over the business, he found the only way to keep the movie theater open was to have more than one screen. So he purchased the adjoining building and added two screens. During his renovations however, Applewhite has done his best to keep the building’s history intact.
“The west part is all original, although the seating has changed,” Applewhite said. “Believe it or not, there were 616 seats in the original auditorium. Now it seats 220. We also converted the vaudeville changing rooms at the front into bathrooms, but kept their original decor.”
Its age and decor are not the only unique parts of the Liberty Theatre’s history. In 1970, Applewhite began serving gourmet chili hot dogs, or Show Dogs, as they are called at the theater’s concession stand. Since then, he has perfected his recipe with help from Jim’s Coney Island in Tulsa.
“We grind our own spices, we use good, all-beef Oscar Mayer wieners, and we steam the hot dog buns,” Applewhite said. “We use Oscar Mayer because they don’t have a smoky flavor; that way they have a nice bite to them because of the spices. But I try to let the chili do the talking.”
The chili really does speak for itself, as word about Liberty’s Show Dogs has spread throughout the state. People skip the movies and come in just to buy a few of the famous hot dogs and go on their way. The unique flavor is even reaching an international audience.
“I’ve had people from New York City and Chicago say that they couldn’t get a hot dog like that where they’re from,” Applewhite said. “I’ve even had requests to send them to Afghanistan and Iraq. I can’t send them that far, but I’ve had soldiers over there find us online and send us requests.”
Beyond the Show Dogs is your movie theater fare. Fresh popcorn, concession candies, root beer, and fountain drinks are all provided by the friendly staff. If they have a slow down at the concession stand, Applewhite recalls a way he and his father got people up out of their seats to grab a quick snack.
“When I was growing up, they had subliminal messaging in movies,” Applewhite said. “When they outlawed that in the ’50s, my dad told me, ‘I’ll show you some subliminal messaging.’ He proceeded to hook up and vent the popcorn machine into the theater. Before we knew it, people would show up to the concession stand and say, ‘I don’t know what it was, but I just have to have some popcorn.’”
The Liberty Theatre staff works to keep their prices competitive in this age of $20 movie tickets and $5 cokes. The concessions are reasonably priced, and at $4 for tickets and $6 for 3D, the theater is worth a visit just for the bargain. Carnegie residents will tell you the real reason to stop in, of course, is for the Show Dog.