The Beast and Stella Havelock

In 2002, Rube Elder and his wife purchased the 1928 Utopia Theater, on Kishwaukee & Main in Sycamore Shadows. They restored the marquee, cleaned the seats, scrubbed the bathrooms, polished the brass, and opened the balcony for the first time since the night in 1957 that Stella Havelock gave birth to Harold with her head on seat three, her feet on seat five, and the important stuff on seat four.

Patrons in attendance that night in 1957 remember it well. Playing was “The Beast from Betelgeuse,” a horror movie about an alien with a taste for Christians who had traveled 640 light years to dine at an interdenominational camp meeting in the mountains of Oregon. When Stella first howled halfway through the movie, no one noticed, since it transpired that the creature was munching on a Methodist minister at the same time. Stella’s second howl coincided with the beast’s consumption of a Mormon, which probably tasted salty. The climax of the movie and Harold’s grand premiere happened nearly simultaneously twenty minutes later. The beast began its final rampage as Stella howled again, adding realism to the theater experience decades before the general introduction of surround sound. After swallowing two plump Presbyterians and a rather bony fundamentalist, the alien caught a Catholic priest disguised as a Quaker and sent by his diocese to infiltrate the meeting. Stella screamed as the beast chewed the priest for a moment before spitting him out. I guess when you’re accustomed to snacking on Protestants, Catholics taste funny. 

Having eaten his way through most of the major denominations, the beast had just popped a handful of Lutherans into his mouth and was wondering if there were any Hindus for dessert when the hero, a chisel-jawed Baptist, dealt the fatal blow. “Die, spawn of Satan!” he said with a southern drawl, plunging a sword into the alien’s body. Taking her cue from the dialog, Stella gave her final scream as well. “Die, spawn of Satan!” she said, thinking of her husband. The music swelled, the timpani pounded, the theater shook, Stella gave one last push, the audience gripped their seats, the Baptist began shape-note singing, the beast gave up his ghost, and Harold Pike—9 pounds, 11 ounces of slimy joy—announced his presence with a scream of his own. Realizing that there had been drama beyond the screen, the audience looked to the balcony.

Claude Snyder, general manager of the Utopia at the time, awarded Harold free admission for life, a privilege revoked by the Elders, who said that the stain never came out of the upholstery. Stella enjoyed free popcorn and soft drinks until she died in 1994. Patrons sitting in the balcony may notice a brass plaque on the back of the always unoccupied seat four. It reads:

“On this seat, July 23, 1957, while a Southern Baptist saved three Lutherans from an alien beast, Stella Havelock, a Christian Scientist, brought Harold Havelock into the World.”

Harold, an atheist, lives in Los Angeles.

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