Albert Taylor

Albert Taylor Theatre

The Albert Taylor Theatre has served as the main stage for many Millikin University activities from the opening of the University in 1903 on through to today. In the Spring of 2006, the theatre was reopened after the completion of an initial phase of remodeling and in honor of that reopening, the University Archives Spring 2006 exhibit was dedicated to the history of that great hall. The essential elements of that exhibit have been preserved here and divided into sections just as the original exhibit was. The exhibit also included a trivia timeline that connected the two exhibit areas and those questions and answers also appear here in the trivia section.

Who was Albert Taylor?
What's in a Name?
A hub of activity!
Strange but true?
Who's who of guest appearances!
Trivia timeline!

Who Was Albert Taylor? The man behind the theatre's name.

Albert Reynolds TaylorAlbert Reynolds Taylor with wife Frances Minerva Dent Taylor being showered with flowers

Left: Albert Reynolds Taylor, Right: also shown with his wife, Frances Minerva Dent Taylor after one of the flower showers described below.

Albert Reynolds Taylor was born in October of 1846 in a log house near Magnolia, Illinois. He graduated from Lincoln University in 1872 and began teaching biology and zoology there until 1882 when he was selected to be president of the State Normal School of Kansas in Emporia, Kansas. He served there until 1901 when he was selected to be the first president of the Decatur College and Industrial School of the James Millikin University (today's Millikin University). He helped James Millikin's vision of a university in Decatur become a reality and presided over its opening ceremonies in the fall of 1903. He served as President of the University until 1913 when he retired and traveled around the U.S., but was called back to resume the Millikin presidency in 1915. He served this second time until he retired again in 1919. He was called back a third time into temporary service for a short period in 1924. In his career, Taylor wrote several books on education, a history of Millikin University, and his own autobiography. He died in 1929 and his funeral services were held in the auditorium which would be dedicated in his name ten years later. He is buried in Emporia, Kansas, the home of the other Albert Taylor Hall (on the campus of Emporia State University). One of the earliest traditions of Millikin University involved both the theatre and Albert Taylor. Known as the "Flower Shower" it occurred every October during Taylor's time at Millikin and involved students surprising Mr. Taylor and his wife by "showering" them with flowers to honor his birthday and wedding anniversary, both of which were in October. It usually occurred during one of the morning chapel services held in the theatre.

Millikin students "shower" Taylor with flowers on the stage, October 19,1911 Decaturian

Above: Millikin students "shower" Taylor with flowers on the stage, October 19,1911 Decaturian (front page)

1911 Decaturian front page records one such annual "flower shower”

Above: 1911 Decaturian front page records one such annual "flower shower”

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What's in a Name? The many names of Millikin's original theatre.

The Albert Taylor Theatre has had several names in its 100+ year history, including: Assembly Hall, University Auditorium, the Chapel, Albert Taylor Hall, and of course, the Albert Taylor Theatre as it is now known.

Assembly Hall

On Tuesday morning, Sept 15, 1903, the opening ceremonies for the new James Millikin University were held in the "Assembly Hall" in the center of the Liberal Arts Hall building. Prospective students, their families and friends filled the seats of the theatre and even James Millikin himself was seated in his private box to the right of the stage. Six years later in 1909, Mr. Millikin's funeral would be held in this same great hall.

Originally, the hall now known as the Albert Taylor Theatre was simply known as "Assembly Hall" This name appeared as the official name of the theatre in the JMU Bulletin, and on most of the programs, ticket stubs, posters and event notices until the early 1910's when it gradually gave way to another name.

The program and ticket stub below are from the Millikin Glee Club's 2nd Annual concert in April of 1910, both showing the venue as "Assembly Hall." When the 3rd Annual concert came around in April of 1911, the venue was the same but the name had changed to "University Auditorium" as can be seen in the poster for that concert in the next section of the exhibit.

1910 Glee Club concert program

1910 Glee Club concert ticket

University Auditorium

Although unofficially used as early as 1905, the name "University Auditorium" or "Millikin Auditorium" began to appear on programs and notices for events to be held in the theatre by 1911.

In 1915, the JMU Bulletin recognized the name change in its description of the theatre, calling it the "University Auditorium" after 12 years of calling it "Assembly Hall." It would appear on programs and notices varyingly as "University Auditorium," "Millikin Auditorium," or "JMU Auditorium."

There is no known reason why this name change occurred as it did, but the "University Auditorium" name lasted as the official name for the theatre until 1939 when it was remodeled and dedicated to Albert Taylor.

1911 Glee Club Concert poster

Above: 1911 Glee Club Concert poster

1939 Program

Above: 1939 Program (the last w/ the "University Auditorium" name)

The Chapel

From the beginning of Millikin University in 1903, the theatre quickly developed an unofficial nickname due to one of its most frequent uses. Whether the name was officially "Assembly Hall" or "University Auditorium," Millikin's earliest students often just called the theatre "the Chapel.”

This name developed out of the fact that when the school opened in 1903, students were required to attend daily chapel services held in the theatre. Students quickly got into the habit of calling the theatre "the Chapel," and this nickname even made its way onto the occasional notice or program, such as the one below.

1909 Debate Program

Above: 1909 Debate Program

Albert Taylor Hall

When Albert Taylor died in 1929, there was considerable discussion as to how Millikin should honor its first president. When the new library was built a year later, there was push to have it named for Taylor but eventually it would be dedicated in 1931 as Gorin Hall.

Finally, in 1939, as the "University Auditorium" was completing its first major remodeling, the idea emerged to honor Taylor by dedicating the newly remodeled theatre to him. When it came time for homecoming in October of 1939, the university had decided to do just that. The same "Assembly Hall" in which Taylor had presided over the opening of the university in 1903, and the same "University Auditorium" in which his funeral was held in 1929 was dedicated as "Albert Taylor Hall" on October 28th, 1939.

It would be almost 50 years before a new name emerged for this historic Millikin venue.

October 1939 James Millikin University Bulletin

October 27, 1939 Decaturian

Albert Taylor Theatre

By the late 1980s, event programs, like the one at right from 1987, started to call "Albert Taylor Hall," the "Albert Taylor Theatre," and it wasn't long before the MU Bulletin followed suit and officially started referring to the theatre as the "Albert Taylor Theatre.”

The name continues to be the official name of the venue today.

Albert Taylor Theatre program

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! The many faces of Millikin's original theatre.

Original Lighting Design Plan from 1902

Above: Original Lighting Design Plan from 1902

The Albert Taylor Theatre has changed its look almost as often as it has changed its name. The original design for the Albert Taylor Theatre was made by the Chicago architectural firm of Patton and Miller as part of their overall design for the Liberal Arts Hall building (today's Shilling Hall). In the original configuration, there were two special box-seating areas that flanked the stage on either side (these can be seen in the stage view photo at the top of this page and also immediately below in the seating chart image below). The east box was reserved for Mr. and Mrs. Millikin, while the west box was reserved for the president of the university. The first remodeling took place in 1939, during which all the original wood seats were replaced. In 1952-53, the private boxes were removed to make room for a pipe organ installation. There have been a few more renovations since then, including the most recent one, the first phase of which was completed in the spring of 2006. The total number of seats has been reduced through these remodels but the theatre has gained some structural and technological upgrades.

Theatre seating chart

The seating chart above (used to record ticket sales for a Friday night dance revue sometime prior to 1939) shows the original configuration for seats, including the private box-seats on the bottom (flanking the stage). In this configuration, there appears to be around 750 seats in the theatre, although the JMU Bulletin listed the hall as being able to hold 1000.

The image below shows the stage from the main floor underneath the balcony. You can tell that the box which used to flank the stage has been removed, which places this photograph after 1952.

Albert Taylor Theatre

Students working on theatre renovation

Workers replace seats during a renovation

Above: students/workers replace seats during various remodels

Below: a more recent facelift takes place

Albert Taylor Theatre renovation

Albert Taylor Theatre renovation

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A Hub of Activity! The many uses of Millikin's original theatre.

Daily chapel service

Above: The theatre stage set up for daily chapel service in the early years of Millikin University

From opening of the university in 1903, the Albert Taylor Theatre (then Assembly Hall) has been the hub of student and faculty life at Millikin University. In 1971, the Kirkland Fine Arts Center opened and took over as the main stage, but the Albert Taylor Theatre continues to provide Millikin students and faculty with a venue for their events. Over the more than 100 years it has existed, the theatre has hosted a wide variety of programs and activities including: commencements and baccalaureates; classes and lecture series; inter-society contests and debates; chapel and assemblies/convocations; classic and international film series; "Greek" sings and talent shows; amateur nights and variety shows; theatrical productions and dance recitals; student and faculty recitals; concerts and guest performances; funeral and memorial services; Black Emphasis Week activities and student/faculty forums; fine arts series; style shows and other departmental programs; it was even the center ring for the JMU Circus one year!

Black Emphasis Week programJMU circus program

Style show program

Above: Notices from the Decaturian, Millikin's student newspaper on Black Emphasis Week activities (above, left), the Style Show (above) and the year the Circus (above, right) was held in Liberal Arts Hall due to a scheduling conflict in the Gymnasium (that was the year the center ring was provided by the theatre).

Students in Albert Taylor Theatre

Students in Albert Taylor TheatreStudents in Albert Taylor TheatreStudents in Albert Taylor Theatre

Above: Millikin students have performed in and patronized events in the theatre since the beginning of Millikin University

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Strange But True?

Albert Taylor Theatre

The Legend of "RAIL GIRL”

This legend concerns the haunting of the Albert Taylor Theatre. According to the book, The Ghosts of Millikin by Troy Taylor, the Albert Taylor Theatre is haunted by the ghost of a young girl, known as the "Rail Girl.”

According to Taylor, production crew members leave out candy for "Rail Girl" to ensure no disruptions for their shows.

To read more about, "Rail Girl," you can find the book on reserve in Staley Library or in the University Archives (item is found on p. 51).

The Great "Commie Riot" Myth

Did a "Young Communists" group really riot at Albert Taylor Hall in 1950? If you simply glance at an old Decaturian from that year, you might think so. The March 31st issue contained the article which appears at right on its front page. This however requires more careful scrutiny as the tradition of the Decaturian "April Fool's" issue was in full swing at that time and the the March 31st issue was the "April Fool's" issue that year. The elaborate hoax was even set up in the previous week's paper which contained the front page meeting notice which appears below.


March 31, 1950 Decaturian article


March 24th, 1950 Decaturian notice

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Who's Who of Guest Appearances

Bill HayesDan Rather

Bill Hayes sings during one of his many Albert Taylor Hall appearances Dan Rather speaks at Albert Taylor Hall in Sept of 1969 Bill Hayes sings (above left) and Dan Rather speaks (above right) on the Albert Taylor Hall stage

Prior to the opening of Kirkland Fine Arts Center in 1971, the Albert Taylor Hall (or Assembly Hall/University Auditorium) was the primary venue for guest speaker/performers who visited Millikin University. From the opening of the University in 1903 until the opening of Kirkland Fine Arts center, it was Millikin's "Main Stage." Below you will see a breakdown of the some of those who appeared on the Albert Taylor stage between 1903 and 1970, it should be noted that not all guest performers appeared on the Albert Taylor stage when they visited Millikin during those years as several other Decatur area venues were sometimes utilized. Only those who actually appeared on the Albert Taylor stage are listed here. The list is broken down into categories, but they should not be considered complete lists.

Cornelius Van Vliet
Verne Poppe
Bogumil Sykora
Leslie Parnas
Thomas Wilfred
Jean-Pierre Rampal
Robert Vernon-Lacroix
Rey de la Torre
Oscar Ghiglia
Julian Bream
Red Camp
Stan Kenton
Jackson-Crawford Company
Haskell Indian Band
Leonara Jackson Company
Damrosch Orchestra
Pasmore Trio
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
U.S. Marine Corps Band
Kneisel String Quartet
Zoellner Quartet
Betty Booth Concert Company
Hampton Institute Quartet
Budapest String Quartet
Rococo Ensemble
Julliard String Quartet
New York Woodwind Quartet
Si Zentner & Orchestra
Early Music Quartet
Cologne Chamber Orchestra
Paul Winter Consort
Rose Hip String Band
Charles Courbin
Ottakar Malik
Harold Bauer
Ossip Gabrilowitch
Arthur Shattuck
Rudolph Ganz
Leopold Godowsky
Percy Grainger
Rudolph Reuter
Augusta Cottlow
Mischa Levitzki
Gina Bachauer
Robert Mueller
Sidney Foster
Marek Jablonski
Abbey Simon
Stecher & Horowitz
Maud Powell
Marie Caslova
Carlo Sabatini
Gilbert Ross
Ruggiero Ricci
David Abel
Charles Castleman
Takako Nishizaki
Paul Doktor
Yaltah Menuhin

David Bispham
Alfred Hiles Bergen
Oscar Seagle
William Walker
Bernard Kruysen
Hermann Prey
Marais & Miranda
Leon Bibb
Eugene Jemison
Glenn Yarbrough
Lotus Glee Club
Rhondda Welsh Glee Club
Vienna Academy Chorus
Netherlands Chamber Choir
Heidelberg University Choir
Christine Miller
Jose Mojica
Richard Dyer-Bennet
Annamary Dickey
Theresa Greene
Paul Robeson
Nelson Eddy
Alan Lomax
Gene Cotton
Jenny DuFau
Myrna Sharlow
Dorothy Maynor
Beverly Bower
Saramae Endich

Harry Partch
Norand Lockwood
Ulysses Kay
Vaclav Nelhybel
Ross Lee Finney
Gardner Read
Allyn Ferguson
Nicolas Slonimsky

Paris Ballet Company
Zachary Solov Ballet
Ballets Bihari
Ted Shawn
Won Kyung Cho
Cilli Wang
Sujata & Asoka
Maule & Corke
Mata & Hari

Theatrical Groups
Provincetown Players
Ben Greet Players
Dublin Players
Charles Coburn Players
Shakespeare Festival Players

Charles Coburn
Clarence Derwent
Bill Hayes
Donald Buka
Orlando White
William Paterson
Ramon Bieri
John Call
Rob Inglis
Hal Holbrook
Arnold Moss
DeWolf Hopper
Hans Conried
Eva Le Gallienne
Julie Haydon
Ann Garis
Jacqueline Mackenzie

Lorado Taft
Leon Dabo
Dudley Crafts Watson
Edmund Giesbert
George Rickey

Poets / Authors
Will Carleton
Vachel Lindsay
W.H. Auden
John Ciardi
Carl Sandburg
Paul Engle
Louis Untermeyer
Galway Kinnell
Lew Sarett
Jerome K. Jerome
Opie Read
Dallas Lore Sharp
Rollo W. Brown
Norman Angell
Will Durant
Henry James Forman
Max Eastman
Sherwood Eddy
Everett Dean Martin
Arthur C. Clarke
Frank Swinnerton
James Leo Herlihy
Kathryn Turner Garten
A.E. Winship
Norman Hapgood
John Towner Frederick
Norman Cousins
John Erskine

Social Reformers / Advocates
Roy Innis
Ralph David Abernathy
Gerhart H. Seger
George Houser
Perry Saito
Winfield Scott Hall
Victor Yahrontoff
Jacob Riis
Muriel Lester
Maude Ballington Booth
Lyman H. Abbott
Norman Thomas

Walter Wellman
George E. Sokolsky
William Worthy
Dan Rather
Daniel Schorr
Milton Mayer

Religious Leaders
James H. Robinson
John Holland
Huston Smith
Eberhard Bethge
Reinhold Neibuhr

Political Leaders
William Howard Taft
Shirley Chisholm
James Parsons (class of '34)
Paul H. Douglas
Paul Simon
Jennie Lee
Charles Habib Malik
Charles G. Dawes

Edward Cary Hayes
Pitirim Sorokin
Zelma George
Jerome Davis

Maynard Mayo Metcalf
Alfred Emerson
George D. Fuller
N. Paul Hudson

Historians / Social Scientists
Frederick Jackson Turner
Nicholas Goncharoff
William T. Foster

Franz Wittels
Alfred Adler

Nobel Peace Prize Winners
Norman Angell
Charles G. Dawes

Pulitzer Prize Winners
Frederick Jackson Turner
Will Durant
Galway Kinnell

Presidential Medal of Freedom
Reinhold Neibuhr
Will Durant

Emmy Award Winners
Eva Le Gallienne (also Tony winner)
Dan Rather (also Peabody winner)
Daniel Schorr

Academy Award Winner
Charles Coburn

Others of Note
Forrest Ray Moulton
Charles H. Judd
George Pierce Baker
Katherine Whiteside Taylor
Howard Scott
Strickland Gillilan
Nasrollah Fatemi
Virgilia Peterson
Myra Reynolds
Horace Kallen
Marcus Bach

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