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? The man behind the theatre's name.
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.
Above: Millikin students "shower" Taylor with flowers on the stage, October 19,1911 Decaturian (front page)
Above: 1911 Decaturian front page records one such annual "flower shower”
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.
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.
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.
Above: 1911 Glee Club Concert poster
Above: 1939 Program (the last w/ the "University Auditorium" name)
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.
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.
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.
Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! The many faces of Millikin's original theatre.
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.
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.
Above: students/workers replace seats during various remodels
Below: a more recent facelift takes place
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!
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).
Above: Millikin students have performed in and patronized events in the theatre since the beginning of Millikin University
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
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
Rey de la Torre
Haskell Indian Band
Leonara Jackson Company
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
U.S. Marine Corps Band
Kneisel String Quartet
Betty Booth Concert Company
Hampton Institute Quartet
Budapest String Quartet
Julliard String Quartet
New York Woodwind Quartet
Si Zentner & Orchestra
Early Music Quartet
Cologne Chamber Orchestra
Paul Winter Consort
Rose Hip String Band
Stecher & Horowitz
Alfred Hiles Bergen
Marais & Miranda
Lotus Glee Club
Rhondda Welsh Glee Club
Vienna Academy Chorus
Netherlands Chamber Choir
Heidelberg University Choir
Ross Lee Finney
Paris Ballet Company
Zachary Solov Ballet
Won Kyung Cho
Sujata & Asoka
Maule & Corke
Mata & Hari
Ben Greet Players
Charles Coburn Players
Shakespeare Festival Players
Eva Le Gallienne
Dudley Crafts Watson
Poets / Authors
Jerome K. Jerome
Dallas Lore Sharp
Rollo W. Brown
Henry James Forman
Everett Dean Martin
Arthur C. Clarke
James Leo Herlihy
Kathryn Turner Garten
John Towner Frederick
Social Reformers / Advocates
Ralph David Abernathy
Gerhart H. Seger
Winfield Scott Hall
Maude Ballington Booth
Lyman H. Abbott
George E. Sokolsky
James H. Robinson
William Howard Taft
James Parsons (class of '34)
Paul H. Douglas
Charles Habib Malik
Charles G. Dawes
Edward Cary Hayes
Maynard Mayo Metcalf
George D. Fuller
N. Paul Hudson
Historians / Social Scientists
Frederick Jackson Turner
William T. Foster
Nobel Peace Prize Winners
Charles G. Dawes
Pulitzer Prize Winners
Frederick Jackson Turner
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Emmy Award Winners
Eva Le Gallienne (also Tony winner)
Dan Rather (also Peabody winner)
Academy Award Winner
Others of Note
Forrest Ray Moulton
Charles H. Judd
George Pierce Baker
Katherine Whiteside Taylor