Screenings of Oil City film draws large crowds

A large crowd watches "This Is Your City and Places You Should Know About ... 1968" in Rhoades Auditorium at Venango College. The Oil City Heritage Society added a third showing of a film on life in Oil City in 1968. (By Richard Sayer)

Droves of Oil City residents flocked to a set of screenings in the Rhodes Auditorium on the Venango College Campus.

Lines of traffic slowly crept up the hill toward the campus and many were turned away from the event before the first screening had even begun.

Attendees were invited to take a trip back to their childhood in the region through a series of 35mm films discovered and converted to a contemporary video format by the Oil City Heritage Society.

The screening portrayed a picturesque Western Pennsylvania town, where every business went above and beyond for its customers and every school churned out well educated students like clockwork. It also showed a tightly-knit community, evident in just how many people in the audience were calling out names of old friends throughout the hour-long showing.

The footage showed a service-oriented town, where gas was pumped into your car for you and clothing stores like Welker & Maxwell were revered. Car washes prided themselves on on how fast their team of workers could clean a car inside and out, and even offered engine cleaning.

Peg Simms, a 1971 graduate, who was Peg Adams when she went to school, was happy to see Welker & Maxwell represented in the screening since it had been important to her family growing up.

“My dad worked there and I worked there, it was really cool to see. It was really nostalgic for me, I enjoyed it,” Simms said.

As the black-and-white film flickered on the screen in the darkened auditorium, audience members talked and pointed when they saw old classmates, recognized old local businesses, and remembered just what the area had been like in 1968.

Clips of students leaving school were shown with hundreds of students pouring out of the building and waving at the camera as traffic weaved in and out of them crossing the street.

“It was fun to see, I wish I had a pause button,” Nancy Jones Gill said, “I don’t think any of us saw ourselves. I’d like to see it again.”

All the tropes of the 1960s were there in abundance; a narrator with a posh Transatlantic accent, restaurants filled with cigarette smoking customers and crackling music that wouldn’t be out of place in an old public service announcement.

“It was fun to see the styles, the hairstyles and the clothing styles,” Nancy Jones Gill said.

Many of the audience grew up in the 1960s so when popular teen hang outs like Rollie’s Pizza flashed across the screen there was wild applause. Footage showed the diner packed with teenagers enjoying slices of pizza.

“It was nice seeing Rollie’s,” Nancy Jones Gill said, pointing out that her and Frank Gill had dated there in High School.

“We all hung out at Rollie’s in high school,” Simms said.

Frank Gill enjoyed the film, but was quick to point out that the town is still a wonderful place.

“It is a great film to look back on, but the temptation is to look back at it and get hung up on nostalgia and not value what we do have,” he said, adding that the town continues to grow.

Nancy Jones Gill said she always thought of ,”that Carly Simon song, ‘The Good Old Days,'” when she looked back on her childhood in Oil City.

The film will be screened again 7 p.m. May 19 in Venango College’s Rhoades Auditorium.