For most students the question isn’t “have you ever been to the Midway Drive-In theater?” But rather, “have you ever been to a drive-in theater at all?”
If you haven’t been to one at all, you are in luck because all you need is $7 and a vehicle to take you five minutes down Route 48 to enjoy one of the best summer activities Oswego has to offer.
Located right outside of the City of Oswego in the small town of Minetto, the drive-in theater can’t be missed. A huge screen towers over a big grassy lot with rows and rows of dirt lanes created by cars over the past 55 years.
Owner John Nagelschmidt has been a part of the theater for an astounding 42 of those 55 years. He started working there while he was still in high school, and the job later paid his way through college at Oswego State, where he majored in earth science and minored in physics. Nagelschmidt went on to become a science teacher.
Nagelschmidt bought the theater from its previous owners in 1987, after years of managing it. “It’s been my life,” Nagelschmidt said over the hum of the digital projection system in the projection booth. Nagelschmidt bought the projection system recently to keep the theater up to date with the changing times in the film industry.
Most film companies are now recording digital footage and theaters have no choice but to update their equipment. Unfortunately the equipment can be very expensive (the Midway’s projector cost more than it did to build the theater), and a lot of small theaters (including drive-in theaters) can’t afford the upgrade, making this classic experience rare across the country.
John Nagelschmidt’s son, whose name is also John, said he is proud of his dad for sustaining the theater through the years. Not only has Nagelschmidt managed to keep the theater open, he has also preserved the nostalgia of the drive-in theater as it was in the 1960s.
A trip to the Midway Drive-In offers everything you would expect, even if you have never been to one. It is exactly like the scenes in the movies: popcorn, stars in the sky, and dewy windows. Nagelschmidt even converted the original intermission trailers that feature dancing popcorn and vintage mosquito repellant advertisements into a digital format so they can continue to be viewed for years to come.
“I grew up here with my sister and I remember them all, I can repeat them all by heart,” John Nagelschmidt Jr. said.
John Nagelschmidt Jr. is also an Oswego alumnus. He graduated in the top of his class with a broadcasting major and worked at WRVO public media, which has its office on campus.
John Nagelschmidt Jr. also recalled the habit of the regulars and drive-in patrons.
“It works out, the kids usually gravitate towards the back rows and the families towards the front,” he said.
There is a sense of comfort out there in the lot watching the feature films in your own car. It’s common to see patrons sitting in camp chairs or on blankets outside their car. Some families like to pop the hatch back of their vans or SUVs and snuggle the kids up in the back, facing the big screen. Some like to lounge in the back of their flat bed trucks, like Hayley Cox, a freshman at Oswego State who was watching the Disney triple feature earlier this month with Cody Lafever, a sophomore at Oswego State.
“I remember laying in the bed of the flat bed, staying up ‘til one in the morning,” said Cox, who frequented a drive-in theater in her hometown of Auburn, N.Y., and saw the Midway Drive-In on her way to Oswego to move in for the fall semester.
Cox mentioned that she planned on coming back while the Midway is still open for the season. The Midway usually screens triple features every weekend through Halloween weekend during which three horror movies are usually featured. The drive-in closes for the winter and opens its gates again around the end of April, or whenever the lot is dry enough and the weather is permitting.
To learn more about drive-in theaters, check out April Wright’s documentary titled Going Attractions, which features the Midway Drive-In. For show dates, special offers and rules related to the Midway Drive In, visit their website at http://www.midwaydrivein.com/.