Martha “Nellie” Bowen
Ulysses and Nellie Nance were Kaysville’s pioneer movie operators
Many of us can remember watching our first television program. Maybe, all can remember their first movie. However, those who could remember attending a “silent movie” are long gone. But, our parents, grandparents, and maybe a great grandparent may have attended a Saturday night silent movie at the Kaysville Opera House when that movie was the social event of the week.
Motion pictures were introduced to Kaysville in 1908. At that time, two locations could handle a movie crowd – the Kaysville Music Hall and the Williams Hall. Both venues could seat about 100 people. However, when the Kaysville Opera House was opened in 1911 everyone living in both Kaysville and Layton, including children, could watch the Saturday night movie together. And, they did.
Kaysville’s pioneer movie operators were Ulysses and Nellie Nance and they called their enterprise the Utopia Picture Shows. Ulysses provided the muscle to set up the opera house chairs for the show and Nellie manned the projector. Each Friday, Nellie would wheel her little red wagon down to the Bamberger Railroad station and pick up the week’s film reels. She would then take them down to the opera house and get ready for the Saturday night show. Nellie and Ulysses were trained to operate the movie projection equipment by a Salt Lake City movie distributor and representatives of that company were often on hand to help with any mechanical problems. The Nance’s rented the opera house space and their salaries were paid by the movie distributor.
The opera house was owned by the Kaysville LDS Ward so the Boy Scouts and M.I.A. girls sold popcorn, homemade candy, and fresh cookies at a booth in the building’s lobby before the show. Proceeds from the snack sales went to finance the ward’s yearly youth activities.
In 1920, commercial radio was introduced. The first public broadcast in Kaysville was held in the opera house on silent movie night. Extra admission was charged for the show that night, and townspeople had their first chance to hear a live radio broadcast. Nellie manned the radio receiver and transmitter, and she told a Weekly Reflex reporter after the broadcast that the sound “was not too bad” but that only parts of the program “could be heard clearly.”
Nellie’s husband, Ulysses, passed away in 1920 leaving Nellie with two young children so she took on the full responsibility of running the Saturday night movie for the next ten years so that she could support her family. Sound pictures were introduced in 1929 and Nellie had to be trained on a new set of movie projection equipment.
In 1929, Nellie married Horatio Bowen. She then had another helper for the Saturday night show. Horatio was Nellie’s partner at the Saturday show until a movie theater was built in Layton and the opera house movies were discontinued. Unfortunately, Horatio was killed in an auto accident after only four years of marriage and Nellie was left a widow for a second time. However, Nellie was often heard to say that she was very fortunate to have been married to two real heroes – Ulysses and Horatio.
Martha Eleanor “Nellie” Maylin was born in Kaysville on April 16, 1885. She was the daughter of Kaysville pioneers Hyrum and Sarah Butcher Maylin. She had five sisters and one brother and when her siblings married she was connected by marriage to the Kaysville Barnes, Ball, Anderson, and Odd families. All well-known early names in the city.
Alongside her movie projectionist career, Nellie worked for the Inland Printing Company helping to get The Weekly Reflex published each week. She also worked for the Gotshall Printing Company in Salt Lake riding the Bamberger train to work each morning. When World War II broke out and Hill Field had a shortage of defense workers, Nellie took a job at the Field. She retired from Hill Field in the 1960s.
For members of the Kaysville 3rd and 8th LDS wards, Nellie and her sisters, Clara and Ada, were beloved figures. The Maylin sisters were exceptional cooks and their pies, cakes, and pastries were legendary. For many years, the kids in the ward received a cake in the shape of a lamb covered with coconut for their birthday courtesy of the Maylin sisters. Every kid looked forward to receiving this exceptional present from their Primary teachers. And, for many years, Nellie’s home at 371 East 100 North was always open for anyone to visit and sample one of her pastries.
Nellie Nance Bowen passed away on February 21, 1978, at the age of 92. She was survived by her son Wendell Nance and his children plus her sister Ada Maylin. A daughter, Thelma Nance, had passed away in 1926. Nellie was laid to rest in the Kaysville City Cemetery.
“Kaysville Ladies of Note – Martha ‘Nellie’ Maylin Nance Bowen”, Our Kaysville Story Facebook post by Bill Sanders, July 22, 2022.
Photos courtesy of: FamilySearch, Heritage Museum of Layton, The Weekly Reflex.