It is often said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure; meaning the things we think are worthless could hold great value for someone else. That statement turned out to be true for The Ritz Theatre earlier this week when owner Malcolm Neal received a letter from a school teacher in Virginia.
Deborah Silvus works for the Mathews County School System in Mathews, Virginia in the Special Education department at the high school. Her letter states that two years ago a thrift store was opened to offer a vocation program for her students to help them learn life skills and it is through that program that she stumbled upon an interesting find. While going through the donation box for the store one day recently she came across five checks written in 1937 from The Ritz to different major movie studios such as Paramount Pictures and Colombia Pictures. The checks are now 76 years old and are in remarkable condition.
Neal believes the checks were for the film rental fees and finds it interesting to compare the cost from back then, ranging from $31 to $150, to the thousands of dollars it costs to rent films nowadays. They are signed by what appears to be the last name of McKinley, which he stated, was the name of the accountant for the theatre during that time. Silvus wrote that she never would have thought The Ritz would be open after all this time, but when a quick Google search revealed that it in fact was, she felt the checks should be returned to the rightful owner. Neal noted that he is most appreciative that someone would take the time to track down the theatre instead of just trashing the old pieces of paper.
“These are historical pieces and it is exciting to get a letter all the way from Virginia about them,” he said. “I am most impressed though that someone would take the time to look us up and send them to us. I am very appreciative of her enthusiasm and it is good to know there are still people who realize there is historical value to old things in this country.”
Neither Neal nor Silvus know how the checks made it the some 665 miles from Thomaston, Georgia to Mathews, Virginia; as there was nothing attached to the documents in the thrift store’s donation box to say who they were donated by or where they came from. Neal stated there was once a local teacher, he thinks by the name of Sisson, who was a regular at the theatre and he believes moved to Virginia. He had wondered if she may have become a teacher in the area, but Silvus stated there was no one by that name at the school where she works.
So for now, the paths the checks took to make it several states away will remain a mystery. However, they made it back to Thomaston because of one person’s thoughtful actions. Neal stated he plans to frame the checks and put them on display at the theatre with other memorabilia of days gone by.