June 24: Blue Moonlight Drive-In Theater, Galesburg IL

Blue Moonlight Drive-In concession stand and screen at night with starts circling above

photo © DepositPhotos / sgtphoto

It’s Day 175 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to a couple of interstates, the fastest route from Sterling IL to the Blue Moonlight Drive-In Theater, just west of Galesburg, took only about an hour and a half to drive.

The Blue Moonlight is the setting for one of the finest drive-in photos I’ve ever seen, a photo I licensed from DepositPhotos.com. (It’s what I used to illustrate a deep question from last year: How do you define a drive-in theater?) If you click on the photo to see it at higher resolution, you can count the bricks on the old screen and see some playground equipment in the darkness below. To get that detail at night, then combine it with the time-lapse stars circling overhead, that’s just wonderful.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Blue Moonlight opened as the Galesburg Drive-In in 1949. Some time after 1980, it closed. In the mid-1980s, the Carlsons bought the place and used it for an antique tractor restoration business. They began restoring the drive-in in 2004 and re-opened it in mid-2005, now calling it the Blue Moonlight Drive-In. It ran first-run movies for a while, but now shows older films, suggesting that it hasn’t converted to digital projection.

The video embedded above is a 2014 story from WQAD, the Quad Cities’ News Leader, about a local non-profit hosting a “Haunted Drive-In” attraction. It only shows a bit of what the Blue Moonlight was like a couple of years ago, and the non-profit’s Facebook page is gone, but you know how hard it is for me to resist sharing almost any drive-in video.

Tonight’s movie was free, and it snapped my streak of consecutive Cars 3 viewings. The film was a bit of kiddie fare from 1990, Jetsons: The Movie. The Blue Moonlight makes its money at the concession stand; keeping the movie free just makes it more obvious. But the food prices are great – $6 for a truly huge tenderloin sandwich, $6 for a grocery bag(!) full of popcorn, and sodas for just a buck. What a deal!

Miles Today / Total:  94 / 22423 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Jetsons: The Movie / 91

Nearby Restaurant: Saturday night is a great time for beer, so I sought out the Iron Spike Brewing Company. A lot of those small brewpubs like to outdo each other in hoppiness, but the hefeweizen here suited me. For lunch, I tried the chipotle black bean burger with a side of veggies, just so I wouldn’t feel as guilty when I had be tenderloin sandwich for a drive-in dinner at the Blue Moonlight.

Where I Virtually Stayed: More and more, I find that the Holiday Inn Express is becoming one of my favorite hotel chains. Their Galesburg location is one of their newer hotels, and I was greeted by warm cookies in the afternoon. I love the pancake conveyor belt at breakfast (and those cinnamon rolls), and my king bed room had all of the standard conveniences. It’s just a modern, clean, comfortable place.

Only in Galesburg: Just south of Galesburg, in a street median adjacent to a city park, Abingdon IL features an 83-foot totem pole, called the tallest “east of the Rockies”. The town commissioned an Illinois State University in 1969 to build the world’s tallest totem pole to attract tourists. A few years later, a taller Canadian totem pole was built, followed by even taller poles in the Pacific northwest, prompting the geographic qualifier.

Next stop: Blue Grass Drive-In Theater, Blue Grass IA.