June 26: McHenry Outdoor Theater, McHenry IL

It’s Day 177 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. With a short detour to avoid the tollway, it took about three and a half hours to drive east from Blue Grass IA to the McHenry Outdoor Theater in McHenry IL.

The McHenry opened as the Skyline, and there’s a remarkable amount of confusion about when that happened. One source claimed it was 1943. The current owner, Scott Dehn, says in the above video (which misspells his name) that it was the “mid to late 1940s.” Before I pointed out a better source, Cinema Treasures said it was 1955. The true answer probably comes from the McHenry Public Library District blog. Working from McHenry Plaindealer archives, it says Roy Miller opened the Skyline in July 1951.

Stan Kohlberg of Chicago bought the Skyline in 1963. Dehn bought the McHenry in 2012. Some time in between, probably in the late 1970s, the drive-in changed its name and covered its old marquee with a new one. You can see photos of the layers here and here.

The McHenry caught a break in 2013. After launching a relatively unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign, it was one of the winners of Honda’s Project Drive-In, receiving a digital projector so it could stay in operation.

I had several choices of McHenry video. There was a really nice 2013 video from WGN, Chicago’s Very Own, but it stubbornly insisted on autoplaying when I tried to embed it. YouTube has a drone video from last year, a charity event from last year, and the very professional promo for the Project Honda entry. What I chose (above) was a nice little 2015 piece from the Northwest Herald.

This place does a great job of evoking the past, with oldies playing on the in-car speakers and a (CD) jukebox and old-style arcade games in the concession stand. With room for over 600 cars in its large lot, it makes for a really large retro party. It helped me deal with the fact that, after a two-day break, I was back in front of Cars 3 for my seventh viewing in 11 days.

Miles Today / Total:  180 / 22669 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 93

Nearby Restaurant: The Brunch Cafe works for breakfast or lunch, just like it says up front. I arrived for lunch, but did I eat healthy with a southwest salad including black beans and romaine lettuce, or did I give in to a stack of blueberry bliss pancakes with a side of ham off the bone? I’m not telling.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Good old Hampton Inn. As much as I like quirky, historic hotels and well-reviewed mom and pop motels, I’m always happy to find a Hampton Inn near one of my drive-ins. There were little snacks in the afternoon, the usual Hampton breakfast in the morning, and a room full of all the regular amenities in between.

Only in McHenry: Less than a half-hour west is Woodstock IL, the town where they filmed the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. The annual Groundhog Days celebration there celebrated the 25th anniversary of the movie this year. It included story-telling, showings of the movie, and walking tours of the movie locations.

Next stop: Cascade Drive-in, West Chicago IL.