It’s Day 271 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. There sure are a lot of twisty highways around here. It took two hours to drive just 82 miles from Amenia NY to the Mansfield Drive-in Theatre in Mansfield Center CT.
The Mansfield opened in April 1954, built for $150,000 by owners Morris Keppner and Louis Lipman. It featured “the largest screen in eastern Connecticut, 116 feet wide and 62 feet high,” and its original 750-car capacity was bumped to 850 after its first season, suggesting how successful it was. My last note of Keppner as owner was 1966, although it may have changed hands before or after that date.
What I know for sure is that in a 2016 interview with current owner Michael Jungden, he said he started managing the Mansfield in 1974 and leased it “a few years” after that. Jungden added two more screens in 1985, just as cable TV came to town, and bought the Mansfield in 1991.
In Diane Smith’s recent book Seasons of Connecticut, Jungden said, “The first time I came and saw this place it really looked like a place that nobody loved, but it was really a beautiful piece of property.” About how he keeps the place running, he said, “I repair things. I’m the projection booth repairman, and I’m the soda machine repairman. When the soda machine breaks, I fix it because by the time Pepsi gets here I’ve already lost a few hundred dollars.”
Another way the Mansfield stays alive is that every Sunday it transforms into the Mansfield Marketplace flea market, including an indoor area Jungden purchased a few years ago. And it was one of the first drive-ins to switch to digital projection, all three screens, by 2012.
This night was a special occasion, the kind that digital projection makes possible. The rockumentary of Black Sabbath’s final show was appearing in theaters for one night only, and the Mansfield opened just its main viewing area for a cover band followed by the movie. It’s always nice to see something new, especially when I know I won’t be seeing it again this year.
Miles Today / Total: 82 / 31717 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Black Sabbath: The End Of The End / 171
Nearby Restaurant: The Farmer’s Cow Calfé & Creamery in Mansfield Center was opened by a local group that said “it couldn’t just be a café, we’re dairy farmers with cows and calves, it needed to be a Calfé!” To get in the moo-d (my turn for a pun), I had the “English ploughman’s lunch” of a wedge of cheese, an open-faced ham sandwich, and a hard-boiled egg. And an ice cream sundae for dessert, because that’s the true specialty here.
Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotel, and maybe the only one in Mansfield Center, is the Best Western on Storrs Road. After a few stays at bed and breakfasts, it was nice to return to a room with the full set of modern amenities. The continental breakfast had a few hot items in the morning as well as the usuals. I was safely back in the 21st century.
Only in Mansfield Center: In Willimantic, just a few miles south of the drive-in, they hold a Boom Box Parade every July. It’s called that because of the parade’s music sources, instead of marching bands. The Norwich Bulletin wrote, “The largest parade of its kind in the country and perhaps the state’s most famous, the Boom Box Parade allows anyone to march with two caveats: they must have a radio tuned to WILI AM to broadcast the marching music and they need to sport the patriotic colors of the American flag.”
Next stop: Rustic Tri Vue Drive-In, North Smithfield RI.