It’s Day 274 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I was desperate to find a drive-in still showing movies on a Sunday night, so I drove about three hours from Mendon MA to the Overlook Drive-In Theatre, just east of Poughkeepsie NY.
The Overlook was built quickly in 1949 and opened on Sept. 10 that year. It was constructed and owned by a group headed by Harry Lamont, who later went on to own several other theaters in the region.
Sid and Ida Cohen bought the Overlook in 1955, and from there I’ve got two great histories to work with. The most obvious is the embedded YouTube video of the day, The Last Projectionist, which focuses on the Overlook and its personnel. There’s also a great essay by Virginia Repka-Franco on Classic New York History.
At some point, the Overlook was passed down to Fred and Barbara Cohen, who continued to run it into the 2010s. The huge grassy lot, which accommodates about 700 cars, has remained about what it must have looked like when it opened.
There’s a snapshot of the place in 2002, courtesy of an article in The New York Times. Then-manager Andy Cohen told the Times, ”It’s the last vestige of American freedom. How many places are left where patrons may see a double feature for $6, bring a dog, fish in a creek, drink a beer and even light a cigarette?” There had once been fencing between the Overlook and Wappinger Creek at its western border, but I guess by then it was okay to go fishing there again.
I should also point out that the creek is a major reason why the Overlook continues to operate. The drive-in is in a flood zone, proven in 1955 when the concession stand had eight feet of water. “Because it is in a flood zone, the land has virtually no value,” the Times wrote, noting that any other developer would have to raise the land to build on it.
In 2002, they were already using AM and FM radio sound for the movies because someone stole all the speakers years ago “after a published joke, apparently taken seriously, that drive-in speakers were bringing a $200 reward each.” Even as collectors items decades later, they’re still not that expensive.
So I sat in the grassy field with coffee and a hot funnel cake watching the latest Kingsman installment surrounded by trees on a cool, pleasant evening. I’m sure glad the Overlook is still around.
Miles Today / Total: 179 / 31967 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Kingsman: The Golden Circle / 174
Nearby Restaurant: The Mill House Brewing Company offers up a fine Sunday brunch. Fried chicken and waffles are a wonderfully unhealthy way to start the week, so I grabbed a pint of Oktoberfest beer to counteract any negative effects. I left the Mill House very happy.
Where I Virtually Stayed: Resting up for another busy week, I went back to another Hampton Inn. The one in Poughkeepsie offered cookies at check-in, and my king study room had the full set of modern amenities. Breakfast was just as nice as I would expect, with hot items to supplement the continental standards. Now I’m ready to drive!
Only in Poughkeepsie: The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge over the Hudson River opened in 1889, lost its tracks due to a fire in 1974, and in 2009 was reborn as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, open to pedestrians. It runs for over a mile, suspended 212 feet above the river, and is part of a network of hiking trails.
Next stop: Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, Wellfleet MA.