words by: Nic Stoltzfus
It was a cold January morning in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and twelve-year-old Katie was glad to be inside, where it was nice and warm. She was looking out the window at the Sight & Sound Theatres’ Entertainment Centre across the road. Grandpa Glenn and Grandma Shirley had started the company many years ago before she was born, and she had lots of fun memories of the place. She acted in the shows and, when it was done, quickly changed out of her costume and into her regular clothes and ran the concessions or cleaned the bathrooms with her cousins, and then quickly changed back into her costume again for a second performance. It was great fun!
As she looked at the theater, she noticed a curl of smoke spiraling upward out of the theatre. Katie heard the wail of the sirens, now growing louder. And then she saw the firetrucks rushing up the hill on Hartman Bridge Road, rushing towards the Entertainment Centre.
“Daddy, there’s a fire in the auditorium. I don’t really think it’s that bad… but you might want to stick around until we get back to you.”
Glenn Eshelman knew immediately what his daughter Kim was talking about on the phone. There was a construction crew doing some routine maintenance work. Maybe something happened?
Tragically, sparks from a welder’s flame grew into a raging fire that engulfed all but two buildings. Thankfully, all 200 employees and the entirety of the construction crew made it out alive, but four people were rushed to Lancaster General Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.
Late that evening, Glenn sat with his wife Shirley, thinking about all that had been lost. Sight & Sound was his calling from God—but now it was gone, all gone. What would he do next? Shirley turned to her Glenn and said, “Do you want to come back again? Do you know what this is really going to mean to come back again? This is a high calling that God has put on our lives many many years ago.”
And Glenn thought back to where it all began.
Having Faith in God
Growing up on a dairy farm in Lancaster County, Glenn saw the beauty of God’s creation surrounding him, and he desired to preserve that in artistic form. Already at 5 or 6, he was sketching farm scenes with a pencil and paper. As he got older, he started painting bucolic scenes of Lancaster countryside. Later, he got a camera to reference the scenes. After he married Shirley, he sold his pictures out of the back of his pickup truck. One day, a lady from his church asked him to do a slideshow presentation of his photos for the congregation.
Glenn displayed the photos on the screen using a slide projector, used a turntable for musical underscore, and narrated it all using a microphone. The audience at Glenn’s church was wowed by his presentation. This multimedia presentation was cutting-edge technology for the ‘60s, and it was a hit.
Glenn and Shirley took their show on the road and traveled all over the United States, venturing as far as Colorado. But they wanted to build a home base for their productions, so in 1976, they opened their first venue in Lancaster County: the Living Waters Theatre. Over the next decade, Glenn added more and more elements to the production. “In order to kick this up a bit, I started to incorporate live elements along with the multimedia, and it grew into an all-live studio theatre production.”
In 1987, Eshelman Studio Productions did their first full-length Biblical production Behold the Lamb. This was the precursor to today’s Sight & Sound live theater productions. Because of their popularity, Sight & Sound outgrew this theater and opened an expanded Entertainment Centre in 1991. The Centre—located on Hartman Bridge Road/896, just north of the town of Strasburg—had an 80-foot screen, 24 computerized projectors, and 32 dancing fountains. And only seven years later, it was all gone.
The headlines on the local paper the next morning read “Blaze damage at $15 million: Sight & Sound theatre ruined.”
To read the full story, purchase a March 2023 back issue here.
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Sight & Sound Theatres
300 Hartman Bridge Rd., Ronks, PA 17572
1001 Shepherd of the Hills Expy, Branson, MO 65616
Nic Stoltzfus is the editorial manager at Plain Values magazine. He and his wife Jen live in Reading, Pennsylvania, with their three crazy cats and rescue dog, Paul. They hope to have children soon! Nic loves volunteering in his community—he is teaching Sunday school next spring, is involved with the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority’s plan to bring back passenger rail to Berks County, and he serves as secretary of the Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead Preservation Committee. He is currently working on a novel about the immigrant Stoltzfus family.