MOBERLY, Mo. — The formal opening of the Blue Moon nightclub was held Thursday, June 13, 1935. The proprietors were Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Autenrieth, and the new establishment was located on the southeast corner of Route M and South Morley (old Highway 63).
Al Dunn’s 11-piece orchestra from the West Coast made a stop on its eastward tour and furnished the opening-night music.
Two unusual construction features were employed in the building of the two-story Blue Moon. One was a “built-in” sound system for music with coin boxes at each booth. The second was neon lighting for the ballroom, including colored lights behind “cut-out” moons and stars.
The dance floor was 28 by 36 feet, with three booths and five private dining rooms along its sides. Upstairs was a second dance room, which was also used as a banquet hall. Living quarters for Mr. and Mrs. Autenrieth were also provided upstairs.
The front part of the lower floor was equipped with a soda fountain and dining counter. Barbecue sandwiches and beer were served, as well as dinners. Service outside to automobiles was also provided.
Employees of the Blue Moon were Victor Hellensmith, John Lynch, Jr., Charles Roberts and Roy Freeman.
On Dec. 13, 1935, a new filling station, The Wigwam, was opened at the Blue Moon, with Eddie Hellensmith as manager. The new station handled Mobilgas. Barbecue lunch and free beer were served to purchasers of gasoline at the station as its opening attraction.
Glen Noel was manager in the Moberly territory of the wholesale department of the Red Eagle Oil Company, distributors of Mobilgas, and The Wigwam was the 14th outlet for the company’s products.
Like The Alamo on Huntsville Road, it didn’t take long for the Blue Moon to become a popular place to hold private parties, meetings and banquets. They were all reported on the social page in The Moberly Monitor-Index — endless birthday celebrations, going-away parties and wedding receptions; clubs and organizations like the Lions Club, the Young Men’s Progressive Club and Sigma Phi Gamma Sorority; school-related events like the sophomore class banquet (12th grade), the Redhots, the “M” Club, and the Brothers Ox smoker sessions; and card-playing clubs like the Happy Twelve 500 Club, the Post Tempus Bridge Club, L’Amitie Dinner Bridge Club and the Anonymous Pinochle Club.
The Young Democrats held their annual Jackson Day event at the Blue Moon on Jan. 8, 1936. A capacity crowd of 150 Democrats attended the dinner and dance. The banquet was served at 7 p.m. and then followed by 10-minute addresses by Walker Pierce, prosecuting attorney of Howard County, and Marion Hulen, Moberly attorney. A radio broadcast by President Roosevelt started at 9 p.m. It was followed by a dance with music by Howard Tuley’s 10-piece orchestra.
You may be wondering why there was a Jackson Day celebration. It wasn’t his birthday, as one might think — he was born in the Waxhaw Settlement near the North Carolina-South Carolina border on March 15, 1767. It was commemorating his final victory over the British in New Orleans in 1815, and it was a public holiday in Louisiana. You might remember that popular Johnny Horton tune from 1959: "In 1814 we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans, and we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans."
For more than a century it was customary for the Democrats throughout the country to hold their political rallies and banquets on that day. A roster was signed by all attendees at the Blue Moon who “pledged their loyalty and support” to President Roosevelt — it was submitted to the National Democratic Committee in Washington.
In August of 1936, Mr. and Mrs. Autenrieth leased the entire Blue Moon operation to Harry Payton, who was from Moberly, and James Light of Columbia. It was a two-year lease. The new management announced plans to remodel the building throughout and said they would continue to serve meals and conduct dances and add some new forms of entertainment.
Within a month, Payton and Light had been arrested and were behind bars. Payton was involved in an extortion demand with a woman named Velma Fleer and W. E. Crowley, both of Quincy. They demanded $5,000 from Maurice “Beau” Brummall, a prominent young Salisbury druggist whose family was wealthy. They told him that if he did not pay, his baby son, Monte Bo, who was not quite 2 years old, would be kidnapped. Chariton County authorities advised Brummall to proceed as instructed. He met Crowley at Clifton Hill, and Payton was in a car near the scene. Both men were arrested and taken to jail at Keytesville.
Following the arrests in Clifton Hill, Brummall accompanied the police and Highway Patrol as they raided the Blue Moon. The next arrests included Velma Fleer, Jimmy Light, Jimmy Lowe of Moberly and Howard Johnson of Salisbury. Fleer signed a confession, in which she admitted complicity in the extortion attempt and implicated Payton and Crowley. Warrants were issued against Light and Lowe, charging them with setting up and keeping gambling devices (just guessing — that might have represented the new forms of entertainment they had announced). Johnson was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a pair of metal knucks. These three men were not linked to the extortion. Johnson and Fleer were taken to the county jail at Macon by patrolmen and later to Keytesville. Light and Lowe were jailed in Moberly.
Fleer, an attractive, red-haired woman, had previously approached Brummall about purchasing a beauty parlor that was located in the Brummall building at Salisbury. A tentative deal was made, necessitating several meetings between Brummall and Fleer. Learning that Brummall was going to Columbia on business, Fleer followed him there and staged a “chance meeting” with him. Brummall told officers he was given a drink containing some sort of “knockout” potion and some photos were taken while he was drugged. He did not remember anything about the occurrence except being given the drink that knocked him out. Of course, the three extortionists threatened to show the compromising photos to Brummall’s wife.
Various kinds of gambling equipment were seized in the raid on the Blue Moon and in Payton’s home in Moberly. Officers confiscated a roulette wheel and table, chuck-a-luck (also known as birdcage and played with dice), a large number of poker chips, several boxes of dice (a large number of them “fixed”), a big dice table, all equipment for a policy game (similar to today's lottery games), dice cups and money trays. Following the raid on the Blue Moon, Prosecuting Attorney Richard Chamier of Randolph County ordered the seizure of all slot machines in roadhouses located in Randolph County. Officers brought in at least 31 machines.
Conviction on a charge of blackmail carried a minimum of six months in jail up to a maximum of five years. Conviction on the charge of keeping a gambling house carried a fine of $200 to $1,000, a jail sentence or both.
Crowley pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in the Linn County Jail. Fleer was also sentenced to six months in Linn County, and Payton received a 60-day sentence in Chariton County. The $700 roulette wheel was destroyed by Sheriff Willard A. Terrill in the presence of the grand jury.
Mr. and Mrs. Autenrieth took over the management once again and got the business built up by offering free admission to the dances and a guarantee that their menu items would be good. They had many choices typical for the Midwest — steak, ham and fried chicken were popular with their patrons. Many of us have even had frog legs at one time or another, but not many of us have ever sampled some of the really unusual food that the Autenrieths dished up.
You may remember my parents, Howard and Wanda Cupp Thornburg, from previous “Trip through Time” articles. They started dating in the late 1930s and frequently went to the Blue Moon with Wanda’s sister, Shug Cupp, and her boyfriend (eventually husband), Johnny Cleeton, and another couple, Johnny Tregnago and Dora Dameron Tregnago. They all enjoyed dining, drinking and dancing. That is, Wanda enjoyed the Blue Moon food until the night that Howard ordered an unusual sandwich. He told her it was scrambled eggs and encouraged her to taste it. She took a bite, and then he told her the truth — it was a brain sandwich! That was one of Howard’s pranks that didn’t turn out to be amusing. Wanda became nauseated and ran to the ladies' room. Then she refused to talk to him for the rest of the evening! However, Wanda was a forgiving woman — they became husband and wife in 1942. Howard remained a tease and a prankster during their 56 years together.
In 1938, the Autenrieths made some extensive alterations and redecorated the Blue Moon. They held a formal reopening on Nov. 18. The nightclub was enlarged to accommodate 150 couples. The dance room was decorated in three shades of red. A new orchestra platform, a new automatic heating system and new lighting system were installed.
The most novel feature of the new installations was an amusement park slide from the balcony to the dance floor for the quick descent of those wanting to dance. Music for the formal opening night was furnished by Russ Walters and His NBC Orchestra, which also played an engagement at the Grand Theater that day.
In June of 1942, Mr. and Mrs. Autenrieth announced that they had closed the Blue Moon on the seventh anniversary of its opening. They said it would probably be closed permanently since selective service and army and navy enlistments had drawn so heavily from their patrons.
The couple assumed duties at the Moberly Country Club, in charge of the maintenance of the clubhouse and grounds, as well as operating a full catering service for club members. They continued to reside at 112 Kirby Street, and Mr. Autenrieth continued to be employed as a motion picture operator.