Darkness at Noon

The Rev. Arthur Breese Merriman came to Skaneateles from the shadows of the show houses. Raised in Syracuse, he was groomed for a life in business, prepping at the Black Hall School in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and graduating from Georgia Tech. In Syracuse, he thrived in the burgeoning motion picture industry, owning and managing four theaters: the Arcadia at South Salina and Colvin, the Franklin on South Ave., the Alcazar on South Townsend St., and the Regent Theatre on East Genesee St. (on the site of today’s Syracuse Stage).

Arcadia TheaterMerriman’s Arcadia Theatre, later the home of the Simmons School of Mortuary Science

In 1921, he was building a fifth theater, the Avon on Hawley Avenue, when he got “the call.” No more would he screen films such as “Under the Lash” with Gloria Swanson, “The Love Expert” with Constance Talmadge, or Cecile B. DeMille’s “Fool’s Paradise.” Art Merriman packed a bag, went to New York City and entered the General Theological Seminary.

Merriman

In April of 1924 he was ordained as an Episcopalian priest at St. Paul’s in Syracuse. In 1926, after two years at churches in Auburn and Clayton, he came to Skaneateles as rector of St. James’, where, still something of a showman, he organized a boys’ choir that would be the pride of St. James’ and Skaneateles.

Boy-Choir

However, the Rev. Merriman’s time here would be brief. In 1930 he resigned to study at the Union Seminary in New York City. On the side, he would serve as the rector of St. Elizabeth’s Chapel at Sterlington, near Tuxedo Park, on the Table Rock estate of Mrs. Juliet Pierpont Morgan Hamilton, daughter of J. Pierpont Morgan.

In October of 1931, his studies completed, the Rev. Merriman became rector of the Church of the Saviour, across the street from his boyhood home on James Street in Syracuse.

In 1943, the St. James’ boys’ choir, after a run of 15 years, was replaced by an adult choir. The new choir’s lone bass, fittingly, was named Claude Bottomley.

* * *

For the postcard photo of the Arcadia Theatre I am indebted to Our Movie Houses: A History of Film & Cinematic Innovation in Central New York (2008) by Norman O. Keim and David Marc

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