2017-07-13 / Happenings

‘Back to the Box’ dance generates memories of The Music Box

Text and photos by Cheryl Holladay


FROM THE START DJ Clark Harder (in background, on stage) asked the crowd who had attended The Music Box the first year it was open – 1946 – and Eva Leedy of Houghton Lake Heights raised her hand. She received a 45 from the late Lee and Shirley Kelly’s music collection. FROM THE START DJ Clark Harder (in background, on stage) asked the crowd who had attended The Music Box the first year it was open – 1946 – and Eva Leedy of Houghton Lake Heights raised her hand. She received a 45 from the late Lee and Shirley Kelly’s music collection. Devotees of the former Music Box gathered at the Houghton Lake Histori­cal Playhouse for music and memories Saturday.

The Music Box Historical Society hosted the fourth annual “Back to the Box” dance, the third time it has been held at the Playhouse. DJ Clark Harder played songs from the Music Box’s cata­log, originally spun on 45s by the late Shirley Kelly, who owned “The Box” with her husband, Lee.

The Music Box opened the weekend of July 4, 1946, and, for decades, attract­ed people from miles around, especially the Detroit area.

It is likely many couples began long-term relationships at The Box. One of those couples is Peggy and Gary Wescott.


STILL GOT IT These ladies, (left to right) Kathy Thompson of Gladwin, Arby Alward of Higgins Lake and Diane Edly of Higgins Lake, demonstrate their Electric Slide moves. Soon others joined them on the dance floor. STILL GOT IT These ladies, (left to right) Kathy Thompson of Gladwin, Arby Alward of Higgins Lake and Diane Edly of Higgins Lake, demonstrate their Electric Slide moves. Soon others joined them on the dance floor. They met 54 years ago, Aug. 28, 1963, to be exact, and dated for four years while Peggy was in college. They were married June 24, 1967.

For their 50th wedding anniversary, Peggy presented Gary with a framed and matted photo of The Music Box his brother had given him for his birthday. In the frame are other memorabilia she purchased at last year’s Back to the Box event.

‘It’s special to us,” she said, of The Box.

Gary graduated from Houghton Lake High School in 1962, while Peggy was from Detroit.

“It wasn’t a song,” Gary said, about what brought them together. “It was her.”


DANCE HALL DAYS Dr. Jim Sullivan of Prudenville, who displayed memorabilia and news articles at the Back to the Box dance, talks with visitors about history of The Music Box. He worked at The Box as a bounc­er in 1964. DANCE HALL DAYS Dr. Jim Sullivan of Prudenville, who displayed memorabilia and news articles at the Back to the Box dance, talks with visitors about history of The Music Box. He worked at The Box as a bounc­er in 1964. He said she was miffed at “another guy” she was with and he told the guy “she’s with me.”

“The rest is history,” he said.

Peggy said her mother had told her to stay away from “the locals,” but the match must have worked, as the couple eventually had three children and 11 grandchildren. They raised their family in the Flint and Flushing area.

The Wescotts have a brick and a stone from The Box as it was being torn down – it closed for the last time in 2001, after briefly being reopend in the 1990s by Lee Kelly.

“We have always danced,” Peggy said, adding that they belong to the Great Lakes Swing Dance Club.


BOX MEMORABILIA Linda Harder (left) and Margie Barnhart sell memorabilia from The Music Box during the dance. The Music Box Historical Society is raising money for a historical marker to be placed at the original site. BOX MEMORABILIA Linda Harder (left) and Margie Barnhart sell memorabilia from The Music Box during the dance. The Music Box Historical Society is raising money for a historical marker to be placed at the original site. Prudenville resident Dr. Jim Sullivan, a bouncer at The Box in 1964, displayed photos and memorabilia and shared memories with visitors.

He said the rule was that no photos were allowed to be taken inside The Box; however, Lee Kelly once gave him permission to take photos.

Sullivan has rare photos that were taken during the winter and during the day.

“It’s amazing what you find when you clean house,” he said.

Prudenville resident (and Denton Township trustee) Paula Fuller recalled her days at The Music Box.

“If it rained, you sat in your car un­til it quit,” she said, explaining that the dance floor had no roof. “They squee­gee ed the floor [afterward].”


LASTING MEMORIES (Left) Gary and Peggy Wescott met at The Music Box in 1963 and were married four years lat­er. They attended the fourth an­nual Back to the Box dance July 8 at the Houghton Lake Historical Playhouse, hosted by The Music Box Historical Society. Peggy pre­sented her husband with a framed, matted photo of “The Box” for their 50th wedding anniversary. (Below) The Wescotts still enjoy dancing and belong to the Great Lakes Swing Dance Club. LASTING MEMORIES (Left) Gary and Peggy Wescott met at The Music Box in 1963 and were married four years lat­er. They attended the fourth an­nual Back to the Box dance July 8 at the Houghton Lake Historical Playhouse, hosted by The Music Box Historical Society. Peggy pre­sented her husband with a framed, matted photo of “The Box” for their 50th wedding anniversary. (Below) The Wescotts still enjoy dancing and belong to the Great Lakes Swing Dance Club. She said Shirley Kelly used to shine a spotlight on couples that were dancing too close together.

“You knew not to do it again!” she said.

In the 1960s, kids would line up out­side to get in, Fuller said. “You could only get so many in.” She said she has “wonderful” memories of The Box.

She said she and her late husband, Dick, would dance to “P.S., I Love You,” adding that Shirley Kelly often knew kids by which song was their favorite.

Years later, Fuller ran into Shirley at The Hub Supermarket (now closed) while in the check-out line.

“She said ‘P.S., I Love You,’” Fuller said, as a greeting, having recalled the Fullers’ song.

The Music Box Historical Society (MBHS) is raising money for a state his­torical marker to be placed on the former site of the Music Box.

Prospective members of the MBHS may email mbhsociety@gmail.com or visit the MBHS Facebook page at facebook.com/mbhsociety for information.

Memberships are $15 (couples are $25). Charter memberships – with a 50-person limit – are also available.

The next event planned at the Play­house is a concert July 29, featuring Ruth and May Bloomquist. Entry is $20 and the event will include hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Call the Playhouse at 366-9124 for information.

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