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Recreation & sports
I was surprised by the amount of baseball in these letters. Bicycles threatened to draw people from theaters. Trying to compile a list of music to listen to for my transcontinental train trip reveals that much popular music did not endure, but the classical has -- and I could even find some recordings of Adelina Pattion YouTube! Where can I go sleighing?
Amateur theatrics Baseball Bicycles Dancing Fishing Horse racing & driving Masons Music Sleighing Swimming Volunteer fire department
New York, Dec. 6, 1886 Mrs. Dr. N[agle] gave Hattie & Lottie [Powell] tickets to go to the Athletic Club on Sat -- it being "Ladies Day" -- to see the sports swimming, Boxing, fencing &c &c. They went and enjoyed the performance very much.
San Francisco, July 31, 1890I asked [Maurice] Barrymore about the 5 A's which he was one of the founders, but has not taken an active part lately.
5A's American Actors Amateur Athletic Association, founded by Barrymore, Steel MacKaye and London comedian Jimmie Powers. The club met at Browne's chophouse. "The members seldom exercised more than their tongues, although the drinking arm was occasionally tested with some Indian wrestling." [Kotsilibas-Davis] King New York City says the club "usually called the Five A's" was organized in 1889 and incorporated in 1890 "for the encouragement of athletic sports among actors and for social purposes". The initiation fee was $25 and annual dues were #12. The club was at 43 West 29th Street.
Boston Sept. 7, 1887 Yesterday I went with Messr's [EM] Holland, [Eugene] Presbrey & [Alessandro] Salvini to see the Bostons and Philadelphians play. Phillies won. I will send a Globe with the score of the game to you. The Philadelphians are stopping at this hotel.
Philadelphia, August 29,1887 On Saturday [son-in-law John Dolman] took us and Mrs. Dolman & Walter [Dolman] to see a game of baseball by the "Philadelphias" & Detroits. Mrs. Dolman & I got pretty excited over the game. I standing up at a home run and Mrs. Dolman crying out "Stop, stop" to one of the men who was running from 3rd base. We quite disgraced ourselves.
Boston, May 27, 1888 Yesterday was wet and cloudy but notwithstanding the "Philadelphias" won their second game of ball from the Bostons. Friday the opening day the Phillies were 4 to 1. Yesterday 1 to 0. Great excitement and interest in the game here. They play again tomorrow & Tuesday. Think I shall go tomorrow, if the day is fine & warm.
Boston, May 31,1888 On Tuesday I went to see the Phila team beat the Bostons and they did it 8 to 0. It was the prettiest game I have ever seen played. No score either side until the 7th inning, then Phila 2. 8th inning 3. 9th 3. Total 8. Boston 0. The Phillies looked very happy. The "Globe" yesterday morning, in its article on the game said, "Mr. Alexander Salvini, accompanied by Mrs. E.J. Phillips, watched the game from the grandstand". I am getting up a baseball renown you see. Mr. [EM] Holland was with us, but was not mentioned.
June 8 1888 Did not get this finished yesterday as the folks called to take me
to Baseball. It was a great game, 15 innings. But I believe there is a dispute
about it and the President Mr. Young
will count it out, the umpire not
giving to Boston what they earned, which would have ended the game in the 9th
inning in favor of Boston. I suppose you will read all about it in the papers.
The Boston Globe (June 9 1888) headline read "GREAT BALL Boston Vanquished by Detroit Fifteen Innings at the South End" [Grounds] and its account of the dispute is [Dan] "Brouthers hit to right field for a base...Nash muffed the ball...Brouthers got to third...Brouthers did not stir and John sent the ball to Morrill in time to catch the runner. In the meantime Brouthers started for home. Morrill made a fine throw to Kelly. Kelly stood directly on the plate and touched Brouthers before he could get home.
June 3, 1896 Hope your benefit for Asylum baseball club will net something
Baseball historian Bob Mayer of Putnam Valley NY wrote me "Albert played a limited amount of ball games in 1886 for the Wallkills Base Ball Club and as you know, married the daughter of the newspaper owner and ultimately became editor.... I can tell you that the benefit brought in $300. Not chump change at the time. .. The Wallkill Base Ball Club was organized in 1866 by many of the leading citizens of Middletown. Their main opponents were the Delawares of Port Jervis and the Goshen Base Ball Club. The team disbanded during the 1870's then re-formed and became the leading amateur team in Middletown through the 1880's. John Degnan was the team Captain and apparently after Albert's partnership dissolved, he went to work for Degnan's plumbing company. It appears Albert played several games for the Wallkills in 1886, but none after that. The team played into 1889, but discontinued due to new local competition.
In 1888 a new team was formed at the State Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane at Middletown. The team was known as the Asylum Base Ball Club. It became highly successful and players were brought in from out of town, and given jobs at the hospital for the summer. Others were paid a few dollars for each game, so the team was a Semi-professional team. In the late 1890's baseball was getting competition for fans from many other sports (bicycle craze, kayaking, track, and basketball) which reduced interest for a while. The fundraiser referenced by E.J. was for the Asylum team".
Goldstein, Warren Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0801499240/qid=1076907296/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/002-7351289-1775216?v=glance&s=books
Bibliography of Published Baseball Music and Songs, US Library of Congress United States Department of Agriculture, http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/perform/baseballbib.html APPENDIX A: CHRONOLOGICAL INDEX List of 48 19th century baseball songs
Milwaukee Novr 2nd. 1896 Does [grandson Ted] enjoy his tricycle? I dare say he keeps you in constant dread of something happening to him. I hope he will be very careful and look out for wagons, Bicycles, Trolleys & Steam cars! But he is a good little boy and I think he will be careful for his Papa and Mama's sakes.
Detroit, Mich., May 15th 1896 The business has not been good since we left N.Y.. Men, women and children are all riding bicycles in every town. No business being done anywhere in any line save bicycles! There never was such a general craze before. About 8 men and two women in our Company have their bicycles with them, and ride from 10 to 20 miles a day. Gustave Frohman is an enthusiast on the subject, and I think will kill himself overdoing the thing.
Business for these two weeks has been so bad that we all feel our season in Chicago cannot last for 12 weeks, and we look for closing much earlier. Some say 6 weeks and I say four. But by the time June comes people may be tired of riding the bikes and like to take the theatre in.
Blanche Whiffen (the original Buttercup of HMS Pinafore) writes in her autobiography of bicycles "Everything was moving uptown. I remember riding up the avenue on a bicycle to the park and looking in wonder at all the new buildings. That was the day of the bicycle and how I loved to ride. The popular song was, "On a Bicycle Built for Two," meaning the old tandem which is almost obsolete now. The tandem was the motorcycle of its day and a great favorite with lovers who would use it to riding into the country on Sundays. Tom and I rode a great deal and belonged to one of the bicycle clubs, as numerous as golf clubs today... The bicycle costumes we women wore would look screamingly funny today with their tight waists, big hips, short full skirts and high-laced boots. I must have looked funnier than any of them, for I remember once in San Francisco, when I was riding through Golden Gate Park to the Cliff House with my son, I noticed everyone staring at me and nudging each other and then laughing. When I got back to my hotel I asked little Tom if anything was wrong with my bicycle suit. "No, Mother' he returned, leading me to a looking glass, "But they aren't worn with a bonnet!" Mrs. Thomas Whiffen, Keeping off the Shelf, New York EP Dutton & Co, 1928
pictures bicycles NY Times indexes,
King's Dictionary of Boston, 1883 says of Bicycling -- Since the introduction of the bicycle in 1877, the growth of bicycling in Boston has been steady and sure; and the wheel occupies a prominent place among the vehicles used for business, pleasure, and healthful r4ecreations in the street and the suburban roads. There is scarcely a profession that is not represented by wheelmen, even the clergy finding the bicycle useful to them in making pastoral calls. Many of them are expert riders, and are frequent visitors to the bicycle school in the "Pilot" newspaper building on Washington Street. Besides this school, there are a number of bicycle-clubs in various parts of the city.
Finison, Lorenz J. Boston's Cycling Craze 1880-1900,
University of Massachusetts press, 2014
The author, founder of Cycling Through History, interviews on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/wathttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOBfkBomOYoch?v=NOBfkBomOYo Many thanks to Jessica Mink for telling me about this book.
Wikipedia Bicycle history
The first safety bicycle was produced in 1885 Wikipedia accessed Jan 21 2011
We have a number of Albert's dance cards.
This charming one is from the Fifth Grand Annual Children's Carnival and Ball, at the Academy of Music, New York, Feb. 7, 1881 for the benefit of the Western Dispensary.
The Carnival Programme included a procession of four jesters, three tableaux by the Goddess of Liberty and the thirteen Original States, Sixteen columbines, followed by clown, harlequin and Pantaloon. Banner bearers, from different countries, on horses, followed by a CONGRESS of SOLDIERS, each introducing his peculiar military dance (Hungarian d Austrian , Zouaves, and Russians (Fan-Fan Militaire4, Cossack Dance), a company of infants with their comic instrumental Baby Polka, the BUTTERFLY and the PINK and WHITE ROSES, followed by a large number of Children representing Leaves and one representing the SUN, the GODDESS FLORA, in a brilliant TEMPLE OF FLEECY VEILS, surrounded by a Collection of Children, representing various flowers, followed by General Washington ON HIS HORSE, with his army of young soldiers, attired in full Continental uniform. with the GRAND TABLEAU and FINALE - GENERAL WASHINGTON and his soldiers, crowned by the GODDESS OF LIBERTY< assisted by the THIRTEEN STATES, while the GODDESS FLORA with her accompanying FLOWERS and LEAVES form a Wreath around GENERAL WASHINGTON, and the remaining actors of the Carnival view the scene and applaud from a distance.
The inside back cover notes (under TOWN TOPICS) Colored gems are fashionable. In a bric-a-brac case at Tiffany's is a chatelaine and watch worn by Marie Antoinette. Reproductions of the Trojan glass exhumed by Dr. Schliemann are to be seen at Tiffany's Hammered gold gipsy rings, with precious stones embedded into he gold, are among the novelties at Tiffany's.
Dancing the tango?
Detroit May 15 1896 What is the "Parada" and who teaches [grandson] Ted to dance?
Chicago May 21 1896 Should have enjoyed seeing Ted's Terpsichorean achievements. His movements are so quick and light. Edward Phillips Nickinson Was 5 1/2.
Wikipedia identifies one meaning of "parada" as an Argentinean dance move http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parada_(dance_move)#Steps
San Francisco July 10, 1890 The [rail]road [between Portland and San Francisco] runs with the Sacramento River, a beautiful stream and a great place for fancy fishing. Mr. [Frederic] Robinson was wild with delight over the prospect of throwing out his lines there. He travels with fishing tackle worth a $1000 & goes fishing whenever & where ever he gets an opportunity. It is a great hobby with him, and I felt sorry he could not stop and have a days sport. He is in every "bill" however, and will not get much chance to fish this trip.
July 29, 1890
Albert must be working pretty hard but so long as he is not too tired to go
fishing he will get on all right.
Albert Nickinson continued to be an enthusiastic fisherman when he lived on the bayou in Pensacola Florida in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Knights Templar are part of the York Rite Masons. John Nickinson was a Mason.
Troy, NY, April 19, 1893 Monday May 1st Phila for one week. I will then ransack my trunks for your [Masonic] apron. I think I have it still. I offered it to you when you were leaving me to go to M[iddle]'town but you said it would not be of any use to you. I am glad you have changed your mind, and hope you will be a good and faithful servant to the noble and time honored Fraternity -- even if you did not tell your Mother anything about it.
Phila Pa May 5th 1893 This morning John [Dolman] did up the [Masonic] apron and took it down to post office. Hope you will get it tomorrow. I do not suppose it will be of any use to you as it is soiled from old age but you now know its use and value, and it will be a keepsake. The rosettes also belonged to the regalia, but your father got a new one and used the other part of the old one for something, I retaining the rosettes.
Pittsburg, Pa, May 12, 1893 Your father was a Mason many, many years before I met him. Where he first joined the order I cannot tell you. It may have been before he came to the U.S., which was in 1836. He used to attend lodges wherever he happened to be. Was a Arch Mason & Knight Templar. I dare say he told me when & where he joined the order, for we often talked about the funny devices of the curious to find out the "secrets" but so many years have passed that I cannot recall it. I think though it was in Quebec he was initiated. And that would be about the time I was born. He was an Orangeman also, but never paid much attention to it, as far as I know. The apron I sent you is not the original one I think, by a good many, but it is some years older than you are and has been worn by your father. Practically it cannot be of value to you, only as a memento.
A 1952 letter from Elizabeth Nickinson Chitty to Melanie and Jack Dolman mentions various Masonic keepsakes -- two taffeta rosettes about 5 inches in diameter, one with a rose cross on a white ground in the center of a green circle, the other black with a gold laurel wreath and letters ING [?] and a white kid apron with blue taffeta binding and silver tassels.
Orangeman Members of the Loyal Grange Institution, an Irish society in the province of Ulster. Established in 1795 to maintain Protestant ascendancy.
John Dolman's Masonic funeral in Philadelphia, July 1895 is described in a letter written from New York the next day. When the Masons stepped forward and went through their lovely services -- throwing a scroll of parchment and an apron and some evergreens into the grave and bidding farewell to their "departed brother" it was a solemn scene, and I wished you had been there. We hoped for you until about 9 AM, but while I hoped, I was not disappointed, for I did not think you would be able to get away.
New York, Mar. 12,1886 Tonight [Hattie] is going with Mrs. Dr Nagle to hear the Cowboy Pianist who is now making a sensation with his wonderful musical abilities.
Cowboy pianist Amandus Oscar Babel (1856-1896) made his debut in New York at Steinway Hall in September of 1886. The public went wild over this Buffalo Bill-like character who played Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel and Chopin while dressed in full buckskins and pistols... From 1885 until 1891, A. O. played all over the northeastern part of the United States. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=27669585
Until the 1891 completion of the Music Hall on Fifth Seventh Street, the
performance of serious music largely fell under the purview of the leading piano
manufacturers, Steinway and Chickering, each of which built combined showrooms and recital
halls. ... the mansionesque, somewhat Italianate Steinway Hall, at 71-73
East Fourteenth Street, was known as the "cradle of classical music in this
Stern, Robert, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman, New York 1880:
Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age, New York: Monacelli Press, 1999
New York, Mar. 29, 1886 George Riddle sent me tickets for his course of readings, the 1st on Saturday night at Chickering Hall. Hattie went and took Mrs. Kirby. A Midsummer Nights Dream was the subject, with [Walter] Damrosch's orchestra playing the music.
Chickering Hall George B. Post's Chickering Hall (1875) at the north-west corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighteenth Street, was larger and far more imposing than Stein way Hall ...A robust building of red brick trimmed in brownstone and gray marble, occupying a site that measured 75 feet on Fifth Avenue and 135 feet along Eighteenth Street, Chickering hall was four stories tall, although the two middle floors were expressed as one. The ground floor was used for showrooms with stairs leading ...up [to the auditorium] which was capable of seating 1,450 concertgoers. The 56 foot wide 28 foot deep stage easily accommodated as many as 250 orchestral and choral performers. ... The northward migration of fashion proved to much for the concert hall however, and by 1893 the entire building had been transformed to accommodate retail space. Stern, Robert, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman, New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age, New York: Monacelli Press, 1999
Walter Damrosch (1832-1950) succeeded his father Dr. Leonard D. Damrosch (after his father's death) as director of the Oratoria and Symphony Societies and became assistant director of the Opera.
Several Madison Square Theatre programs list music (under the direction of Frank A. Howson) and credit Mason & Harris organs and a Weber piano.
Salt Lake City, Sept. 14, 1886 Went this morning by invitation of the Mormons to hear the big organ in the Tabernacle. It is fine!
Gilbert & Sullivan's Gondoliers 1890
New York, Nov. 2, 1890 I told Aunty about the Opera business and she said you did quite right not to have anything to do with it. The Opera itself is a very trashy affair.
Some insight into this comments comes from the book New York 1880 "Fashionable New York greeted the 1883-1884 season, the inaugural one for the Metropolitan, with a battle between opera houses tantamount to what the New York Times described as "a social war of extermination" ...The Metropolitan's opening the night before [The Academy of Music] had been an event in which the bejeweled new rich created a scene that the New York Evening Telegram described as "almost ravishing". Despite an unimpressive presentation of Faust, the Metropolitan Opera had the advantage of a new home, no matter how controversial some of its features, and the support of a monied group, albeit one that seemed to many exceptionally vulgar -- so vulgar in fact that the phenomenon drew tremendous attention in the press and attracted audiences solely to view the scene. The New York Dramatic Mirror's critic was direct; "There was a big crowd Monday night at the new Metropolitan Opera House. All the nouveau riches were on hand. The Goulds and Vanderbilts and people of that ilk perfumed the air with the odor of crisp greenbacks. The tiers looked like cages in a menagerie of monopolists. When somebody remarked that the house looked as bright as a new dollars, the appropriate character of the assemblage became apparent. To a refined eye, the decoration of the edifice seemed in extremely bad taste." Stern, Robert, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman, New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age, New York: Monacelli Press, 1999
Salt Lake City, Sept. 22, 1896 Glad you had such a nice trip on the Republic and that my grandson enjoyed it. Also that he sings "Annie Rooney" in the same style I do -- words and music to suit ourselves. I heard it so often at DeYoungs that I cannot get the air out of my head - all other airs come instead of it - yet all to the words of little Annie Rooney. I told Maud [ Harrison] in the dressing room the other night that if I was annoying her just to mention it, for I was not conscious of the noise I made, and if she asked me to stop I would remember it.
Annie Rooney This is an 1890 song by Michael Nolan. No connection with Little Orphan Annie. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Annie_Rooney
New York, Jan 24, 1892I had a ticket for the [Adelina] Patti concert last Wednesday afternoon, but Mrs. [Agnes] Booth was taken ill and Miss [Ada] Dyas was sent for to play Mrs. Ralston [in Jim the Penman] - the consequence was that the rehearsal was called at 2:30 PM and it was nearly 5 when I got through.
Adelina Patti(1843-1919) Spanish singer, who sang at the May 1892 Actors Fund Fair (along with "other distinguished soloists, a chorus of 1,000 volunteers and a grand orchestra, to three of the largest audiences [7000 the first night and 12,000 at the last matinee.] ever assembled at concerts. As the price of seats was set at popular figures the audiences were composed for the most part of people who had never heard Patti sing and on each occasion the enthusiasm rose almost to the point of hysteria." She sang the Jewel Song from Faust , the Gounod Ave Maria, Home, Sweet Home and Comin' Thro' the Rye. [Kings NYC and Odell] Made NY debut in 1859.
Jewel Song Faust, Gounod
1859http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWcPJsOqWrw Gounod Ave Maria 1859 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVMSeFTHDEs
Home Sweet Home Home Sweet Home was written in 1823 and frequently sung by Adelina Patti, including for Abraham Lincoln and family at the White House in 1862 http://www.classicalite.com/articles/5941/20140212/home-sweet-home-adelina-patti-the-soprano-who-sang-for-president-abraham-lincoln.htm
YouTube recording Adelina Patti singing Home Sweet Home 1905https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM0Sft7Kjic
Coming through the Rye from the Robert Burns (1759-1796). poem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9GtnQTnqxk
Adelina Patti http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xJxw-j1i0c http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl02WT4KLvc
White House Steinway piano Gilded Age exhibit at Smithsonian http://lauracjenkins.com/blog/2016/6/6/object-in-focus-the-gold-piano-pt-ii
New York, Dec. 12, 1886 Glad you had such a nice sleigh ride. We have had lovely moonlight here the past week, and plenty of sleighing for those who were able to enjoy the luxury. The rain however will spoil their sport.
New York, Jan 9,
1887 Snow has been falling all day. .. Hattie says she would like to join you in a
sleigh ride. Those who have sleighs here will be sliding along nicely
New York March 5 1890 I imagined you would have good sleighing in Middletown, for there must have been five or six inches deep on the level here. The yards have still a lot remaining, but it was carted from the Streets.
Buffalo Christmas Day 1892 I dined alone but had a very good dinner. Snow going on all day. Splendid sleighing
Washington DC, Jan 6, 1893 Astonished to hear you have no sleighing - the sleighs are running here in fine order and the swells are displaying their fine "turnouts". I went out at noon to take a walk but was glad to come back.
Montreal, Jan. 23, 1894 Opened last night to a bad house - and I am afraid business for the week will not be good - sleighing and moonlight for the week is too good for people to go to theatre. ... I refused a sleigh ride to-day on account of my cold - was sorry to do so. The snow is not so deep here as I expected it to be - but - still there is good sleighing, and no vehicles but sleighs to be seen. These are of all shapes and sizes - and some look very funny bobbing along.
Montreal, Jan 1, 1895 A Happy New Year to you all. Sleighs are gliding along to the music of their bells and the people seem to be enjoying themselves.
I've never been sleighing. Seems like a good thing to try. Perhaps in New Hampshire or Maine http://www.centralmaine.com/2013/12/15/horse-drawn_sleigh_rides_in_maine/ or Vermont http://www.findandgoseek.net/category/sleigh-rides
Sleighing in Central Park 1898, Thomas Edison http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fADDUEOq0wc
New York, Oct. 21, 1887 Did I tell you that I went to visit Miss Ellie Wilton at Whitestone, L[ong] I[sland] Went Sunday 10 AM. Met Maud [Harrison]at Ferry. Had a very nice time -- nice drives and returned Monday. Miss Wilton's residence is beautifully situated on the banks of the L.I. Sound. In the bathing season Miss Wilton puts on her bathing dress in the house and goes down the lawn and a short staircase, on to the beach and then into the water. The distance from the house to the water is scarcely as long as the paddock was between "Mountain Spring Villa" and the road. Must be delightful in hot weather. All the large Sound boats pass the place.
Salt Lake City, Sept. 28, 1888 Today have been to the Lake by special train. Have had a very pleasant time. Mr. Palmer, [James H] Stoddart, [EM] Holland , [Clarence] Handysides, Mr. & Mrs. [Louis F] Massen, Mr. & Mrs. [Eugene W] Presbrey, Mrs. [Frederic] Robinson, Miss [Virginia] Buchanan. Misses [Clara] Lipman & the two [Gertie (8 yrs old) and her mother] Homans, Miss [May] Brookyn, [Jessie] Millward, [Harry] Woodruff, [Alessandro] Salvini, [AC] Hillsdorf & self of the [Madison Square] Company and several ladies and gentlemen of the City. All went in to bathe, excepting Mr. Stoddart, Mrs. Robinson & self. We had lunch and I have just returned. The lake was lovely. The bathing accommodations are much improved since I was there four years ago.
San Francisco, July 10, 1890 [Hattie writes that she] feels all right [after a miscarriage], but the doctor told her not to go in bathing for two weeks for fear of catching cold. That will seem a long time for her, for she is so fond of sea bathing.
Albert frequently acted in Middletown amateur productions.
Middletown amateur theatrics
Natalie Weygant, George Iseman, Bertha Cheeseborough, Albert E. Nickinson
Mrs. Cheeseborough was Albert's first landlady in Middletown.
Various Dolmans have been (and are) active in the Swarthmore Players Club, Swarthmore PA. History http://www.pcstheater.org/site/about-pcs/history/
Volunteer fire department.
This seems to have been a popular social
organization, as well as useful.
We’ve always delighted in this photo of Albert Edward Nickinson in his Middletown Fire Department uniform.
EJ Phillips was concerned about the expense however.
This seems to have been a popular social
organization, as well as useful.
Middletown Fire Department history http://www.thrall.org/middletown/c5_1.htm Albert belonged to the Excelsior Hook and Ladder company, and talked about "Excelsior" cake.
Fires, Fire Prevention and EJ Phillips
EJ Phillips had lost nearly all her possessions in a fire at her lodging in Toronto in July 1856. In fact one of her first Toronto stage appearances seems to have with the Hamilton amateurs following the April 7,1849 disastrous Toronto fire which “destroyed nearly fifteen acres of domestic and commercial buildings in the older part of the city including St. James' Cathedral, and part of the newly erected Market Buildings” . And in December 1855 the Royal Lyceum Theatre and John Nickinson had experienced the death of 14 year old dancer Rosa Cook after her costume caught fire, and Nickinson had originally feared his youngest daughter Isabella was the one afire.
In March of 1866 already widowed and a single
mother, E.J. Phillips found herself without a job as an actress when Pike’s
Opera House in Cincinnati burned to the ground
on the 22nd of March 1866.
. The performers had left the stage only twenty minutes before the auditorium
went up in flames.
of a Scene :Painter, E.T. Harvey, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1914, chapter on Samuel N.
Pike and Pike’s Opera House She
secured another position at Wood’s Theatre but soon began to travel and led an
unsettled life for a number of years.
The performance that night was “Midsummer Night’s Dream”. (14 year old dancer and family friend Alice Zavistowski played Puck.) Twenty minutes after the performers had left the theatre the stage and auditorium were in flames and all efforts to save any portion of the building were in vain.
She secured another position at Wood’s Theatre but soon began to travel and led an unsettled life for a number of years.
(1883-1898) to her son, my maternal great-grandfather Albert Edward Nickinson
included numerous references to hotel fires in general, and theaters fires
specifically. Her concern about fire was a steady theme throughout
Blanche Whiffen, one of Phillips’ acting colleagues, recalled in her autobiography of being put up in a hotel in San Francisco in 1881. She wrote that “Hotel fires were so numerous that [my husband] would not stay in that large wooden fire-trap. He became so nervous the first night that he got up and walked the room and the lobby until morning and then hustled me out of there to an apartment on Bush Street.” Mrs. Thomas Whiffen, Keeping off the Shelf, by Blanche Whiffen, New York EP Dutton, 1928
These were not simply events in which she was an
on-looker. These were theaters in which she’d performed, had spent time
in, and knew well.
Fire Prevention and Flameproofing
Her colleagues were certainly personally acquainted with the experience of surviving catastrophic fires. Phillips’ theater manager, A.M. Palmer, and another colleague, actress Kate Claxton were involved in the Brooklyn Theater fire of December 5, 1876 that left at least two-hundred-seventy-eight dead. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Theatre_fire
Claxton noted that the decision was made to continue the performance after fire broke out in the hopes that the flames would be quickly subdued, or that the audience would leave gradually and quietly. She recalled that when the curtain was raised on the performance the flames were fanned into a fury, resulting in the large death toll. Interview with Kate Claxton, New York Times, November 1885 Claxton developed a reputation as a “fire jinx” as at least seven theaters she was performing in burned down – but there is also speculation that the publicity helped her career. Firefighting, Jack Gottschalk, 2002
Dion[ysius] Lardner Boucicault (1820-1890), the Irish actor and dramatist served as a house dramatist and stage director at the Union Square and Madison Square Stock Companies. The "sensation scene" became a trademark of his work -- a "spectacular display of stage pyrotechnics ...exploding steam-boats, snowstorms and avalanches, duels and massacres, urban conflagrations -- these and dozens of other sensations kept audiences at a high level of tension especially as Boucicault began to use them nearly twenty years before he finally perfected the invention of fireproof scenery". International Dictionary of Theatre
Theatre attendance suffered after this disastrous fire and Boucicault was the first to suggest fireproofing of theatrical scenery. Dec 21, 1876 at Wallack’s Theatre, Boucicault “attempted to set fire to a scene saturated with a solution of tungstate of soda and primed with a solution of silicate of soda, suspended over the center of the stage. A flame equal to the force of one hundred and fifth of the ordinary gas-jets of the stage was directed on the suspended canvas and held there about two minutes. The canvas did not blaze or smoke.” Townsend Walsh, The career of Dion Boucicault, Dunlap society 1915 pp 186-188 http://books.google.com/books?id=2woEAAAAYAAJ&dq=boucicault+%22sensation+scene%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s
There were calls for immediate flame-proofing of theatres. But “unfortunately, however, it soon became evident that, whereas scenery thus treated could not be burned, neither could it long remain scenery. Night after night the stage was covered with a fine dust very distressing to the lungs of the artists and destructive to the furniture in the scenes. In a little over a week the paint has fallen almost entirely from the flats. The canvas of which had become ruined by dry rot.”
According to the
book Theatre Fires and Panics
written in 1896 about the causes and prevention of fire in theaters, the
average lifespan of theaters in the U.S. in the 1800’s was
approximately 11 years, although many theaters burned within five years of their construction. The author noted sources of fire arising from open lights, carelessness of fireworks,
use of firearms during a performance, and gas lights to illuminate scenery.  LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA. THEATRE FIRES AND PANICS: THEIR CAUSES
AND PREVENTION. BY WILLIAM PAUL GERHARD, C.E., Consulting Engineer Sanitary Works, FIRST EDITION. FIRST THOUSAND. NEW YORK: JOHN WILEY & SONS. LONDON:
CHAPMAN & HALL, LIMITED. 1896, Copyright,1896, BY WM. PAUL GERHARD. ROBERT DRUMMOND, ELECTROTYPER AND PRINTER, NEW YORK.
Many of Phillips’ letters to her son were written on hotel stationery, since she travelled the country during much of her stage career. The letterheads often claimed “Thoroughly Fireproof” or “Practically Fireproof” and even “Absolutely Fireproof.”
Tilly Haynes, Proprietor
Boston May 4th 1886
Mr. LeMoyne told me that on Wednesday or Thursday last, he could not be sure which, that the children in House 473 [4th Ave., New York] set fire to a bed, and as alarm was given and the engines were in front of the house in a few moments. The fire was extinguished without, I believe, damaging the building but I guess they all had a lively scare
Phillips was a member of the Madison Square Stock Company when she wrote to her son on March 1st, 1888 from New York City. She commented that “Yes, the old shop had a big scorching, but the stage was not burned—only the auditorium. Of course the hotel was badly damaged by smoke and waters. The firemen did wonders in confining the fire to so small a space. Had the stage caught it would have been bad for the Star Theater as only a small wall separated the two stages. I hear they will rebuild.” The Madison Square Theatre was at Sixth and Broadway, the Star Theatre at 844 Broadway.
Palmer House letterhead, Chicago Oct. 18, 1888 "THOROUGHLY FIREPROOF"
47 East 21st Street, New York, April 17th/90
Yesterday Morning we had a fire next door in 49. The house was greatly damaged by the fire and the furniture with water. The first I knew of it was the smoke coming into my room -- through the folding doors -- and hearing a noise upstairs. I went to investigate & found the firemen up there, getting on the roof through our house. It was quite an exciting time while it lasted.
Hotel Nadeau, Los Angeles August12, 1890 "practically fireproof"
Phillips wrote from Denver on Aug 26, 1890 “I see by the paper this Morning that McVickers Theatre in Chicago burnt down last night. We are to play at Hooleys. The First McVicker's Theatre was built in 1857 and destroyed in the great fire. Rebuilt in 1872 and remodelled in 1885, it burnt again Aug 26, 1890
Hotel Iroquois Buffalo Oct. 1890 Wooley & Gerrans, Absolutely Fire Proof
Hotel Davidson Absolutely Fireproof European Plan Milwaukee, Nov. 8, 1893
In a letter from Montreal, Jan 1, 1895 she commented that “I see by today’s paper that the Delevan House in Albany was burned last night. I have stopped there many times. E.C. Delevan erected the hotel in 1844 at a cost of over half a million dollars. It burned down Dec. 30, 1894. http://hoxsie.org/2015/11/10/the-delavan-house-fire/
The NEW COATES, Absolutely Fireproof Kansas City, Mo Septr 29th 1896
It may therefore seem surprising that E.J. Phillips objected strenuously when her son indicated that he had plans to join the volunteer fire department of Middletown, NY. On the road with the Madison Square Theater in San Francisco, she wrote him on August 9, 1886 urging him to reconsider, since he was in debt. Apparently he had assured his mother that the cost of membership in the company would be only the $40 in membership fees. She pointed out that “Your loss of time running to fires will cost you a great deal more than $40.”
When she was back in New York City that winter, despite her knowledge of the effects of fire and the need for volunteers to assist when fire broke out, Phillips made her feelings clear in a January 9, 1887 letter to her son. “It was a terrible cut to me to find you had joined the fire company after all I had written to you about it. Had you been in circumstances that would warrant such an outlay I should not have objected. All my life, I have never spent money for display or pleasure that I knew I could not afford and I advise you now to follow the same course—you will be happier and better off in the long run.”
Albert ignored his mother’s sage advice, and seemed to enjoy his time with the volunteer fire department. The group provided social connections, sponsored a baseball team, and, of course, provided each member with a fire hat. Dinners and parties were also part of the appeal of membership in these volunteer associations. Prior to the Civil War, fire departments were a civic, not governmental function. Private fire companies were paid by insurance companies, and fights between competing fire brigades were not uncommon. Under Boss Tweed in New York City (where Albert had lived prior to moving to Middletown, New York in 1886) volunteer fire departments were also political machines. History of firefighting: United States, Wikipedia, accessed Feb 24, 2013
Albert came to San Francisco in 1898 during the Spanish American War. He
also reported on the war for the Middletown Argus. The (underinsured)
Baldwin Hotel burned on Nov. 23, 1898.
Baldwin Hotel ruins December 1898, photo by Albert
Nickinson upon his return from Honolulu.
“Baldwin was dealt the final blow on Nov. 23, 1898, when the Baldwin Hotel and theater complex in San Francisco caught fire in the early morning hours and burned to the ground. The fire practically ruined him, because the losses amounted to somewhere around $2.5 million and his insurance covered only $185,000 of the damage. With the Santa Anita Ranch and his other properties heavily mortgaged, he had nothing left to compensate for the loss of his showplace hotel. He did what his financial condition required him to do and sold his Market and Powell Street properties in San Francisco to James L. Flood for $1.1 million. The purchase price was $200,000 above the mortgage held on the site and gave Baldwin some much-needed capital to start over again. In the summer of 1900, at the age of 72, he set sail for Nome in hopes of recouping his dwindling fortune in the Alaska gold rush.” Debra Ginsburg, "Lucky" Baldwin, A legend larger than life, California Thoroughbred Breeders Assoc., April 1999
Although fire fighting methods and equipment have improved, and fire-proof materials are now widely available, news reports of fires are still a regular occurrence today. In writing his Supreme Court decision in 1919 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted that falsely shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater was not protected free speech. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shouting_fire_in_a_crowded_theater
His words and their context make as much sense to a modern, internet-connected audience as they did when they were uttered almost one hundred years ago. There are many things my great-great-grandmother spoke of that I’ve had difficulty deciphering, but her concern for fire, and her dismay about a son who would not always take her advice are sentiments that any modern audience can easily comprehend.
Gottschalk,Jack, Firefighting, DK Publishing Inc. 2002
MacKaye, Steele, Safety in Theaters, North American Review, Nov 1882 http://www.jstor.org/stable/i25118209 get some quotes from this
Mary Glen Chitty, with Marjorie Turner Hollman
Last updated Feb. 2, 2018
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