Research projects sometimes take unexpected, but fascinating, twists and turns. I had reason a few years ago to look into the case of a woman called Madame Sherri. She is mostly known for an unusual castle-like house built for her in a rural area of New Hampshire–its ruins are now popular with hikers and lovers of the odd and mysterious.
My investigation dragged me far from New Hampshire–to the world of cabaret reviews in New York City, the vaudeville circuit, and “soldier shows” (popular during World War I, with Irving Berlin’s “Yip Yip Yaphank” being the most well-known). And, for good measure, toss in a scandal involving sex and blackmail. Continue reading
Helen Redmond’s life was that of a star, playing Broadway and touring the country for five years in the role of prima donna, but she hadn’t forgotten her family. In 1900, Helen’s mother, three brothers, a sister, and a nephew shared a Manhattan address with her. All were employed except for mom (age 64 and retired) and the nephew, who was in school. It was a far cry from 20 years earlier, when the single mother of seven toiled as a hotel servant and cook in upstate Vermont.
Clinging to her roots, and to escape the constant limelight and media attention, Helen occasionally visited her hometown of Port Henry, sometimes spending entire summers there, accompanied by her mother. Continue reading
Show biz can be heady stuff, and some things never change. Quirky stories and celebrities’ habits have long been the subject of great attention. Helen Redmond was certainly not immune to it, and as always, the attention was a press agent’s dream. Nothing is or was ever too silly for stars to indulge in.
In 1899, the latest fad was to walk one’s pet in public, using a harness (some even included a bit). In Helen’s case, the harnesses were “made of the finest silver chains, with tiny bells jingling at every movement.” She hired a boy to care for her three famous pets.
And why would any of that seem eccentric or excessive? Because the pets were turtles. Continue reading
The Adirondacks have a rich history of mountain lore, guide stories, Great Camps, and Olympic glory. But our mountain history tends to overshadow elements of the past that can serve as great attractions for locals and tourists alike: fame and achievements by regional natives and residents in non-mountain endeavors. Among the dozens of examples: one of the most popular songs ever written was penned by a native of the North Creek-Wevertown area; and two world-champions―one a beloved cyclist, and the other among the greatest regional athletes ever―were both based in the Glens Falls area.
The unusual talents and accomplishments of locals is virtual gold for area museums, but so many of these stories are overlooked. Take for instance, Port Henry’s Helen Redmond. Though you’ve never heard of her, Helen’s talents were once celebrated from coast to coast. Continue reading
The Cayuga Museum is working on a new exhibit to open next month. From Gilded Stage to Silver Screen, A History of Auburn’s Theaters will tell the stories of the operas, playhouses, community theaters, parlor shows and movie palaces that once graced the city.
Museum staff are seeking the public’s help in gathering photographs, costumes, playbills, and anything else that can help tell these stories. If you have any of these objects, or you were involved in local theater and would like to share your story, please call Kirsten or Eileen at the Museum, 315 253-8051. All loaned objects are logged in, covered by the Museum’s insurance, and returned at the end of the exhibit. Continue reading
Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.
Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading
Quietly, a line of singers circled a lone tree on the edge of the Harlem River, in the shadow of the 145th Street Bridge, late Sunday afternoon on September 29. The group swelled in numbers as the shadows lengthened. Hums, moans, soft cries and low tones began to form a chorus of spirit noises as the performance “Saved” got underway. Continue reading
On September 30, the recently reopened historic Capitol Theatre in the village of Port Chester in the Town of Rye, in the county of Westchester, founded in the days of vaudeville, beloved by the Grateful Dead, rechristened by Bob Dylan, and just host to Willie Nelson, hosted Flashbacks.
A musical to the history of the town written by local sisters and educators Camille Linen and Donna Cribari, Flashbacks tells the story of high school students who complete a historical multimedia project and are drawn to the local river that mysteriously produces figures from the town’s past as primary source documents. Continue reading
This is a story about a fat guy. In this politically correct and hyper-sensitive world, some of you might already be reaching for your keyboards to send me a nasty message for being so thoughtless. But without referring to him as fat, I couldn’t have written this piece. I’m pretty sure he knew he was obese, as did anyone who met him. But if there was ever any doubt, one could always refer to his professional name: Phat Boy. (Imagine … a name like that, 150 years before the birth of Rap music.)
His given name was Edward Frederick Babbage, the son of John and Frances Babbage, who emigrated from England in the early 1800s and settled in Rochester, New York. Among their five children was a pair of twins, Edward Frederick and Edwin Francis, born about 20 miles west of the city in 1841. Early on, Edward exhibited a propensity for gaining weight. He was considered large at age six, and weighed 200 pounds when he was fourteen. Continue reading
What follows is a guest essay by J.R. Teeter, the founding artistic director of Bread & Water Theatre. Since 2000 Bread & Water Theatre has had as its purpose the development of new dramatic works and affordable arts programming for the public. This essay first appeared on the site Preservation News.
Rochester, New York has fallen on hard times, not unlike many of the cities across the nation. The Erie Canal, once a major shipping route, is now considered obsolete. The city’s biggest employer, Kodak, is now bankrupt. Major businesses have either downsized, moved out of town, or both. When a new company takes an interest in the city, the red carpet is rolled out and tax breaks are doled out, sometimes at the cost of the city’s legacy. Continue reading