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About Omaha daily bee. (Omaha [Neb.]) 187?-1922 | View Entire Issue (Feb. 13, 1910)
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he Omaha Sunday Bee.
FAGEJ 1 TO 4.
FOR ALL THE NEWS THE
BEST IN THE WEST
VOL. XXXIX-NO. S3.
OMAHA, SUNDAY MORNING, FEBRUARY 13, lf)10.
SINGLE COPY FIVE CENTS.
OMAHA HISTORY TOLD BY THEATERS PAST AND PRESENT
John Templeton's Visit of Fifty Years Ao and Some Stars Who Cam After wad Twinkled Across tho Footlights Under Varying Conditions for Amusement of Local Public
a f m mm a.
BEFORE an audience composed of Omaha citizens, buffalo
hunters and the pioneer folk of Nebraska's early days, John
Templeton "heroed" his way through the "Chamber of
Death" on an improvised stage erected In the first court
bouse. That was In the later '60s, when Omaha saw its first
theatrical performance. Theatricals, by their very rarity, were not
In those days events to be missed, and, according to the hazy ac
counts that history gives, Templeton played to packed houses for
three nights in succession. That Omaha's first theatrical perform
ance drew a crowd to "standing room only" way back there more
than fifty years ago bespeaks quite a bit of enthusiasm on the part
of the pioneers. At any rate there is assurance that the first chapter
in the history of Omaha's stage did not begin with a one-night stand.
Viewed in the light of Omaha and the west of today, that visit
of the John Templeton company was a striking bit iof adventure.
The steam whistle had not yet stirred up the echoes in the. seven
hills of what the early Omaha folk Btyled "The Gateway 'City Vit
Stages ran almost "all the way from Chicago to Omaha, when the
going was good. Facing such conditions as this, the John Templeton
company set out to explore and carry their arts into the western
plains. They played Davenport, proceeding under difficulties to Iowa
City and the then farthest west metropolis, Council Bluffs.
The Oldest Inhabitant has it that John Templeton, the leader
of the company, a lad hardly out of his teens, was attracted to
Omaha when he saw the Bplendor of the brave new tin roof of the
old court house flashing in the sun across the river. The members
of his company urged the young man that they had seen all that
they cared for of the untamed west, but he pushed on across the
river to Omaha for his three-night performance. When one reflects
that there was not a little of home-grown tragedy hereabouts in
, those days It took not a little temerity to attempt to interest and
amuse wlh such gloomy scenes as those of the "Chamber of Death."
The parlors of the Hernden house, which long since was ob
literated by the erection of the Union Pacific headquarters, were
used as a show house occasionally in the-early '60s. It was in the
earliest performance there that Julia Dean Hayne appeared In the
leading role of a production the name of which has not survived the
years. That visit of the early day theatrical company was the making
of a romance that ended in the marriage of Colonel John Y. Clopper
to a sister of Julia Dean Hayne. They lived in Omaha for several
years following the close of the civil war.
That performance at the Hernden house must have been staged
with as little attention to precision in scenic effect as on the stage
of the early EHzabethian period some centuries before. A historian's
account remarks that the leading lady manufactured the curtains
and drops from a bolt of muslin borrowed at Tootle & Jackson's
store, the great dry goods emporium of early Omaha.
It was probably ten years after the visit of John Templeton that
Omaha's first play housed the Academy of Music, was erected. This
first "temple of the knights of the buskin," as the writers of the day
insisted that it should be designated, was built on the south side
of Douglas street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets. It was
opened in the winter of 1866-7. The Academy of Music was then
the property of Colonel J. O. Clopper and S. S. Caldwell. Accounts
found in musty piles of old papers aver that this building was the
last word in architectural magnificence. The writer of those praising
paragraphs in the free and easy days of the middle '60s little
Imagined that twenty five years later the house would become the
headquarters of the prohibition party organization in Omaha.
The Academy of Music opened under the management of Herni
Corri, an English actor, who himself headed what was then declared
the befit stock company in the west. It is to be surmised that the
west was not particularly overworked by stock companies in those
days. Henri Corrl's management was followed by the transformation
of the Academy of Music into a variety bouse, during the ownership
of John I. Redick. Corri went back to the east and for a time
appeared under the management of one Den DeBars. Corri died at
u home for aged actors in Philadelphia In 1883, after a prosperous
career which had netted hlra but little of ultimate profit. '
The one theatrical joke of the early days was the opening of
the Redick theater at the northwest coiner of Sixteenth and Farnani
streets in 1870, by Maty A. Livermore. It seems to have been a real
frosty first night. Mrs. Llvermore's train was two hours late, so the
audience sat iu a darkened room, with the gas lights turned eco
nomically low, waiting her arrival. Whin that lady of lecture fame
strode onto the stage the lights refused to come up. The footlights,
were finally lighted, while the rest of the house remained dark, with
flvo big and useless tin reflectors swinging from the roof.
Whether it was Mrs. Llvermore's theme or the gloomy house
that depressed the crowd on that first night history does not record,
i-uti anyway, it was an ill omen and the Hedlck theater was useful
nostly to give "tone" to the surrounding real estate territory. The
t!t!e to the "building was passed to J. M. Pattee of lottery fame. He
S'ou after rented the structure to the city, which established there a
(t uacil chamber and several city offices, in 1880 the somewhat un
popular old playhouse was torn down to give space to the Commer
cial National bank and F. L. Ames buildings and the hoodoo of Mary
A. Llvermore's opening night was drowned In business prosperity.
The Redick thater, however, saw the visits of some real celebri
ties to Omaha. For Instance, as a bit of variation from Mrs. Llver
more's plea for woman's suffrage was the exhibition of Jem Mace,
the English prixe fighter, who, w ith bare fists, disdaining gloves, held
Vth against six of the most lusty and brawny amateurs of the
vTlnlty. On this occasion Pooley Mace, a cousin of the famous
fighter, his trainer, and Billy Edwards, who was the real American
Bat Nelson of 'those days, appeared at the Red
ick. The audience was highly delighted, ac
cording to newspaper notices of the day, and
most of the local participants of the exhibition
Potter'a theater opened in the J. J. Brow
building at the southeast corner of Fourteenth,
and Douglas streets in 186-5 and was prominent
among the earliest of the Omaha playhouses.
"The Lady of the Lyons" was presented thera
on that opening night so long ago. The audi
ence was seated on ordinary chairs set on an in
clined platform of boards. The luxurious opera
chair of today had not yet come to Omaha. Wal
ter Bray was the leading man in the stock com
pany which played at the Potter theater. He
has long since disappeared and, like Manager
Potter, there is no account of what became of
him. At the Potter theater Omaha saw its very
"Pay in advance or no music" was the
declaration of the leader of the orchestra to
Manager Potter. The house was filled to the
utmost of its tiny capacity of 500 and the time
for the opening of the show was at hand. Pot
ter wasn't going to be bluffed, or maybe he
couldn't pay In advance, but, anyway, he
shocked the waiting company behind the scenes
by leaping in front of the footlights to declare:
"On account of the suddch illness of the
leader of our orchestra there will be no music
tonight. Fortunately the play to be presented
does not require it."
There was a large argument between Potter
and one angry Mr. Bray, who insisted that
"Pocahontas"v could not bo produced without
music, but it was, nevertheless.
. The varying fortunes of the Potter theater
saw it through several years of existence. At
the Potter appeared many of the best actors of
the day, who ventured into the rather doubtful
western country. On this etage appeared C. N.
Couldock and Mrs. Selden Irwin, who was ac
companied by Harry Ralnforth as leading man.
A mighty boom for a high-class opera house
was started in Omaha In 1878, but it subsided
only to eventually bear fruit many years later.
It was in the course of this general wave of en
thusiasm that James E. Boyd offered to sell a
lot at the northeast corner of Fifteenth and
Farnani streets for the site of a theater for
120,000, proposing to subscribe this amount in
stock, providing that a house to cost not less
than $40,000 be erected. This proposition was
followed by a number of others, which, when
compared with the present day valuation of the
same lota, show something of the growth of the
The scheme for a big opera house grew
until a committee was appointed from the mem
bership of the Bpard of Trade to select a site
on which was to be erected a combined playhouse and a Chamber of
Commerce. The committee failed to make the necessary negotia
tions and at last, after several months of "booming," the project fell
through entirely. Three years later, October 24. 1881, the old Boyd
theater, erected by James E. Boyd, was opened on this same spot.
The Boyd theater stood there through several changes of manage
ment, until it burned on October 3, sixteen years ago.
The opening of the old Boyd theater brought John Templeton
and his troupe again to Omaha. Twenty-five years before ho had
appeared in the leading rola in "The Chamber of Death" in an im
provised auditorium at the court house. He opened the Boyd, a
90,000 structure of architecture quite imposing for that period,
with "Mascotte." In the quarter of a century which saw this change
in the theatrical life of Omaha had been kind to Templeton, too, and
he was known as "Lucky John." Miss Fay Templeton appeared in
the roies of Bettina, countess of Panada and a soldier In Prince Fred
rick's army. t
The occasion of the opening of the Boyd was an Important af
' fair of the day and accounts to the generous length of three and four
columns appeared in the dally papers. Incidentally the critics were
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very kind, or maybe only very appreciative, of Miss Kay Templeton.
General Charles Manderson and Ezra Millard spoke In commendation
of the theater project and, following the performance, there was a
diunter at the Wlthnell house In honor of James E. Boyd, when he
was presented with a silver service, the gift of a number of business
men. A ticket speculator got in on the big opening night and made
a handBome deal in reserved seats.
Soon after the opening the Boyd wasaken over to the manage
ment of Thomas Boyd, who conducted the business until the close of
the season of 1891., The house had been sold iff 1889 to a syndicate
headod by 0"M. Carter, by whom It was leased to Thomas Boyd and
D. W. llaynea for two years. In 1891 the house was leased to L. M.
Crawford of Topeka, Kan., who opened it as a popular-priced house.
A controversy arose between Mr. Crawford ftnd Governor Boyd in
regard to the use of the name "Boyd Opera House," and after losing
the injunction suit in tho courts Mr. Crawford named his house the
"Farnam Street Theater." W, J. Burgeas, now a member of Woodard
& Burgess, became manager for Mr. Crawford.
Many famous stage folk appeared at the old Boyd theater. One
notable event was the concert by Clara Louisa Kellogg, who came to
the Boyd shortly after tho opening in the fall of 1881. The follow
ing year there appeared at the Boyd Mme. Nilson, Emma Abbott,
Lawrence Barrett and Haverly's Mastadons.
The Exposition building, which is well remembered by many
Omaha people now, was erected In 1885 between Fourteenth and
Fifteenth streets, on Capitol avenue, at a cost of $50,000. At thr
formal opening in 1886 A. J. Poppleton In his address referred to thi
time twenty-five years before when he had bullded his home on the
same ground to be far away from the hum of tho business district.
During the time that the building was held by tho Exposition com
pany Pattl sang there-to an $11,000 audience. The Exposition
building was the scene of numerous charity balls. 8am Jones held
meetings there and John L. Sullivan there displayed his brawn and
skill. The west half of the Exposition building was latxr converted
lnta what was known as tho Grand theater, while the east end was
continued as a convention hall.
Famous among the old umusr-ment houses was the Eden Musee,
established by William Lawler and J. E. Sacked, at the northwest
corner of Eleventh and Farnani streets, In a building that had
(Continued on Page Four.)