6/15/11

Burns' Donation to Green-Wood Cemetery

The Green-Wood Cemetery will be acquiring an album long in the Burns Collection. Dr.Burns first exhibited the album in 1978. It is a rare example of a complete theatre album by Napoleon Sarony (1820-1896) who was the top celebrity portraitist of his time. Sarony is noted for his images of stage performers and other notables including Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. The piece is a leather-bound carte de visite album commemorating the 100th performance on March 27th, 1875 of the successful production The Two Orphans at the Union Square Theatre (located between Broadway and 4th Ave). 

The Two Orphans was a great success at the Union Square Theatre with over 150 performances. The production toured and was eventually brought to the Brooklyn Theatre, a run which ended tragically with the legendary Brooklyn Theatre Fire on December 5, 1876, which claimed the lives of over 278 (including audience members, theatre workers and actors). 

The fire remains one of the most grievous in New York City history.

The Green-Wood Cemetery is the perfect resting place for this rare Sarony album. At the cemetery a monument was erected to honor the unknown dead and poor who died in the fire.  Actress Kate Claxton who survived the fire is also interred there. Napoleon Sarony, the photographer, chose Green-Wood as his final resting place as well. The album will be listed as a partial gift from Dr. Burns.

The Cover and Spine of The Album. The Label with Sarony's famous signature is found on the other side of the front cover.
The Cast List
A page from the Album
Stage actress Kate Claxton who was considered 'cursed' after a hotel she stayed in following The Brooklyn Theatre Fire also went down in flames.
“We thought we were acting for the best in continuing the play as we did, with the hope that the fire would be put out without difficulty, or that the audience would leave gradually or quietly. But the result proved that it was not the right course… The curtain should have been kept down until the flames had been extinguished, or if it had been found impossible to cope with them, the audience should have been calmly informed that indisposition on the part of some member of the company, or some unfortunate occurrence behind the scenery compelled a suspension of the performance, and they should have been requested to disperse as quietly as they could. Raising the curtain created a draft which fanned the flames into fury.”—Kate Claxton, New York Times, November 30, 1885

The photo of Kate Claxton (above) and the following are all carte de visite photographs from the Sarony Two Orphans Theatre Album:







Image Courtesy of CharmaineZoe
Union Square Theatre

The Union Square Theatre operated from 1870 to 1936 when it was raised. It became a vaudeville and finally a movie house, when toward the end it was advertised as the only "American Soviet Kino" with a straight diet of Soviet films. 
The Brooklyn Theatre After a Deadly Performance of The Two Orphans

The Brooklyn Theatre Fire (wikipedia)
...The Two Orphans, presented on the night of the fire, was a melodrama about two young homeless orphans separated by abduction. One was blind and fell into poverty-stricken circumstances; the other was kidnapped into an affluent household.[15] It had been particularly successful play, running for 180 performances in 1874 at the Union Square Theatre.[16] Originally Les Deux Orphelines, by Adolphe d'Ennery and Eugene Cormon,[14] it had been adapted to the American stage by Jackson N. Hart.[16] Shook and Palmer bought it to the Brooklyn Theatre in March, 1876 after an American tour, including one performance at the Brooklyn Theatre on April 12, 1875, two weeks before Sara Conway's death.[17] The 1876 run at the Brooklyn Theatre was well received but was ending.[18] At the time of the fire, Palmer indicated that a number of Union Square Theatre productions had been scheduled for the Brooklyn Theatre and that all the scenes and properties for "Ferrsol", "Rose Michel," "Conscience," and "Colonel Sellers," as well as the wardrobe for "The Two Orphans" and a suite of furniture for "Rose Michel" had been stored on the premises.[13]
Kate Claxton, H. S. Murdoch and J. B. Studley at first urged the audience to remain calm and be seated.[45] Thomas Rochford, head usher, went to the auditorium when he heard someone yell 'Fire!' "Mr. Studley and Mr. Murdoch sung out to the people to keep their seats. I also stopped quite a number going out who were making a rush. Finally a good many of them cooled down and took their seats."[51] 
From his vantage point high in the family circle, Charles Vine thought that Claxton was “the nerviest woman I ever saw… [She] came out with J. B. Studley, and said the fire would be out in a few moments. She was white as a sheet, but she stood up full of nerve."[42]
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported Claxton saying, “There is no danger; the flames are a part of the play.” The assertion was disingenuous – fire had no part in the story – and would prove short lived. “As she spoke,” the Eagle continued in its December 6 coverage, “a burning piece of wood fell at her feet, and she uttered an involuntary exclamation of alarm. This broke the spell which had heretofore held the audience.”[52]
Panic erupted, and thought turned to quelling it. J. B. Studley in particular reasoned: "If I have the presence of mind to stand here between you and the fire, which is right behind me, you ought to have the presence of mind to go out quietly."[53] Kate Claxton echoed J. B. Studley's line, and stage manager J. W. Thorpe appeared,[34] also urging an orderly exit. But the audience was now thoroughly panicked and the people on the stage were ignored or went unheard.
Claxton later recalled, “We were now almost surrounded by flames; it was madness to delay longer. I took Mr. Murdoch by the arm and said 'Come, let us go.' He pulled away from me in a dazed sort of way and rushed into his dressing room, where the fire was even then raging … To leap from the stage into the orchestra in the hope of getting out through the front of the house would only be to add one more to the frantic, struggling mass of human beings who were trampling each other to death like wild beasts.”[45]
Claxton remembered that a private passage from the leading lady's dressing room ran through the basement to the box office, and through that she and Maude Harrison, the actress who played Henriette, the other orphan, bypassed much of the crush in the lobby.[45] Murdoch and Claude Burroughs thought there was sufficient time to grab street clothing from their dressing rooms − it was December and their stage costumes were flimsy. For want of creature comfort they became trapped and did not escape.[54] Some of the acting company left by the stage doors exiting onto Johnson Street,[51][55][56] but the fire on the stage soon became widespread, cutting those exits off. All of the remaining exits were in the front of the house, the main entrance exiting onto Washington street or the special exit doors leading into Flood's Alley.[24]
A Monument to the Unidentified Dead of the
Brooklyn Theatre Fire at Green-Wood Cemetery (Erected 1876). 
Actress Kate Claxton who survived the fire was buried at Green-Wood in 1924.
Photographer Napoleon Sarony was Laid to Rest in Green-Wood in 1896.

1 comment:

  1. The prior leasees of the theater, Sarah Crocker Conway and husband Frederick B Conway are also buried in Greenwood Cemetery. They both died just a year or two before the fire. They both ran the Theatre from 1871 until their deaths in 1874/75

    ReplyDelete