The best minstrel show of the season was given by the Lincoln Light infantry to a whole Lansing full of people last night. The audience was large in every sense of the word. The officers of the National guard and the Omaha Light infantry company occupied the boxes. The performance itself was very much better than most amateur performances presented by the gilded youth of a town, probably because a minstrel show is better fitted to the capabilities of amateurs than many other theatrical ventures.
At promptly 8:15 the curtain rose upon a dark scene and the program began. The music was exceptionally good for amateur music. "Mamie Come Kiss Your Honey Boy" was well rendered by Mr. Moore . Mr. Frank Burr's variations and amendments to the somewhat ancient and familiar strain, "Move On," were very clever and drew forth repeated encores from his hearers. Mr. Chris Camp's solo was very good and his floral tributes were unique and loaded with meaning. Mr. Yol A. Bostrom's version of "Love Me Little, Love Me Long," was the musical hit of the evening. He must compose rapidly, for he good-naturedly responded to six encores and never gave us "the same thing over again." His local hits were particularly gratifying. Mr. Ed Butler sang the newest song that has been heard in Lincoln for an age. He had a good voice, which is something unusual in a soloist, and sang with such ease and self-possession that he can scarcely be called an amateur. His floral offerings were of such a deep and suggestive nature that it was well that he temporarily belonged to a race that is born to blush unseen. As it was one could almost see his blushes through his burnt cork. The curtain fell upon part 1 with a very pleased and contented crowd on this side of the curtain.
Part 2 was opened by the popular magician, Mr. Will O'Shea, in a sort of reminiscence of Hermann . Mr. O'Shea did many astonishing feats, though some of his tricks failed to "go off."
Mr. Bostrom's "few minutes" were just a few minutes too many. They had all the essential coarseness of minstrel fun without its wit.
Messrs. Burr, Moore and Curtice performed very creditably on the mandolin and guitar. They make a strong trio. Mr. Harry Wilson attired as an ice cream summer youth handled the clubs with great enthusiasm and success. His manifold "circles" and his throwing of the clubs was very skilful.
The great feature of the second part, and perhaps of the entire program, was the triple bar exhibition by Messrs. Bing and Wittman . Evidently these gentlemen do not work at the bars in a dilletante way. They go at it like professionals of the first order. Everyone, from the circus loving youth in the gallery to the ladies in evening dress, got excited when the gymnasts began. There was a dazzling splendor about their tights and a dash and daring about their performance that made one think he was witnessing the great standing bill that is running now in Madison Square garden . From what one remembers of Barnum and Bailey and Robinson and other circuses, one would say that Lincoln would have to look a long time among the professionals before she would find better bar performers than Messers. Bing and Wittman. They executed with apparent ease and very apparent grace some of the most difficult feats known to triple bar gymnastics.
Mr. Burr's round dance was very fetching, though he fell a little short of the mark where the kicking was concerned. Men never do kick well; their ideals are not lofty enough. They had better leave the kicking to ladies, they are too modest to ever attain any very high degree of merit in that line. Finally the leopards did change their spots and the Ethiopians their skins and the Lincoln Light infantry appeared and covered themselves with glory in their drill.
minstrel show: Minstrel shows usually consisted of three parts: it began with the walkaround, a comedy routine with jokes between the interlocutor in the center and the end men; the second part, the "olio" was a variety show of songs, instrumental music (usually violin, banjo, tambourines and other rhythm instruments, such as the bones), dancing, and jokes, ending with a comic skit; the last part was the finale, usually music and dancing. Minstrel shows as such began with the Virginia Minstrels (white men in blackface) who played in New York in 1843. Traditionally the black makeup was from burnt cork. Minstrel troupes with African Americans became more common after the Civil War; though much of the humor was directed against the speech, customs, and character of African Americans, the minstrel shows provided a stage for black performers and an outlet for black composers.
Lincoln Light infantry: One of the two regiments of the Nebraska National Guard; it was commanded by Col. J. P. Bratt from 1890 to 1898.
Light infantry are less heavily armed and equipped than regular infantry, making them more mobile for such duties as skirmishing. The term came to apply to elite units.
Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.
The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.
National guard: The Nebraska National Guard in the early 1890s was organized into two regiments of infantry (each with ten companies and a band), one of artillery, and two battalions of cavalry; it was limited to 2,000 men, all volunteers, although the governor, as commander-in-chief, could draft men if necessary. The Adjutant-General-at this time Brigadier General L. W. Colby, who served from 1887 to 1896-was the Guards' military commander.
Omaha Light infantry company: Presumably one of the two regiments of the Nebraska National Guard; it was commanded by Col. C. J. Bills from 1890 to 1896.Cather may be using "company" loosely to mean regiment, since the officers of a company—a captain and his lieutenants—would be few and relatively low-ranking.
Gilded youth: The expression "gilded youth" came to mean merely well-to-do young men of some leisure; originally, the jeunesse dorée were groups of wealthy anti-jacobins in the period of the Directory during the French Revolution.
Mamie Come Kiss Your Honey Boy: The early sheet music of "Mamie, Come Kiss Your Honey Boy" attributes the authorship of the words and music of this "New Negro Melody" to popular actress and singer of "coon songs," May Irwin (1862-1938), who sang it in A Country Sport (1893). A later, undated version attributes the words to Chas. Jerome. The verse begins, "Stars shone bright and the moon gave light."
Mr. Moore: The Lincoln city directories for 1892 through 1895 list dozens of men named Moore. Young men of the most socially prestigious Moore family would have been Charles H. Moore and Thomas Moore, nephews of then Lieutenant-governor R. E. Moore, head of the Security Investment company, the firm for which Cather's father worked in the 1890s. According to James Woodress' Willa Cather: A Literary Life, Charles Moore gave Cather a gold snake ring which she wore all her life (124).
C. C. Burr: Carlos C. Burr (1846-1927) was a lawyer and Lincoln, Nebraska, pioneer. He and his wife Mary (Smith) Burr also had a real estate and loan company. C. C. Burr had built the Burr block at 12th and O St., then Lincoln's tallest building; he was mayor of Lincoln, 1885-1887, and served two terms in the state legislature. The family lived at 1530 L St until they left Nebraska c. 1895.
"Move On,": Although Cather refers to this as a standard song, "Move On" does not appear as a title in indexes to American popular songs and sheet music.
Mr. Chris Camp: Christy M. Camp (d. 1927) was a partner with his father in the firm of D. W. Camp and Son, carriage makers. The family lived at 1719 L St. Christy Camp died in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was brought to Lincoln for burial at Wyuka; the family requested "that no flowers be sent" (Lincoln Star, 4 April 1927).
Loaded with meaning: Presumably the flowers had symbolic meaning in the nineteenth century's language of flowers, or a parody version of it.
Yol A. Bostrom: The Lincoln city directories record a Yohnar A. Bostrom, a clerk at the Globe Clothing Company, in 1893, and a Yol A. Bostrom, very likely the same man, as clerk for Deutsch Bros., in 1895; the names do not appear in the 1894 directory, or after 1895.
Love Me Little, Love Me Long: Percy Gaunt (1852-1896), the composer for Hoyt's shows, wrote a song, "Love Me Little, Love Me Long" (1893), apparently inserted in later versions of Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown (1891). It begins:Put your arms around me honey,Even if you have no money,Love me little, love me long!For you know I'm in a hurry,When my heart is in a flurry,Love me little, love me long!I'd fly away on high,Knock a hole up in the sky,hear the angels sing their brightest song!Get a move and do not tarry,If you do we will not marry,Love me little, love me long!CHORUSStand from under!I'm goin' up yonder,Yonder be the skies!Put your arms around me, honey,Even if you have no money—Love me little, love me long!One of Charles Reade's most popular novels was Love Me Little, Love Me Long (1859); that title was probably based on proverbial sayings dating from the sixteenth century, or a seventeenth century song of this title, attributed to Robert Herrick. That song began:Love me little, love me long,Is the burden of my song.Love that is too hot and strongBurneth soon to waste.That ballad was set to music by various composers, including John Phillip Sousa (Op. 37) in 1877, R. F. Cardella (1868), and an E.T. P. in 1879.
Mr. E. R. Butler: Edward R. Butler (c. 1873-1944), son of Lincoln pioneer, real estate man, and builder John J. Butler, and Mary Kennedy Butler, was born in Lincoln and was a clerk for the Burlington Railroad in 1893 and 1894; in the 1895 Lincoln city directory he is listed as a clerk for the real estate company of his father. The family lived at 1726 N St. He was secretary of the Catholic Union Club in 1894. In his later career he was an traveling agent for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and was the agency manager for the Nebraska Central Building and Loan Association. He was a member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church at the time of his death.
born to blush unseen: One stanza of Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" (1750) runs: Full many a gem of purest ray sereneThe dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
William O'Shea: There are two William O'Sheas listed in the Lincoln city directories, but the most likely is the O'Shea who was a "traveler" (traveling salesman) in the early 1890s for the N. P. Curtice Co., a piano and music store.
Herrmann: Alexander Herrmann (1844-1896)—known as "Herrmann the Great"—was born in Paris. As a boy he served his older brother, magician Carl Herrmann (d.1887), as an assistant, thus getting his own start. He became tremendously successful in Europe and the U.S., where he became a citizen, making as much as $100,000 a year, with a house on Long Island, a private railroad car, and a yacht. He married Adelaide Scarcez in 1875; she served as his assistant and after his death of a heart attack in 1896, continued the act with his nephew, Leon Herrmann. Herrmann, the Magician: His Life, His Secrets was published in 1896.
Curtice: Ross P. Curtice (c. 1873-1956), son of Norman P. Curtice, owner of the N. P. Curtice piano and music store at 207 S. 11th St., is listed in the 1895 city directory as secretary of the N. P. Curtice company. The family lived at 1942 G St. Ross Curtice became owner of the company when his father died in 1895; he renamed it after himself and expanded it to include furniture and rugs. When he sold the business in 1929, the firm had five stores in Nebraska. Thereafter he went into the loan and investment business. Active in civic affairs, he helped develop Lincoln's parks, and was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Country Club, the Kiwanis, the University Club, and the Patriarchs. He married a sister of Frank S. Burr.
Mr. Harry Wilson: Harry M. Wilson, son of E. M. and Sarah Wilson, was foreman of the Lincoln Newspaper Union, according to the 1892-95 Lincoln city directories. He lived with his widowed mother at 826 S. 11th St. 1894-95.
triple bar exhibition by: Probably a set of three uneven parallel bars, on which performers do routines similar to those of the more usual modern set of two uneven bars.
Messrs. Bing: Probably Edward R. Bing (born about 1871), a rodman and later draftsman in the city engineer's office, or possibly his elder brother, William S. Bing (c. 1869-1927), a stencil cutter at the Newell Novelty Co. William Bing, however, is not listed in the 1894 or 1895 city directories; his obituary reported that he moved west, first to Salt Lake City, then to San Diego, about 1891 (Lincoln Star, 25 February 1927). Their parents were Jonathan Bing (1821-1900), a carpenter, and Louisa Bing (c. 1839-1918); the family lived at 1704 Washington.
Wittman: Of the three sons of German-born Henry Wittman (1852-1912), the most likely may be Joseph H. Wittman (born about 1874), a saddler with H. Wittman and Co., a saddlery and leather-goods maker. A second son, Otto (born about 1876), after studying at the Lincoln Business College, became bookkeeper for the family firm; the youngest, Lincoln O. Wittman, is first listed in the 1895 city directory as a student, and may have been too young to be a friend and gymnastics partner for Edward Bing. The family lived at 1001 L St.
great standing bill that is running now in Madison Square garden: Barnum and Bailey's circus usually played at Madison Square Garden when in New York City.
Barnum: P. T. Barnum (1810-1891) made his name first as an exhibitor of such characters as a woman who claimed to be George Washington's 161-year-old African American nurse and the midget Tom Thumb. He also brought singer Jenny Lind to America for a fabulously successful tour. His American Museum in New York was a huge showplace of oddities, some of them fraudulent.In 1870 Barnum organized a spectacular circus, which he soon called "The Greatest Show on Earth." It was one of the first to travel by rail all over the country. In 1888 Barnum merged his circus with that of James A. Bailey (1847-1906).
Bailey: James A. McGinness (1847-1906) joined a small itinerant family circus as a boy, and was adopted by one of them, taking the Bailey name. In 1872 he became a partner in James Cooper's Circus, known after 1876 as Cooper, Bailey and Co. Circus. He introduced the third ring to performances, and his circus was Barnum's chief competitor. After a brief partnership with Barnum in 1881, the two circuses merged in 1888, becoming Barnum and Bailey. Bailey was also a partner in other circuses, including the Sells Bros.-Forepaugh Circus.
Robinson: The Robinsons were a large circus family. John Robinson (1807-1888), known as "old John," and his three brothers began as performers in the early nineteenth century, and soon had their own shows; John's was the longest lasting, though his brother Alexander (1812-1887) had his own circus for thirty years. John Robinson's sons, John, Frank, Gilbert, Charles, and James, all performers themselves in their youth, took over management of their father's circus in 1871; they, and their own sons, had additional circus interests, usually in partnership with others. Old John's grandson, John G. Robinson, managed the circus from 1901 to 1916, when it was sold.
Leopards did change their spots and the Ethiopians their skins: Jeremiah 13.23 says: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to evil."