"The Derby Winner" was played by the St. Louis company at the Lansing last night. The audience was large, enthusiastic and political. There have been several plays by illiterate playwrights brought out this year and of them all "The Derby Winner" is certainly the worst. "On the Bowery," the play written and now being acted in New York by Steve Brodie , the noted Bowery bartender and all around tough, is a classic compared to this. The author of this perpetration is one Mr. Al Spinks , editor of a St. Louis sporting paper. Of course the play comes from St. Louis; there is no other spot on the globe that could produce quite such a play. The dialogue was fearful and wonderful, consisting of all the old gags shaken up in a hat and poured out at random. The characters utterly lacked consistency. The racing scene made one long to lay aside the tabernacle of clay. Beside this play the "Police Patrol" and the "Heroes of the Hook and Ladder" loom up as Shakespearean masterpieces. The play is not worthy of criticism and produces no impression except "that tired feeling." As for the actors, for their own sake we will not mention who they were.
The Derby Winner: The Derby Winner, a racing play by Alfred H. Spink of St. Louis, featured a cast of 42, six real race-horses (running on a treadmill), a stable scene, specialty numbers, and songs. The play had a local success in St. Louis, and although it was still touring in late 1895, Spink, who also produced it, went broke and lost his interest in the paper he had founded, The Sporting News.
St. Louis company: Alfred H. Spinks organized a company in St. Louis to put on his play, The Derby Winner (1894); Cather refused to name the actors and they have not been identified elsewhere.
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.
On the Bowery: The play, On the Bowery (1894), was written by Robert Neilson Stephens (b. 1867) to order when he was agent for a firm of theatrical managers. The play was perhaps meant to capitalize on the success of the song, "The Bowery," originally sung in Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown (1892). In the play, Brooklyn Bridge jumper Steve Brodie recreated his famous jump when the plot called for him to save his sweetheart, who had been pushed off the bridge by the villain.
Steve Brodie: Stephen (Steve) Brodie (1863-1901) was born in New York, and as a boy worked as a bootblack and a newsboy. A strong swimmer, he became a member of Capt. Ayer's Life Saving Corps on the East River, and is credited with a number of rescues. He became famous on July 24, 1886, as the man who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and lived. (However, it was alleged that this jump and a later one over Niagara Falls were faked.) He opened a saloon on the Bowery that featured a mural of his famous jump. Later he played himself in Stephens' melodrama, On the Bowery (1894), which toured for several years. An ad for the play called Brodie the "King of the Bowery." By 1899, Brodie was living in Buffalo, NY, where he opened another saloon featuring his jump.
Samuel S. Cohen recorded that as a boy in the early twentieth century, "We would still ask anyone about to take a big chance on something, 'What are you trying to do, take a Steve Brodie?'"
Bowery: The Bowery, a street and its associated district, had become an area of by the 1890s; it was not yet the slum it would become in the early twentieth century. The name comes from the Dutch word "bouwerij" when the future street was a path to farmland.
Mr. Alfred H. Spinks: Alfred H. Spink was born in Canada and came to St. Louis to work as a newspaperman. He founded The Sporting News in 1886, turning it over to his brother Charles when he wrote and produced his play, The Derby Winner (1894).
St. Louis sporting paper: The Sporting News was founded in 1886 by Alfred Spink and continued by his brother Charles and his descendants until 1977, when the paper was sold. Until 1940 it was devoted primarily to covering baseball, and nicknamed "the Bible of baseball." The Sporting News is credited with uncovering the World Series Black Sox scandal in 1919. By the 1990s it was the oldest national sports tabloid in the U. S.
tabernacle of clay: The human body, as opposed to the eternal spirit that dwells within it. The phrase is not found in the King James Bible, although it is used in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 3:5).
Police Patrol: The Police Patrol, a melodrama by Scott Marble, played in various minor theatres before opening at the Grand Opera House in October 1892. The New York Times review said it "holds a mirror up to police captains, safe-breaking, murder, love faithful under difficulties, and other interesting phenomena" (October 4, 1892).
Heroes of the Hook and Ladder: A play of this name, referring to firefighters, has not been identified; it presumably capitalized on the public interest in seeing real objects—firefighting tools, paddy wagons, mining equipment, racehorses—on the stage.
"that tired feeling": "That tired feeling" was a phrase used by many advertisers of nostrums in the late nineteenth century; for example, "Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound will help that tired feeling which many girls have," or, "That tired feeling which is so common and so overpowering is entirely driven off by Hood's Sarsaparilla, the best blood purifier." It became a stock phrase, sometimes used ironically to indicate disgust.