Paul Robeson: Baritone, Activist and Renaissance Man

Although Paul Robeson was born in New Jersey, for twelve years he made Enfield, Connecticut his home. The baritone and radio singer was best known for his title role in “Othello” in the 1930s and 1940s, which he portrayed in various venues between London and New York. Robeson performed in numerous American plays and Hollywood films, including Borderline (1930), The Emperor Jones (1933), and Show Boat (1936). Robeson performed regularly at the Bushnell Memorial Theater, having sung in their first Concert Series in 1945 with such songs as “Deep River” and “Ritual Fire Dance”. Continue reading

Dollie McLean: From the West Indies to the Capital City

Born (Dollie) Clarice Helene Simmons in Antigua, West Indies, Dollie McLean was raised in Manhattan, later lived in the Bronx, and graduated from both the University of Hartford and FIT. Mrs. McLean has been an avid participant in the arts throughout her life, having performed off-Broadway as an actress and dancer with various organizations like the Negro Ensemble Company. Continue reading

Beyond the Nutcracker in Hartford

2001_75 dracula‘Tis the season for theatrical performances, and almost nothing has become more synonymous with this time of year than the Nutcracker. Yet despite the Nutcracker’s popularity, there have been numerous other showcases in Hartford over the years, which may not be as popular, but still maintain a place in history. Continue reading

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

On November 25, 1882, the public was invited to attend two performances of the “Standard Combination” version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Roberts’ Opera House in Hartford, Connecticut. We recently acquired a ticket to the performance, a bright yellow rectangle of cardboard with the ticket information on one side and a vignette of slaves dancing on the other side.

Vignette of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Acc. 2011.083

The performance was probably by the Howard family, who began their career in Troy, New York, in 1852 and continued performances for 35 years. George Aiken wrote the play based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work, but stopped at the death of Eva. Shortly thereafter, he wrote a second four-act play to complete the tale. The entire work was known as “The Standard Combination.”

Roberts’ Opera House was located at 395 Main Street in Hartford. The theater opened in 1869 to wide acclaim. The space was used for not only theatrical events, but meetings and musical performances as well. See our blog post of September 30th, 2010 for more about Roberts’ Opera House and the record of programs offered.

Visit our Research Center to see this and other unique items at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Roberts’ Opera House: Finest Place of Amusement in New England

In January 1869 the Roberts’ Opera House opened on Main Street in Hartford, Connecticut. In an article announcing the event, the New York Times called it the “finest place of amusement in New-England.” Today I was cataloging a ledger with listings of performances at the Opera House between 1871 and 1886. Each entry includes the name of the performer(s) and the amount of money collected at each event.

Roberts' Opera House records, 1871-1886, Ms 26034. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

A variety of acts, lecturers, and other performance groups entertained at Roberts’. There were many minstrel acts, some from as far away as California. Readings, lectures, operas, and marionette acts also occurred. Over the years many performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin took place. Operas, such as a performance of Don Giovanni, brought in the largest sums (over $2700 for a performance in February 1872). Most, though, would yield a couple hundred dollars. At only $50, the Mansfield Seance in May 1878 was one of the lower grossing events. At the end of each year the total receipts were recorded, along with an average per show.

Roberts' Opera House records, 1871-1886, Ms 26034. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Some well-known people and groups took the stage, including Buffalo Bill, the Yale Glee Club, and Henry Ward Beecher. Others are less familiar to us today, such as Maid of Columbia, Waifs of New York, and Schools for Scandal. Black Crook held many performances, but I only noted one mention of Barnum’s Aggregation. In the later years temperance lectures were held in the hall, and it was used more than once by the Catholic Society. A newspaper clipping stored with the volume lists performances from 1870, including a two-headed girl!

If you are interested in researching amusement in Hartford, come visit! This volume is open for research.