NMHS Newsletter  May 1989

The Hamilton Opera House A Memoir 1880-1962
by Dr. L. Z. Bunker

The Hamilton Opera House was built in 1880 by Samuel Hamilton, a local Civil War veteran who had various business interests in North Manchester.  One of his projects was a large brick yard near Servia.  This brick, dark and hard surfaced, was used in the construction of the building which was located at 213 East Main Street.  The Opera House occupied the second floor of the building.  The width of the lot was 78.375 feet broad and extended 156.75 feet to the rear.  Beyond this were further sheds.

The first floor was occupied by Bus Johnson’ Livery Stable which had various vehicles for hire, including several enclosed and rather rusty, one-horse cabs, a huge “carry all”  used on Decoration Day, Fourth of July, etc., some two-seated buggies and surreys with fringe on top.  Horses were kept in stalls in the rear with hay and grain in the rear sheds.  The local bus, a two-horse vehicle, which was in attendance to the daily trains operated from here.

After a long occupancy by Johnson, the business was taken over by Ollie Jefferson, who occupied the brick residence next door at 215 East Main Street, now owned by the American Legion

Now to the Opera House—the entrance was off of Main Street and up a broad flight of stairs.  Inside, the area was spacious with several aisles.  Since the ceiling was high, there was a rear gallery reached by narrow stairs to the left of the main stairway.  Admission here was 25 cents.  Seating was on curved-back, hickory chairs, eight in a section, seats nailed to plank to keep them in order.  The floors were bare, the walls calcimined for many years in light blue.

Electric lights became available in 1894 in North Manchester and this is the probable reason that the Opera House stood so long and was not condemned in a major holocaust.

Inside the front, there was a large painted proscenium with the stage reaching across the rear of the building.  Three steps reached the state on each side and a round of foots lights illuminated the area.  There was also upper lighting.  Large canvas screens, painted to simulate trees, were on each side of the stage reaching to the ceiling.

In the midst of this was the stage curtain, two panels of which the Historical Society owns (due to the kindness of Mr. J. P. Freeman) brightly painted with a center scene of Warwick Castle.  This was surrounded by advertising signs of local businesses.  Curtains and much scenery were painted by C. E. Henney and his sister, Elizabeth Henney Rex.  For many years they maintained a studio and painted curtains for theatres all over the Midwest.

A modest amount of scenery and canvas screens was kept on hand, several interiors, a painted garden scene with gazebo, etc.  Traveling companies sometimes brought ponderous scenery and furniture, called props, by train.  All this to be hauled to the theatre on the local dray!

Backstage dressing rooms were impromptu, tongue and groove partitions, facilities Spartan indeed!

We do not know what the first performance was when the Opera House opened in 1880.  Our newspaper records do not extend beyond 1881, so this may be forever unknown, but since we were on two railroads, traveling theatrical companies frequently stopped here.

The Sheller Hotel register has the signatures of Nora Bayes of “Shine On Harvest Moon” fame.  Also, Fay Bainter.  Popular plays in the 1880’s were “Lena Rivers,”  “Last Days of Pompei,”  “ Way Down East,” and several Shakespearian plays.  “Twelfth Night” was rarely given, being considered too rowdy for ladies.  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a perennial favorite.  Traveling companies hauled in all manner of props and borrowed Newt Lautzenheiser’s blood hounds to pursue Eliza across the (artificial) ice!

There were no radios, no movies, no television, few magazines and no library so the Opera House was a real attraction.  There were, however, lectures, “magic lantern” shows, home talent and their “living tableaus” must have been a real sight.  Immortal J. N. hired the hall but never kept his promise to “lift the veil and reveal the future.”  Sometimes in the cooler months there were dances.  Since this was before air conditioning, activities usually avoided the summer.

Many local people considered the Opera House a fire trap and never set foot in it, but there were enough others who made it a scene of local activity.

W. G. Hatfield, who was the Hamilton’s son-in-law, acted as manager of the Opera House for many years.  He gave me his account book, extending from Sept. 17, 1900 to Nov. 5, 1917.  The first entry, Sept. 17, 1900 lists “Quo Vadis,” a religious play as the attraction.  Total receipts were $89.70, of which the owners of the Opera House got 20%, but they spent $6.20 on printing and posting bills.  Occasional entries follow-itinerant companies of rag tag mummers, and “fair week” in late September or early October was a week of theatre going.  This is repeated through the ledger.  Oct. 2, 1901, “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,” a one-night stand.  Home talent Dec. 10, 1901.  Dances were held Dec. 22 and 31 of that year.  The Kinney Komedy Kompany was here on several occasions, not too successfully apparently!

Each year there are expenses listed such as coal $6.00, so there must have been stoves for heat. 

1905 was busy theatrically.  Fair week, Oct. 2-8, the Dragon Company was here followed by The Alice Byron Company in November.  Also, there was a one-night production of “A Royal Slave.”  Each fall fair week brought a theatrical troupe like Hamilton Philips or Kinney Komedy Kompany.  Beginning in 1910 the Edward Doyle Company came here annually for the next eight years.

In the summer of 1914 a considerable renovation occurred.  An iron fire escape was put on the east side of the building at an expense of $150.00.  New scenery of the building at an expense of $150.00.  New scenery cost $100.00, a wash stand and plaster cost. $70.00 and electric lamps, $15.00.  $45.00 was spent on furniture and the painters earned $52.75 but supplied the paint.

The most prosperous entry in the old ledger is that of the Edward Doyle Company of six days, Sept. 4-9 in 1916. ; Gross income was $531.00, of which the company took 70% and the owners 30%.  Not only was the Doyle Company the most prosperous, but the most professional of the itinerant companies.  Dr. Doyle, himself the leading man, could be seen on local streets, neatly dressed in a cloak, brown morning coat, wing collar, ascot tie and brown derby hat.  The epitome of fashion.

Popular plays during these years were Bulwer Lytton’s “Richelieu,” and the old Shakespearean standbys, “Richard III,”  “Julius Caesar,”  and  “As You Like It.”  “Camille” languished and died in the aging Opera House.

Times change and we change in them.  By 1917 we had two movie theatres, on ground floor with safety exits, and a nickelodeon.  The Chautauqua came to town with snappy Broadway shows like “Free Man From Home” by Booth Tarkington, “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” and “It Pays to Advertise.”  By the early 1920’s the radio “crystal set” appeared and entertainment in the USA changed totally.  Tour shows, the old standby, had become motorized troupes playing in tents, as were other theatrical troupes.  One in Manchester in 1918 played a raucous extravaganza called “Getting Gertie’s Garter!”

By 1920 one of the chief activities at the Opera House was basketball games, later transferred to the new high school gymnasiums.  A few meetings, a few dances and one by one the activities in the old place fell away.  By the late 1920’s the livery business was gone and Stuckey Brothers operated the Oldsmobile Sales and Garage on the ground floor.  The upstairs was vacant with only echoes of the past.  By 1962 the building was torn down and the present day parking lot constructed.

In Memoriam

The editors would like, in this way, to pay tribute to the late Ernest Eschbach who wrote the bylaws of our organization when it was reorganized in the era of the Indiana Sesquicentennial.

C. D. Johnson Livery Stable and Bus Line [taken from The Journal, November 22, 1888]

In giving a review of the business of North Manchester it is our endeavor to make it as complete as possible.  Among the many enterprises that go to make up the commercial world, the livery business forms a very important part.  The establishment indicated in the caption of this article is the best and most complete in this part of the state.  In fact there are few metropolitan cities that can lay claim to a finer, better equipped and better managed livery stable than that of C. D. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson has been engaged in business in our city for the past 23 years.  He devoted seven years of that time to the blacksmithing business.  He then started a bus and transfer line and for a number of years did all of the hauling and transfer work that was done in the town.  He transacted all the express business and for the past 16 years has carried the mail to the entire satisfaction of the different administrations.  His present business was begun on a very limited scale 13 years ago and has steadily developed into its magnificent proportions.  He completed the building he now occupies 8 years ago.  An elevator transfers the vehicles not in use from one floor to the other.  The gas for lighting purposes is furnished from a private machine, in fact everything about the place has a city-fied air not often seen in places the size of North Manchester.

Mr. Johnson shows an aptitude for the business that few can lay claim to.  He is watchful, energetic and employs only the most trustworthy.  His stables are models of convenience, there being a place for everything and everything kept in its place.  Mr. Johnson keeps none but first-class turnouts and will have no others.  He believes that it does not cost any more to keep a good horse than a poor one.  He has as pleasant drivers, both single and double, as one could wish to sit behind.  His turnouts are first-class and he is prepared to furnish you with any kind of a rig from a road cart to most elegant carriages.  Mr. Johnson takes great pride in keeping everything in prime order.   When you get a rig at his stable you do it with an assurance that everything is in the best of order and have no danger to fear from any neglect on his part.  He runs a “bus to all trains and makes inducements to traveling men when wanting anything in the line of livery.”

A Bison for China by Orpha Weimer

“The Governor wants an Indiana bison or buffalo,” these words but nothing more!  It couldn’t be a live one but what then—a model or a carving perhaps, and where would it come from?  Such was the speculation floating about in the spring of 1987.  Mrs. Eleanor Schmedel Himebaugh was astute enough to find the answer.

Folks around N. Manchester will remember Mrs. Himebaugh as the brown-eyed, brown-haired daughter of Roland and Mildred Schmedel who spent her childhood years growing up in our town.  Like father , like son, is the old adage but this time it should be stretched a little to include “like daughter” also.

Roland Schmedel, before his death, was owner and editor of the News Journal for 30 years.  Both his son and daughter seem to be following his footsteps into journalism.  Scott writes under his own byline for The Wall Street Journal and Eleanor is lifestyle editor for The Times-Mail out of Bedford, Indiana.  Eleanor took some work at Manchester College, but graduated from Indiana University.  She then married, moved to Michigan and started her family.  Later the family moved to southern Indiana.  Now with the children grown up, she has more time and having cut her teeth, so to speak, on journalism, she too has turned to this field of work.

The Governor wanting a buffalo was unusual enough to catch her eye, and working at Bedford, which is in the very heart of the Indiana limestone area, she sensed a newsy story.  Quietly Eleanor began sleuthing around and soon uncovered enough facts to piece together a very interesting news article.

It seems that the then Governor Robert Orr of Indiana had been interested for years in Oriental art and culture.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons he has recently made a tentative bid for an embassy post in Singapore.

Back in the fall of 1986, when China was being opened up to world trade, Governor Orr was busily setting up trade, educational and cultural ties with the province of Zhejiang, China.  In 1987, Governor and Mrs. Orr made three trips to Zhejiang, part social, part educational and part business.  In July of that year he and Governor Shen Zu Lun of Zhejiang signed a sister-state agreement as a result of the year long negotiations.  During the opening ceremonial banquet in Zhejiang, Governor Shen enthusiastically  stated that the people of Zhejiang province would send to their sister state of Indiana a pair of carved lions to be made of native Beijing marble.  These are the traditional good luck symbols used in China to guard entrances to important buildings.  Our lions have arrived and can now be seen at the entrance to the Indianapolis Zoo.

Governor Orr then announced he would send as a reciprocal gift from the people of Indiana, and made of Indian limestone, a bison or buffalo, the animal being pictured on our state seal.  This animal was chosen since we do not have an official state animal.

The nitty gritty was how to make his words good and where to find such a carving.  In old fashioned parliance, he was out on a limb and it was being sawed off behind him.

Governor Orr took his problem to a friend, Larry Ingram, of the Indiana State Bank.  After much consultation they decided to get a block of good gray limestone from near Bedford and agreed that the place to start was with the Elliott Stone Company near there.  The Elliott Company is one of the best in the industry.  David Elliott was most obliging and even offered to help in finding a carver.  This was not an easy task for the art of stone carving is nearly a dying art.

Mr. Elliott finally located two men who would consider the job---the Boruff brothers.  The older brother was not retired and the younger had worked in St. Louis for 21 years before retiring.  Both men were World War II veterans and came from a stone carving family.  Virgil, the younger, admitted that he still liked to “putter around” with stone and made small models as a hobby.  “I can make anything people want if they give me something to look at,” he modestly stated.  Apparently David Elliott knew his men when he contacted them.

Virgil made a small model to show Governor Orr.  No style or pattern was given them except for a toy plastic replica, but the model was accepted and the brothers undertook the contract.

When Mrs. Himebaugh first heard the bison tale and scented a story, she also knew something of the limestone area around Bedford.  She learned that the Elliott Stone Company had quite recently had delivered a large block of gray stone to one of their sheds in the middle of the complex.   With quickening interest, she contacted the carvers.  She managed to secure firsthand interviews with the Boruff brothers themselves.  From them she learned a lot about this dying art craft and the complexity of the work ahead of them.  They had agreed to drop everything and begin the task on Labor Day, 1988.

The brothers have been in the stone business 42 years and Lester declared, “Once you start, it goes real fast.”  They expected it would take five to six weeks.  All told, the animal was to be 2/3 life size.  “We don’t do much measuring, we mostly use our eyes,” they said.  “It will be real life looking,” insisted the older.   “About 250 hours of chipping and that’s real good limestone,” he insisted seriously.  “We can make good time.”

In their carving or cutting the two men chipped away half of the weight of the 8 ton block.  The finished animal was 7 feet, 7 inches long; 5 feet, 6 inches high; and 3 feet, 2 inches wide.  “We think it will weigh about 4 tons once we finish,” remarked Virgil. 

Mrs. Himebaugh contacted the governor’s office for more information.  Governor Orr’s aide had not expected to release the story until nearer the date set for the final closing banquet with the Chinese guests and their reporters, along with various state officials, later in October.

Mrs. Himebaugh had thoroughly scooped the Indianapolis reporters with her excellent article.  She was invited to a luncheon in Bedford with the Governor and other state officials, but could not attend because she developed a nasty respiratory flu the day before the unveiling.

During the week of November 16, 1988, quite a cavalcade of Indiana citizens journeyed to Bedford to view the bison before it started its long journey to its new home.    The Zhejiang guests could not attend the Bedford ceremonies because of some last-minute hold up on their visas.  However, the bison was displayed in downtown Bedford for the community as well as state officials.  Everyone seemed glad-hearted except possible the Boruffs.

“Now it would be nice to have the carving stay here,” said Virgil, “now it’s all finished.  I worked at the McMillan Mill when a carving was made 12 years ago that was sent to Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania.  It was a gift during the centennial of the United States.  But we haven’t anything here in Monroe or Lawrence counties where the stone actually comes from,” he spoke wistfully.  “Nothing to represent this carving art and the vanishing breed of carvers, as well as the nearly extinct animals that one roamed across our land.”

No tax dollars were spent on the project.  It was funded by banks in Indianapolis and Bedford---and, of course, by Dave and Judy Elliott who donated the stone, the labor for quarrying and hauling the stone, and the shed and equipment for the Boruff brothers to use.  In this so recent election year, it’s hard to say---was it worth all the political wheeling and dealing that went with it?  Maybe so, maybe so!  But there is another way of looking at it.  Was it really an honest-to-goodness, friendly exchange denoting a peaceful understanding between two states in their bid for mutual understanding and economic support?

Anyway, our lions don’t roar and I’m sure a four-ton bison will do very little roaming.  A few of us naïve folk can look at them and smile and say, “Yes, I’m sure it was a thoughtful exchange of peace and good will.”  But aren’t we all glad that Mrs. Himebaugh, a local home-grown girl, was astute enough to capture the story.  [Information used with permission of The Times-Mail, Bedford, Indiana.]

The Story of the Lincoln Monument and Its Donor, Alexander New
 by Homer T. Showalter

Alexander New was born in Wabash on June 2, 1861, the son of Isaac and Henrietta New.  These parents came to America from Bavaria in 1840, living first in New York City, then in Atlanta, from where they moved to Wabash.  Here Isaac opened a clothing store – I. New and Son – which was successful and operated until 1933, in late years by Henry New. 

Ten children were born to Isaac and Henrietta.  In addition to Alexander were brothers Charles, Joseph, Theodore, Henry and Martin, who died in infancy, and sisters Hannah N. Barth, Nell N. Livingston, Rosetta N Myers and Jeannette N. Blumenthal.  The ability of the parents to raise and educate this large family in a strange land testifies to their energy and strength of character.

Alexander New attended Wabash schools and after graduation from High School majored in Law at Washington and Jefferson University, where he was graduated in 1886.  After study and experience in the office of Cowgill, Shively and Cowgill in Wabash, he went to Indianapolis where he had further experience and was admitted to the Bar.  Feeling that there was better opportunity in Kansas City he moved there, became a partner in a law firm and then joined a larger firm.  His success was meteoric and from 1895 to 1913 he had an excellent reputation as a trial lawyer in Kansas City and throughout the state.

He became convinced that his greatest opportunity was in Business or Corporation Law.  Having inherited a talent for marketing he became known as a “business physician” and in 1915 was called to New York City to become President of Mercantile Stores Corporation.  He also served as General Counsel for the Cudahy Corporation; Equitable Life Assurance Society; Oklahoma, Missouri and Gulf Railway; Penn Mutual Life; and many other widely known companies.  At Kansas City he was interested in hospital expansion and other civic enterprises.  After 15 years of outstanding success with Mercantile Stores he was made Board Chairman in 1930 but served in that capacity for only a year as he died in Tucson, Arizona, on April 5, 1931.  He had never married, dedicating his life to his profession and public service.

In his later years Alexander New decided to provide a memorial in Wabash to his parents, who had the thrift, courage and energy to succeed in business and contribute to their city while raising a fine family.  He became acquainted with the famous sculptor, Charles Keck, and commissioned him to create a statue of Abraham Lincoln, whom he had always admired.  In 1930 New brought Keck to Wabash to select a site for the statue.  During this last visit to his old home he spoke to boyhood friends and of his love for Wabash and of his plans to present the statue to it.  He is an example of a Wabash boy who had outstanding success and also the vision and the generosity to express his gratitude in an enduring and inspiring way.

“The Great Emancipator”

The LINCOLN MONUMENT was placed on the Court House Lawn on May 31, 1932.  The County Commissioners had been notified previously of the wishes of Mr. New to place the memorial there and had granted their permission in March.  The complete polished granite stones, properly inscribed, as well as the bronze statue were ready for shipment.  As the Mayor of Wabash I was asked to sit in at a meeting in the Court House to discuss details of the completion and acceptance of the gift.  I met there a group of people, among them Mrs. James Wilson, Mrs. Harry Pettit, Mrs. Isaac Beitman, Mrs. J. D. Adams and two or three others interested in the project.  They introduced me to a Mr. Benish of New York City, a monument dealer who had the contract for furnishing the granite and the bronze statue.

I was told that Mr. New had set aside some $75,000, a good part of which was to be used for the memorial dedicated to his father and mother.  I asked Mr. Benish who was to set the monument, and he told me that he had one proposal from a Chicago firm which offered to do the job for $250.  I asked about the weight of the blocks of stone and he told me that four of the pieces weighed 8,200 pounds and the smaller pieces 6,200 pounds.  I told him I was also in the monument business and would be happy to set the stone for $245.  He agreed that would be fine and asked me to draw up a contract, which I did, and he signed it.  Plans were made for the ceremony, which was set for May 31.  In the meantime I made arrangements with Ollie Brown, with whom I had worked for years.  He had the truck, the men and the equipment to handle the heavy blocks of polished granite.

About May 20 a flat car from Quincy, Massachusetts arrived containing the granite pieces for the base as well as the bronze statue. I called Ollie Brown and we immediately got the bars, rollers, blocks and boards necessary to handle the monument.  The foundation had been finished six weeks before by Fred Hoffman, but it required three full days to set the several pieces and lead the joints.  We had plenty of advice and help that we didn’t need from the crowds  that collected.  Mr. New had ordered the best extra-dark Quincy Granite that money could buy, all beautifully polished.  In the meantime, Emmanuel Gackenheimer, who operated a drug store across the street, came over and asked if he might place a container of pictures and newspapers in the hollow space between the blocks.  I agreed, and before long we had quite a collection of fruit jars and other containers that people brought in.

On  the third day we brought over the statue, placed it on top of the granite and uncrated it.  The crowd was amazed at the size and general appearance of the Great Emancipator.  I knew at once that we were looking at a masterpiece, produced by Charles Keck, one of the leading sculptors of his time.  We then covered the memorial with canvas and prepared for the big celebration.  Two of the sisters of Mr. New, as well as Mr. Keck, arrived during the week and were wined and dined by the elite of the city, all enjoying it immensely.

On May 31 a huge crowd, estimated at 6,000 people, gathered on the lawn, in the streets, and on the steps---and even the roof ---of the Court House to watch and hear the program.  Dr. Frank E. Jaynes, the beloved pastor of the Christian Church gave the address, and it was well received.  At the proper time the canvas was released and several thousand people had their first glimpse of Honest Abe, sitting with bowed head as if in deep study.  It was very impressive.  Mr. Keck was introduced to the crowd as the sculptor, and as Mayor of the City, I accepted the gift with an expression of gratitude to the donor, Alexander New, and some compliments for Mr. Keck for his splendid work on the statue.

It was a big day in Wabash, and the statue has been the scene of annual Boy Scout Pilgrimages and decorations on Lincoln’s Birthday for many years.  In time, spotlights were placed in front of the memorial that it might be viewed at night by travelers through our city.  Evergreens were planted as well as roses and it is most attractive during the summer months.  Unfortunately, Alexander New passed away on April 5, 1931, and did not see the project finished.  He was a great American, and our city will be eternally grateful to him for this wonderful gift.  Every boy and girl should know the story, and should visit the memorial and read again and again these words inscribed thereon: