What Goes Around Comes Around, Historically Speaking
My grandmother Helen Moore was born in 1883 in Dumont New Jersey, one of the Scottish Christies that settled in and farmed the area. She was a tall, handsome woman with strong opinions and a keen sense of purpose and humor. An avid reader before glaucoma took its toll, she gave me her leather bound copies of Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen as Christmas presents. What inspired her as an 18-year-old teenager to undertake a career in elocution I don‘t know, but she studied extensively with Marion Short, a highly accomplished elocutionist popular in the New York area. I inherited Nana’s professional memorabilia, including her business card, numerous programs from performances in halls and churches, and the enthusiastic personal endorsements she received between 1901 and 1904. One fan described her as “of attractive personality, ease of carriage and no little dramatic power.”
Most of her performances were in New Jersey, so imagine my shock when I discovered on her program two personal endorsements from Sandwich, Massachusetts where I’ve lived in for nearly 40 years. “The readings of Miss Moore in our vestry on Thursday evening, July 31st were received with much enthusiasm,” wrote Dr. Edward S. Talbot, D. D. S. …”We predict a successful future for her, and hope to hear her again.” “My Dear Miss Moore: Your recitation was much enjoyed by all,” wrote Elizabeth Clark, Corps Secretary. Dr. Talbot’s former home is a few hundred yards from my house, and Elizabeth Clark’s name is familiar to me as a good friend of Thornton Burgess whose biography I recently completed.
What brought my grandmother, a young professional elocutionist from New Jersey to a Cape Cod village in the early 1900s? How did Nana travel? Where did she stay? Did she have friends or family in Sandwich? These questions go unanswered for now, but our remarkable town archivist Barbara Gill provided a bit more information about where my grandmother likely performed. Elizabeth Clark was undoubtedly the secretary of the Women’s Relief Corps, she said. It was attached to the Charles Chipman GAR Post and met upstairs at the commercial building on Jarves St. now owned by the Brown Jug. The purpose of the Corps was to raise money for Civil War veterans, and they often held fund-raising programs in the Sandwich Town Hall auditorium.
If it is known that my grandmother participated in a program for the Women’s Relief Corps in Sandwich, it is almost certainly known that over 100 years ago she performed in the Sandwich Town Hall auditorium. (Which is where I’ll be on March 22, introducing actress Carol McManus who will recite a poem from Nana’s repertoire for the March for the Arts Town Hall event.)
Who knows? In the early 1900s Thornton Burgess was in his late 20s and working as a journalist in Springfield, Massachusetts. Perhaps he took a day off to visit Sandwich friends the day my grandmother was performing? Perhaps he went with his friend Elizabeth Clark to hear a visiting elocutionist from Dumont, New Jersey? As historians know better than most -- anything is possible!