In July, a new book by Rexford M. Ennis - Saints, Sinners & Sailors of the Gilded Age - will bring us a compendium of biographical sketches centered on the gilded age in the Thousand Islands.
Also available now, from Archeophone Records, is a CD entitled The High Priestess of Jollity & The Southern Singer - Two Vaudeville sensations, May Irwin and Clarice Vance.
Both are highly recommended.
Saints, Sinners & Sailors of the Gilded Age by Rex Ennis
Rexford M. Ennis (Rex) has been researching the history of the Gilded Age for several years. In 2010 he published Toujours Jeune Always Young, the biography of Charles G. Emery and the history of the New Frontenac Hotel. A voracious researcher, Rex has spent countless hours finding important research material and keeping track of people, places and events.
Rex was always intrigued by a particular island-construction story .“In the early 1990s Mrs. Dean B. Thomas required some foundation work at her cottage, ‘Sunrise’ at Westminster Park” he writes, “She hired Thousand Islands builder, Steve Taylor, to make the repairs.” One of the Taylor associates, Bill Strodel began preparing the walls to allow the building to be jacked-up. As he removed the wall covering he found rolled up in the wall the 1898 Frank H. Taylor Map of the Thousand Islands; Hotels, parks and cottages.”
The map was given to the Thousand Islands Land Trust to publish and was given to new members who supported TILT (with a $100 plus gift) in its 1995 capital campaign. Rex, a donor, began to find out who were these early islanders. There were over 109 properties designated on the Taylor map and he wanted to know more about them!
There are hundreds of biographies, in alphabetical order, in the book. Two of my favorites would be considered as Sinners:
Miller, Mrs. Isabella Maxwell (1846- ), Mulcaster Island (AKA: Sugar Island), home: Perth ONT, Mrs. Miller was the widowed sister of the somewhat rakish John Graham Haggart, Member of Canadian Parliament. “Haggart was considered briefly for the national leadership. He may have suffered, however, from innuendo relating to his difficult marriage and his womanizing on Parliament Hill, and from his reputation as an idler and “a Bohememian,” as Lady Aberdeen viewed him in 1894. (Haggart and his wife may have been living apart since as early as (1871.) he will be best remembered as one of the seven men, the next of the traitors: Bowell called them, who resigned briefly from Bowell’s cabinet in January 1896. All thought Bowell was inept. One of the leaders of this withdrawal, Haggart earned Bowell’s particular enmity for bluntly declaring that the prime minister, “from day to day, from time to time, like a sick girl hanging onto life, had refused to resign” [Sic] Dictionary of Canadian Biography On line, Larry Turner, University of Toronto.“ Page 85.
Myers, Ephraim H. ( 1848-?) and Ada, Round Island Lot #174, home: Carthage NY and Vilas, SD, banker and real estate developer. He founded and developed Vilas, Miner Co. SD including founding the Vilas Times. He was Cashier of the First Nation Bank of Carthage for many years, then in January 1887, he was elected President and Director. He was a member of the Carthage Railroad Commission. The Commission’s objective was to persuade a railroad to come (to) Carthage for its annual shipping of 200,000 tons of freight. He was a director of the bank in Philadelphia NY and the Merchants and Manufacturers Exchange.
“One night in April 1893, he absconded from the town aboard a train, taking substantial deposits with him, scandalizing the town of Carthage and environs: Myers Family Roots web Page. According to the New York Times , 4 May, 1898 Myers made off with over $110,000 over a period of eight year by cooking the books…” Page 89.
All of the biographies give an incredible snapshot of Thousand Islands life in the Gilded Age: between the Civil War and the First World War. The descriptions focus on both sides of the border. The book does not contain the map, but the references to the islands are easy to decipher.
“Saints, Sinners & Sailors of the Gilded Age” by Rex Ennis is available in local book stores in Clayton as well as on Amazon at $18.95.
Rex has written more than a dozen articles for TI Life. To see them all search here: Rex Ennis and well as on our History page. And be sure to visit his website at http://www.charlesgemery.com/Emery.htm.
The High Priestess of Jollity & the Southern Singer produced by Archephone Records
Richard Martin and his wife Meagan Hennessey co-own and have co-produced more than 55 CDs as Archeophone Records in Champaign, IL. “About 95% of our recordings help preserve public-domain recordings of the acoustic era of the recording industry – which literally means “Shouting into the horn.” Records were made then without electricity.” Archeophone Records are now able to digitally remaster media to bring music like May Irwin’s back for the modern day.
I was given the CD by Karen Killian at Captain Spicer's gift shop near Clayton, NY. Karen, who has the most extensive collection of Irwin memorabilia, shared her material with Archeophone and is a distributor in the region.
I have to admit that listening to the recording in my car made me remember the stories my parents told me about attending vaudeville shows and reminded me of the many little “dittys” they would sing when we travelled on long trips. When I got home and began to peruse the CD notes, I realized that I had found “gold.”
The notes provide a synopsis of the early-recording industry. They explain that the Victor Talking Machine Company produced a 78 rpm record of “The Frog Song” by May Irwin, backed with “I Wise.” by Clarice Vance. The producers decided to match the two in the 2011 CD.
“Our colleagues have showered us with an embarrassment of visual riches with which to illustrate this CD.”said Richard Martin, and Sterling Morris knows more about Clarice Vance than anyone else in the world.” The Vance biography was written by Morris. The section about our “Thousand Islands Star, May Irwin,” entitled; May Irwin: Photo-Feminist or Unvarnished Racist? is filled with information that really interested me.
They go on to explain that both singers were “former giants of the stage” and household names a century ago. Both stars sang the songs of their times, known as “Coon shouters,” which today would be considered racially derogatory. The producers state, “We at Archeophone have been committed, since our start, to presenting unexpurgated, the music and lyrics of the recording industry of a century ago – and the cultural views underpinning them – so that we all can understand our past and learn from it. The bright side of studying these painful examples of racism is that we can unmistakably trace how the coon-song genre evolved and eventually disappeared.”
The Irwin material provides a marvelous glimpse into May Irwin’s personality and her recordings.
The review starts with two of Irwin’s signature stage jokes:
“Perhaps if I should state that the title of my next book would be “How to be Happy, though Married,” and request you get one of them, your answer would be, “No, thanks, I don’t care for Joke books.”
“A friend of mine who had been out to a banquet arrived home at four A.M. and didn’t care to awaken his wife. He went quietly upstairs and began to rock the cradle. After rocking it about an hour his wife awoke and said, “How long have you been rocking that cradle?” He told her, and she said, “Well the baby is here in bed with me.”
My favorite CD note reads:
If May Irwin… return[s] to vaudeville after many years’ absence… she will receive a salary more than double that of the president of the Steel Trust. If she elects to work only twenty weeks the year, her salary will equal that of the President of the United States… In other words, Miss Irwin will receive $2,500 per week for appearing on stage for twenty minutes a day (Stein, American Vaudeville, p. 114).
We therefore recommend The High Priestess of Jollity & the Southern Singer produced by Archeophone Records. Head to Captain Spicer’s Gift Shop on Route 12 east of Clayton and ask for Karen Killian. Thank her for sharing her vast knowledge of May Irwin with Archeophone Records and hence our island community. The CD is a tremendous resource.
To read more about May Irwin and Karen Killian, who has the largest collection of May Irwin material, see “May Irwin and her Keeper” written by Kim Lunman, April 2009. Also see “May Irwin” Historical Discoveries, compiled by Karen Killian written by Karen Killian, which appears in TI Life under the tag “The Place” and “History.”
To learn more about Archeophone Records visit their website at: http://www.archeophone.com. They have a long list of awards including: Winner, 2007 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891-1922. Nominee, 2008 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album, Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s. Nominee, 2009 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album, Debate '08: Taft and Bryan Campaign on the Edison Phonograph. Nominee, 2010 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album, Sophie Tucker: Origins of the Red Hot Mama, 1910-1922
By Susan W. Smith, Editor, Thousand Islands Life Magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org