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Wallack's Theater

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A lot of missed connections come from people who saw each other at theaters - something I mentioned a long time ago. But I noticed a large number of them came specifically from Wallack's Theater, and I finally got up the motivation to actually find out what this theater was. Here's some examples before I go on:

They read:

Wallack's, Wednesday evening - If agreeable to the lady in the black silk suit who remarked, "What an elegant tableau," please send address to H.W., box 193 Herald Uptown Branch office, 1256 Broadway.

Wallack's - Miss F., please address D., care of M.C.

Wallack's Theater, Tuesday evening, March 1, 1870. - Two of the gentlemen to the left of the black sofa would be pleased to correspond, if agreeable, with either of the young ladies in front. Please excuse the mode of forming the acquaintance. Address GENTLEMEN, Herald office.

Well, after a ridiculously easy search, I found out some information about Wallack's, which made me very happy. I have argued that, although not all, certainly many of the people using personal ads were from the middle class - based on language, clothing style, location, etc. So it's a pleasure to find that Wallack's was the most fashionable theater in the city (at least according to the website I found, though naturally we must always take anything found on the internet with a grain of salt).

Theaters in the 19th century were pretty strictly divided by class. Middle and upper middle class people simply did not go to cheap theater (or at least, if they did - men probably - they certainly didn't admit it). Cheap theater was for the "masses," and it's also where you'd find the infamous "third tier," where prostitutes hung out - sadly also the only place African Americans were ever allowed to sit. But it was more than that; theaters actually were a site of class and ethnic warfare, the most famous being the Astor Place Riot in 1849. The genesis was the theater's decision to hire a famous English actor instead of a famous American one, but it turned into a battle! Can you imagine such circumstances today? In any case, this is obviously long before the ads I've showcased here, but these tensions did remain.

So, I know that's a pretty circuitous route, but it does say, with some certainty, that the people attending Wallack's would have been at least middle-, if not upper-middle class, and that says that (many of) the people using personal ads were too. Love it.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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