Friday, January 24, 2014

Death's Playhouse

John McCullough
This week's Cemetery Traveler blog was written at my invitation by my good friend and historical interpreter, Julie Esty. She is the artistic director for the Dunmore (Pennsylvania) Cemetery Tour/Dearly Departed Players and is the author of the books: Stories in Stone, Tales of Life from the Dunmore Cemetery, Murder in Scranton, and recently with daughter Megan, the one act play "An Evening at Ford's Theatre."

The majority of the public has at least once in their life experienced a stage performance, be it a Broadway performance or a local theatrical. Audiences see what is presented to them superficially – the lines, lights, props, costumes, entrances and exits. What most viewers rarely see are the bonds of friendship that are formed between the actors and crew while working on a stage production. My daughter Megan and I have had the good fortune of working on theatricals regularly and experiencing what we refer to as “the camaraderie of the stage.” Two men at rest in Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery, both with stellar theatrical careers, experienced this camaraderie of the stage. They shared a bond of friendship in life which was formed in playhouses across the country and in death they share an unbreakable bond etched in stone.

Front of John McCullough's monument depicting sculpted masks of Tragedy and Comedy

American born actor Edwin “Ned” Adams began his theatrical career in the early 1850’s.  By the mid 1860’s he was a member of the famed Edwin Booth’s theatrical company. Gifted at comedic performances, Adams was also quite successful with Shakespearian roles as well.

McCullough family crypt cover
British born “Genial” John McCullough came to the United States in 1848.   Like Adams, McCullough also began his stage career in the 1850’s.  At the age of twenty five McCullough began appearing in theatrical roles on stages in Philadelphia.  Again, like his contemporary, Edwin Adams, McCullough also played the stage with Edwin Booth and was noted for his Shakespearean portrayals. [Ed. note: Photo of  John McCullough at top is from the book, In Memory of John McCullough ... by William Winter, 1889.]

"Manliness and meekness in him were so allied that they who judged him by his strength or weakness saw but a single side." (The quote is from the John Greenleaf Whittier poem, In Remembrance of Joseph Sturge.)

John McCullough (ref.)
During the course of their careers Adams and McCullough crossed paths regularly. There are at least two instances of the actors working together in the summer of 1871, which can easily be found.  In June of that year, both men appeared in Wine Works Wonders at the California Theatre in San Francisco (Ref. 1). The following month they acted together appearing in what was deemed “legitimate” or Shakespearean roles at the Salt Lake Theatre in Utah (Ref. 2).Working, and most likely traveling together, the two thespians developed a great friendship. In describing the relationship between Adams and McCullough, drama critic, poet and author William Winter stated in his Sketch of the Life of John McCullough, “a close friendship had for many years subsisted between Adams and himself (McCullough), and indeed it would be difficult to imagine two human beings more accordant in generosity of temperament and gentleness of life” (Ref. 3).

"The Eminent Tragedian, John McCullough"

In the mid 1870’s Edwin Adams' health declined due to consumption. Unable to perform or travel, this left Adams without an income.  A number of benefit performances were held to raise funds to aid the ailing actor.  On October 12, 1877, benefit performances were held at the Academy of Music in New York. John McCullough participated in support of his dear friend and colleague. Less than two weeks later, Edwin Adams was dead.

Edwin Adams' grave, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia
Following the death of Adams, McCullough was asked to supply an inscription for the late thespian’s memorial stone in Mt. Moriah Cemetery.  McCullough selected the following line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5 –

His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”

McCullough monument, 1888, Mt. Moriah Cemetery
[Photo from the book, In Memory of John McCullough ... by William Winter, 1889.]
John McCullough continued his stage career but by the mid 1880’s his stage performances took a severe decline due to failing health.  McCullough began to experience increased memory loss which made him unable to render his lines on stage. This memory loss was possibly due to advanced syphilitic infection. He died in November 1885.

After the death of John McCullough, a memorial was erected to his memory in Mount Moriah Cemetery.  This substantial monument at one time housed a sizable bronze bust of the late actor as he appeared in his favorite role of Virginius. The south side of the monument bears a quote from the John G. Whittier poem, In Remembrance of Joseph Sturge. The east side of the monument appropriately bears the masks of comedy and tragedy.  The north side bears an inscription that links McCullough to his dear friend Edwin Adams. The McCullough memorial bears the same line from Julius Caesar, Act 5, Scene 5 that appears on the memorial to Edwin Adams ---

His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a man.”

Two men, not only players on stages across the United States, but also on the stage of life are linked together – etched in stone in Death’s playhouse in Philadelphia’s Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

References and Further Reading:
(Ref. 1) “Amusements,” Daily Alta California, June 22, 1871, p.4. 
(Ref. 2)  “Amusements,” The Sunday Morning Appeal, July 30, 1871, p.4. 
(Ref. 3)  In Memory of John McCullough, The DeVinne Press, New York, 1889, p. 21

In Memory of John McCullough ... by William Winter, 1889
John McCullough as Man, Actor and Spirit by Susie Champney Clark, 1905

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