Although we were eager to begin treatment of the banner, we were equally fascinated by the history and subject matter. “The Yankee Doodle Detective” was a comedy play considered to be “one of the best melodramas ever produced.” It was written by and starred James Kyrle Mac Curdy, a Californian who lived from 5/2/1875 to 12/5/1923.
The history of the Lawrence Opera House is also interesting. It was built by the Boston & Lowell Railroad between 1878 and 1880 and its first performance was held on May 26, 1881. Located at 326 Essex Street, near B&L’s Grand Depot, the Lawrence Opera House was long considered the most ornamental building in the city. It was renamed The Rialto in 1920, and was then known for vaudevillian acts and cinema. It became the Winter Garden Auditorium around 1923 and was eventually demolished in the 1940s.
The banner is owned by a private citizen who has loaned it several times to the Lawrence Heritage State Park in Massachusetts. The banner is dirty and stained. It had been folded for an extended period of time, during which it was damaged by water. There are numerous tears, especially at the corners, from which presumably it was hung.
Mac Curdy is also known for “A Little Girl in a Big City” and “Pedro the Italian,” which was one of the first works of theater in which an Italian man was portray in a romantic, positive role. Mac Curdy died in Hollywood at the age of 47. His wife, fellow actor Kate Woods Fiske, outlived her husband by twenty five years.
The length and condition of the banner suggest that it could have been stretched across a street, in front of the building front, or even inside the B&L railroad depot. Its display life was probably only a few weeks originally, but it has survived nearly 100 years as a testament to the cosmopolitan energy of early 20th-century Lawrence, Massachusetts.
A large and dramatic textile arrived at Museum Textile Services earlier this year. Printed in bold letters on the fourteen-and-a-half-foot primed canvas is “JAMES KYRLE MAC CURDY’S GREAT PLAY THE YANKEE DOODLE DETECTIVE” at the “OPERA HOUSE LAWRENCE 3 DAYS STARTING THURSDAY SEPT. 2 MATINEES FRI. AND SAT.” The play was written in 1909, and September 2 fell on a Thursday in 1909, so we can feel confident that the banner also dates to 1909.
by Camille Myers Breeze
The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was organized in Boston in 1826 to fight against the bane of society, "Demon Rum." Within nine years, there were as many as one million members nationwide, known collectively as the "Cold Water Army." Temperance crusaders used all methods available at the time to recruit members, from pamphlets to public lectures to banners, or broadsides, such as this one.
This banner is made of cotton plain weave. The words “Here it Goes!” are stenciled beneath a block-printed image of two figures emptying out a rum barrel and a jug. There is a deteriorated wool fringe hand stitched to the top and bottom hems. The sides are selvedged, suggesting that multiple banners could have been made in a row and then cut apart.
The banner arrived pressure mounted with glass against a brown paper board. Mold is clearly visible inside the frame. The banner has weathered countless episodes of moisture and possibly insects, however despite the stains and losses, the banner presents a strong graphic image with historical significance.
This banner is proudly owned and displayed by the First Parish of Norwell, MA. The Rev. Samuel May, a well known abolitionist, educational reformer, and preacher at the First Parish Church of Norwell between 1836 and 1942, also was a favorite uncle of Louise May Alcott. Rev. May’s Cold Water Army group fought to close down rum shops in Norwell, Massachusetts. It is believed that May and the children broke open the rum barrels and poured them out in front of his home, May Elms.
Conservation of the banner has begun with fumigation, surface cleaning, and reducing adhesive used to attach the banner into the old frame. It was then hand stitched to a padded, fabric-covered museum panel and pressure mounted with a UV-filtering acrylic box.
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