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.
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