Posted on August 1st, 2013 by Rachel
The amazing Miss Adah Isaacs Menken to perform Mazeppa at the Front Street Theater!
See Miss Menken in multiple roles over the next two weeks as she performs in Mazeppa, The Three Fast Women AND The French Spy of Algiers.
A blog post by exhibition intern Todd Nesson. Todd is working on our upcoming Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War exhibit with Curator Karen Falk. To read more posts by Todd and our other interns, click here.
In 1862, Front Street Theater brought the talented and renowned Ms. Adah Isaacs Menken to Baltimore. At the time she was currently starring in the play Mazeppa. The lead role though was written for a male and she both scandalized and delighted audiences as she appeared on stage in flesh colored tights making her appear completely naked.
Front Street Theater, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.
Adah was born in Louisiana not from New Orleans and married Alexander Menken, a fellow Jewish Actor from Cincinnati at the age of 20 and converted to Judaism. When they divorced a few years later, she was not satisfied until she had received a Jewish divorce. As befit the volatile but dedicated temperament of this 19th century diva, she embraced the troubles of her fellow co-religionists whole-heartedly and was well known for her pro-Jewish views.
Adah as Mazeppa, courtesy Rodney Higginbotham.
Along with her pro-Jewish views Adah became well known for her pro-Southern views as well. When she came to Baltimore, these pro-Secessionist views almost became her downfall. Originally, she was scheduled to perform in Baltimore for only two weeks but during those two weeks though she managed to pack the house night after night. The owner of the Front Street Theater, after seeing her popularity, wanted to negotiate a new contract for a longer engagement. Before agreeing to his terms though she demanded that the dressing be made over in Dixie colors and have a prominent place for the President Jefferson and the successful Dixie Generals.
Her vocal passion for Dixie was viewed suspicion and then one of her recent visitors and admirers was arrested for being a spy. This led Adah to being brought before the Provost Marshal for being a Secessionist. According to some accounts, during her hearing Adah put her biting tongue to good use and did not allow the officer to get a word in edgewise. She was given 30 days in which she could either take the Oath of Loyalty or be put across Union lines without a stitch of clothing. This last part rendered after the tongue lashing she unleashed at being told she could only bring 100 lbs of clothing during her hearing.
Courtesy of the Ron Sheeley Collection.
For the next month Adah continued to perform Mazeppa to packed houses due to the feeling of solidarity felt by many in Baltimore with the actress. As fate would have it, Adah managed to avoid being sent across Southern lines not because she took the oath but because she became ill due to being stripped night after night in the drafty theater and was sent to New Jersey to recuperate.
Posted on June 28th, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post by Exhibitions Intern Todd Nesson. Todd is working with Karen Falk on our upcoming exhibition Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War. You can read more posts by Todd and other interns here.
“Just imagine Maryland seceding from the new confederacy (I hope she will never join it), Baltimore from the counties, they in turn from each other, Old Town from West End, Fells Point from Federal Hill, and then from each other. What a pretty State of Anarchy does this principle inaugurate.”
-Aaron Friedenwald, 1861
Aaron Friedenwald was expressing his sentiments to his largely pro-Southern family when he wrote the above quote. At the time, Aaron had been traveling in Europe to continue his medical education. He was shocked to learn of the outbreak of hostilities between the Union and the Confederacy and urged his family to recognize what he saw as the folly of the Confederate cause. Aaron’s arguments failed to sway his family and following the Pratt Street Riots, Isaac Friedenwald, one of Aaron’s brothers, went off to fight for the Confederate armies while the rest of his family continued to support the Southern Cause.
Following the riots, Baltimore found itself placed under martial law. The State Legislature was disbanded to ensure no votes of secession could take place and the guns of Fort McHenry and Federal Hill were pointed inward at the city to ensure its compliance. Just as Aaron recognized the strong Confederate leanings of his family, the Federal Government saw the strong Confederate leanings of Baltimore and provided their poignant reason for not revolting.
Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.
As noted, the Jewish population in Baltimore (and across the country) was not immune to the division gripping the country. Sometimes these divisions led to rather public arguments between members of the Jewish community. One in particular involved Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. The congregation found itself increasingly in the limelight due to its bombastic, pro-abolitionist and pro-Union Rabbi, David Einhorn. Einhorn would use his newspaper, Sinai, and his pulpit to counter the arguments of Pro-slavery clergy in the Jewish community. These pro-slavery clergy included Rabbi Raphall of New York and Rabbi Illowy of Baltimore. Following the Pratt Street Riots, Einhorn fled Baltimore to Philadelphia due to the strong possibility that he would be attacked for his pro-Northern views. Once there he would continue his support of the Union and abolitionist causes. Following the war, he headed to New York City became the Rabbi for Congregation Adath Israel.
Rabbi David Einhorn
Some Baltimore Jews, such as Leopold Blumenberg would put their prior military training at service of their new country. Blumenberg immigrated to Baltimore in 1854 after leaving the Prussian Army. At the time he had risen to the rank of Lieutenant but was unable to progress further due to the rampant anti-semitism in the Prussian army. When hostilities broke out, Blumenberg volunteered with the 5th Maryland Regiment and rose to the rank of Major. At the battle of Antietam he was wounded in the leg and given an honorable discharge along with an appointment as Provost Marshal of the second Maryland District.
General Leopold Blumenberg.
Jews were found on both sides of the conflict during the Civil War, taking up the Blue and the Grey for reasons similar to those of their non-Jewish neighbors. The fires of war would help to forge and shape the Jews of America through politics and warfare, both at home and on the battlefield. Baltimore, due to its location on the dividing line between the Union and Confederacy found itself providing a turbulent atmosphere in which many Jews were forced to decide where they stood on the pressing matters of secession, slavery, and the future of the country that they had traveled so far to become a part of.