3/21 — The Tom Show (2)

  The scripts tell only a small part of the story of the "Tom Shows" as theatrical and cultural performances. For today I want you to read the following advertisements, reviews & articles to help us put begin putting the texts of the plays in the larger historical and social contexts. Of course, the best thing would be to see a "Tom Show," or ideally, several different ones from different size companies and different historical moments. The technology that would let us do that is still on the drawing board, but it might be useful to listen to a couple recordings that provide some sense of how the shows sounded. That's what the first link below will let you do.

  • 2 Edison recordings (1904, 1910)
        Play both "The Flogging of Tom" and "The Entrance of Topsy."

  • Selected Tom Show Advertisements
        This link will take you to a list of links, each of which will take you to one of 20 newspaper advertisements for dramatic productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1873-1878. They're digitized from microfilm reels, so visually not particularly appealing, and of course they're advertisements, which means they promise more than they could deliver, but I've found them to be the best single means of access to what the "Tom Show" meant to the audiences that made it so popular.

          Park Theatre   New York Herald   (23 May 1876)
          Grand Opera House   New York Herald   (1 October 1876)
          Grand Opera House   New York Herald   (4 October 1876)
          Grand Opera House   New York Tribune   (21 October 1876)
          Booth's Theatre   New York Times   (19 February 1878)
          UTC at Booth's Theatre   [Unidentified paper]   (23 February 1878)
          Howard UTC Company   Baltimore Sun   (7 - 14 January 1878)
          Mrs. Howard at Fifth Avenue Theatre   New York Herald   (2 April 1878)
                To hear "Carve Dat Possum," the song these last two reviews mention, CLICK HERE
          J.P. Smith at Fifth Avenue Theatre   [Unidentified paper]   (6 April 1878)
          C. H. Smith's Double Mammoth at Niblo's Garden   New York Times   (23 May 1882)
          Greene's New Version at Windsor   New York Star   (13 November 1888)
          Greene's New Version at Hollis Street Theatre   Boston Globe   (19 August 1888)
          Peter Jackson at Boston Theatre   Boston Journal   (1 May 1894)
          Barbour's Reply to Critics   Boston Herald   (19 August 1897)
          [Review of UTC at Ford's]   Washington Post   (9 September 1880)
          [UTC at the Academy]   Washington Post   (24 April 1898)
          Chicago Museum   Chicago Tribune   (2 July 1884)
      These 17 are only a few of the hundreds we have in the archive. You are of course welcome to keep reading, by CLICKING HERE.

  • Who started the Tom Show?   Luckily for us, various showmen wanted the credit of bringing "genuine Southern colored people" into the spectacle of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and argued their case in a series of paid advertisements in The Clipper, the most important theatrical trade paper of the time:
          Sanford, The Creator of Uncle Tom (2 February 1878)
          Using Negroes in the Play: J. P. Smith's Claim   (2 March 1878)
          Using Negroes in the Play: J. H. Slavin's CounterClaim   (16 March 1878)
          Slavin's Original Colored Georgia Singers   The Clipper   (13 May 1878)

  • 254 Theatrical Notices (1878)
        The Clipper kept track of theatrical productions around the country on a weekly basis, which makes it a very rich source of information on the performance history of the Tom Shows. 254 is a big number, but they're mostly short, and reading through these will let you know something about what was going on under those dots you looked at for Monday on the 1878 map of productions.

  • OPTIONAL: We also have Clipper notices for the other years between 1870 and 1877, which will let anyone who's interested follow the fortunes of the play as it went from the trough to the top of the wave of its popularity. There are about 460 short notices altogether from those 8 years, all available here:
        Clipper Trade Notices (1870-1877)