AN OLD SHOWMAN’S YARN
(Excerpt from The Shelby Chronicle, Columbiana, Alabama, Nov. 22, 1883)
James Heneage Carter Paralyzed But Full of Vim
A little old man bent nearly double and withered, apparently with age, sat in a back room on the third floor of a house in Pleecker street listening to music produced from a violin and piccolo in the hands of two boys of eighteen and fifteen respectively. The old man was James Henage Carter, better known as the originator of the famous Carter Zouave Troupe, which secured such a world-wide reputation during the day so the war.
“Yes, I am in splendid health,” said Mr. Carter to a reporter of the World, and he hobbled to a window as best he could, considering paralyzed condition, as if to refute the statement. “I shall never be what I was thirty years ago, though. Oh, those were good old days. It was 1848 that I reached this country from England. I was a mechanic, and first went to Cleveland, where I earned my first dollar in the capacity of a journeyman painter. When painting became slack I began delivering lectures on “Artificial Memory.” I did not succeed very well, so I packed my traps and steered for New York. On arriving there I entered the employ of Rufus Porter, the founder of the Scientific American. At the time he was engaged constructing a flying machine to take people to California in three days. We soon found that the railroads and steamers would eventually reach there as quickly as we could with our invention, and it was accordingly abandoned. I then turned to the stage. I sang at the Old Broadway Theatre in 1850 with the Seguin Opera Company, and also played with Lester Wallack in ‘Monte Christo’ as super. Oh, he was a ‘crack’ actor. Never has an audience seen his superior on the stage.
STARTING OUT FOR HIMSELF
“I then thought I would start out for myself. I obtained the services of a ‘Mexican Indian Giant.’ With him and a dwarf I formed the ‘Carter Curiosity Shop.’ For several years I traveled with them, visiting every State in the country and making several visits to Europe. In 1857 I cleared in eight months alone in Texas $5,000 with this show. The following winter I went to Cuba, as my giant could speak Spanish well, and cleared $3,000 with two exhibitions. Then I started out with my ‘American Entertainment.’ I presented the most magnificent panorama the world had ever seen at that time. I personated the yankee, negro, fireman, waiter, newboy, and Indian. The scenes were laid in New York, the South and the wilds of the West. I began the entertainment in England to ‘standing room only.’ It was an immense success until I was seized with rheumatism, from which I have not even now recovered.
“Then the war broke out here, and from the fame of Colonel Ellsworth and his Zouaves I conceived the idea of getting up a Zouave drill, the principal attractions being that the participants were little girls instead of men. I returned to America and began selecting my company. In N. Y. city I obtained seven little girls from seven to eleven years of age. I equipped them with muskets and Zouave dress. They acquired so much skill that at their debut at the Green street Theatre in Albany in 1861 they made a great hit. I had letters of congratulations from the Mayor, ex-Mayor, Erastus Corning and other prominent citizens, and for one month the houses were packed nightly. Then I showed them in the principal cities throughout the country. There was not a greater sensation created during the war in the stage line.
MEETING CLARA MORRIS
“Right here let me tell you an interesting episode: in 1862, in the early days of my girl troupe, I brought the girl Zouaves to Cleveland to open the old theatre now called the Comique. In the same house at which we boarded there were two girls about fifteen years of age. These girls became quite intimate with those belonging to my company and begged hard to be allowed to go behind the scenes while the performance progressed. I consented and the two girls becoming infatuated expressed a desire to become actresses. One of the mothers said ‘no,’ but the other said ‘yes.’ The girl whose mother said ‘yes’ became the eminent and favorite tragedienne Clara Morris. The other girl, I believe, is the wife of a master blacksmith and is the mother of ten children and resides on the Pacific slope.
“It was only a little after, too, that I popped the question to a young lady from Painsville, O., and she said yes. We were accordingly married at once, and the result of that marriage was these boys whose music you have just listened to.
“On the 9th of November, 1863, I took passage with my troupe for Cuba; from there I took them through New England and their success was immense. I added brass instruments to the combination and organized the first female brass band in the United States. The music they rendered was pronounced some of the best ever heard.
THE LATEST ATTRACTIONS
“A little later Sol Smith Russell was glad as a greenhorn to ask me for a situation, and he was given one as a sort of specialty artist. He thanks me to-day for the start I gave him. At the same time I took the Berger family in hand and had them taught to perform upon the instruments with which they have acquired such a reputation. With this family I made a big hit. I have just been to see Annie Berger myself. But then success had been too much for me. Financial reverses and ill-health came, and I am reduced to the position in which you now see me. I went to a water-cure and become a victim to mal-practice. I then tried the Hot Springs, Ark., and the treatment there only aggravated my malady. I was paralyzed ten years ago while writing a letter in Washington, and I have never recovered from the shock; still I am well and ready to enter the ring again. For some time past I have been exhibiting the magic spy-glass, my own invention. It enables you to see in a single drop of water wonderful animals, the intricate mechanism of a humming-bird’s feather and the elephantine proportions of an insect. Oh, I’m death on reading, I am. I have cleared thousands of dollars in a single night, but $1 pleases me as well now.
“I shall soon be in the field again, however, with