Prompt Book: THE ‘Gaspardo the Gondolier or The Three Banished Men of Milan!
No man has ever won greater renown for his success on the stage, or his droll humor and nimble wit, than Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905). Born in Philadelphia on February 20, 1829 to a family of actors he went on to become known as the most famous of all comedians in the United States. His life on stage began early at the age of three when he took the part of the boy in Kotzebue’s “Pizarro.” From that day onward he continued to appear in different characterizations. At the age of 7 he appeared on stage with Maryland native Edwin Booth (1833-1893). At the age of 16 he moved to a house on Hillen Street in Baltimore, Maryland. The turning point in his career took place in 1858 when he won his first mark of success as Asa Trenchard in “Our American Cousin.” He played this part on the stage of Laura Keene’s theater in New York City.
He played the parts of Newman Noggs in “Nicholas Nickleby,” of Caleb Plummer in “The Criket on the Hearth,” of Dr. Pangloss in “The Heir at Law,” of Salem Scudder in “The Octoroom,’ and of Bob Acres in “The Rivals.” In 1859 he wrote a dramatic adaptation of “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving (1783-1859). First performed in Washington D.C. the public never seemed to tire of his witty banter in “Rip Van Winkle” and it was hailed a pronounced success. From that time onward he continued to win popularity and played the parts of Rip Van Winkle, Bob Acres and Caleb Plummer in every city of importance in the United States.
In addition to his work on stage, Jefferson was also a prolific painter. Twice married, his first wife, Margaret Clements Lockyer, an actress; the second, Sarah Warren of Chicago, niece of William Warren, the actor.
He was elected a member of Concordia Lodge No. 13 on March 9, 1857. Initiated and Passed on April 6, 1857; he was Raised on April 9, 1857 at ‘extra meetings’ held in the afternoon in the Grand Lodge Room in the Masonic Hall on St. Paul Street, Baltimore. He was recommended by John T. Ford (1829-1894) proprietor of ‘Ford’s Theatre’ and George Kunkel (1821-1885) of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” fame, both members of Concordia Lodge. On account of his work, Jefferson was seldom able to attend lodge meetings.
He was presented with a certificate of “Honorary Life Membership on July 1, 1887; to which he became entitled by virtue of having been a contributing member of the Lodge for 30 years. On several occasions he attended receptions held by the lodge in his honor. At one of these reception held on April 28, 1893 he was presented with a Centennial Medal issued to commemorate the founding of Concordia Lodge, No. 13 since he was unable to attend the ‘Centennial Celebration’ which occurred two weeks before his professional engagements that year. However, he was proud of his lodge and the lodge was proud to have his illustrious name adorn its rolls. at the time of Jefferson’s passing W. P. Chenoweth of Concordia Lodge recounted that the last time he was entertained in Baltimore was in 1895 “at the Mount Vernon Hotel, he was growing feeble then, and when he entered the banquet hall we, trying to save his strength, wished him simply to sit down and say ‘howdy’ to the boys. But he wouldn’t hear to it. ‘Aren’t these men members of the lodge? he asked. “Isn’t this my lodge? I’ll shake hand with every member of it; I want to.’
Shortly before Jefferson’s death, Mr. T. Leroy Patterson of 802 Harlem Avenue visited him at his home, The Reefs, in Palm Beach on February 11 and 12 of 1904 as a delegate from Concordia Lodge in preparation for entertaining him in Baltimore. He later noted that “I found him off the stage the same thoughtful, whole-hearted man that he appeared on it…he showed me his priceless collection of trinkets given him by the great stage folk. He talked of the Booths, of Lincoln’s assassination, of Barrymore.”
After a long career on stage he passed away from pneumonia in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 23, 1905. His remains were brought from Florida in the private railroad car owned by his friend Henry M. Flagler (1830-1913), President of the East Coast Railway and cofounder of Standard Oil, attached to the New York Express. By permission of officials of the Pennsylvania Rail Road the train was halted in Baltimore at Union Station (renamed Pennsylvania Station in 1928), for five minutes to permit a delegation from Concordia Lodge to present a floral tribute of a “large circular wreath of white roses, with a purple silk ribbon spanning the opening in the center” and give the brethren an opportunity to extend their sympathies to his widow. He is entered at Bay View Cemetery in Sandwich, Barnstable County, Massachusetts.