Laura Keene’s Resting Place

Laura Keene’s Resting Place. Photo by my son Cashel Stewart, whose great-great grandmother Laura Keane Smith (1856-1936), I strongly suspect was named after the actress (different spelling notwithstanding).
When the subway was down last week, we resorted to the nearest tourist attraction within walking distance — Green-wood Cemetary. Photographer Cashel got numerous good snaps of downed trees and branches on the grounds, but we asked him to take the pic above as a special request.


It’s doubly sad that Laura Keene (1826-1873) was starring in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre on the night Abraham Lincoln was shot. Sad, because the occasion was so tragic…but also because that event would quickly overshadow her true significance in American history. She is the first and only female actor-manager in America of any note in the 19th century….thus one of America’s first successful female entrepreneurs. Already a top actress by 1853, she used the resulting clout to gain access to where the true power lay — the back office. She ran theatres and touring productions from New York all the way to Australia. (One of them, Laura Keene’s Varieties, sounds tantalizingly like it had at least of smidgen of vaudeville on the bill.) She thrived at her chosen calling for the last twenty years of her life — quite a good run. Among her many triumphs was the premiere production of The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault. She ought to be a model for budding impressarios of both genders.

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