Edwin Adams: A Life that Burned Brightly but Briefly

Just a brief squib on 19th century actor Edwin Adams (1834-1877). Born in Medford, Mass. on this day in 1834, I think it more likely than not that he bears some relation to those Adams (the political family) which had been in America for two centuries at that point and had gotten quite numerous. In any case, he did not come from a family of actors, but embarked on a risky stage career on his own. At age 20 he appeared at Boston’s National Theatre in The Hunchback and played the role of Bernardo in Hamlet. In September of 1854, at age 21, he made his Philadelphia debut at the Chestnut Street Theatre and also played the Chester Street Athenaenum. Four years later he was in Virginia performing at the Richmond Theatre, which is where he met and married his wife Mary. In 1860, he appeared with the famous Kate Bateman in Hamlet.  Other plays he appeared in early in his career included The Soldier’s Daughter, The Marble Heart, Wild Oats, and The Serf. 

In 1863 he enjoyed his first success at Niblo’s Garden, and this is when and where he became a national star. He was booked to open at Ford’s Theatre April 17, 1865, two nights after Lincoln’s assassination. In 1867, Edwin Booth picked him to be one of the stars of his new company, appearing in Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Narcisse, and an adaptation of Tennyson’s Enoch Arden. He toured nationally with the company starting 1869. In 1872 and 1873 he toured America with Henry E. Abbey’s company, appearing only in Enoch Arden. His last role in New York was Claude Melnotte in The Lady of Lyons at Booth’s Theatre in early 1875.

In 1876 Adams and his wife Mary traveled all the way to Melbourne Australia to open at the Academy of Music. Whereupon Adams rapidly became ill, and made his way back to San Francisco, where he spent some time recuperating. In 1877 he traveled back to Philadelphia, which is where he died, on October 28th of that year, of Bright’s Disease.

A picture of his gravestone I found online quotes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

My beautiful picture
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