The story of Mrs. Jarley’s Waxworks forms part of Charles Dickens’s novel The Old Curiosity Shop, published in 1841. Although Mrs. Jarley is a minor character in the plot, her story gained much popularity in British and American amateur theater and was performed widely at private parties in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Inspired by Madame Tussaud’s famous wax models, Dickens’s Mrs. Jarley was the proprietor of a collection of still wax figures which she displayed on a stage protected by a cord.
In 1873, George Bradford Bartlett (1832-1896), an American from Massachusetts, published Mrs. Jarley’s Far-Famed Collection of Waxworks. Enriched with more characters, real and fictitious, Bartlett’s book is essentially a guidebook for staging amateur performances with animated pantomimes, also known as tableaux vivants. Unlike Dickens, Bartlett’s waxworks were fitted with clockworks inside so that they could move and “go through the same motions they did when living.” Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), the author of Little Women, frequently participated in tableaux vivants, with Bartlett as her stage manager (Chapman 1992).
These kinds of performances were often used as a vehicle for local fund-raising. Socialites such as Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Vanderbilt often hosted tableaux vivants with young, unmarried women of high society performing in various roles (Chapman 1992).
One such performance took place at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), on Christmas in 1903. It is one of these rare instances, where an event described blow-by-blow in a private letter, has also its visual match. In the School’s large Archaeological Photographic Collection (APC), in addition to photos documenting excavation and other fieldwork, there is a small number of images capturing more private aspects of life at 54 Speusippou (now Souidias).
According to the author of the letter, Theodore Woolsey Heermance (1872-1905), the idea of a party inspired by Mrs. Jarley’s Waxworks belonged to Mrs. Fowler, “who had seen and participated in several such.” Heermance was the new director of the School, having started his term in the fall of 1903. Just a year over thirty, he had studied at Yale and was the grandson of Theodore Dwight Woolsey, President of Yale University from 1846 to 1871. Helen Bell Fowler (1848-1909) was the wife of Harold Fowler, the School’s Professor of Greek Language and Literature for the academic year 1903-1904.
If the original idea of a tableau vivant belonged to Mrs. Fowler, it was Edith Hall “who took the matter up with her usual energy and consented to be Mrs. Jarley. Between them and Miss Welch [Welsh] – a member of the British School, who lives at the same pension as Miss Hall- they planned for the different parts,” wrote Heermance to his mother and sister on December 27, 1903. He further described the costumes “as more or less burlesque, otherwise with a limited outfit they would have fallen rather flat.”
Edith Hayward Hall (1877-1943) was the Agnes Hoppin Memorial Fellow and the only female student at the School that year. Having earned a B.A. from Smith College, Hall had enrolled at Bryn Mawr College for graduate school. That Christmas “Miss Hall as Mrs. Jarley was capital and with a big hat on kept up a continuous stream of description of her automations and of banter with the audience” wrote Heermance and went on to describe the wax figures “in the order they were uncovered and set agoing.”
“Darrow was Xerxes in a golden crown and neck ornaments and red robes. His business was to rise from his throne three times as Xerxes is said by Herodotus to have done on one occasion in anger.” Heermance is referring to a passage from Book VII of Herodotus that describes the Battle of Thermopylae: “And during these onsets, it is said that the king, looking on, three times leaped up from his seat, struck with fear for his army” [7. 212].
Fritz S. Darrow a recent graduate from Harvard and holder of the Charles Eliot Norton Fellowship, was writing his dissertation on the history of Corinth after its destruction in 146 B.C., “a work much needed in view of the School’s excavations there.” Recently married, he had also brought to Athens his wife, May Goodall, an English girl from Bristol, who, before her marriage, had taught calisthenics in Boston. In fact, their unconventional wedding in July of 1903 at Windsor Beach, White City, looking out on Lake Ontario, had occupied the columns of many newspapers. “Wedded under an Apple Tree,” Clergyman Not Present at this Marriage,” or “Bride and Groom take the Place of Book and Minister and Marry Themselves” were some of the headlines. The St.Louis Post-Dispatch of August 9, 1903, even ran a full-page with photos of the couple and Buddhist buildings in the background. The subheading clued in the reader that the unusual ceremony was due to the fact that both Fritz and May were Theosophists. Founded in the late 19th century by Russian immigrant Helena Blavatsky, theosophy is defined as a new religious movement that drew from Neoplatonism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
The next “wax figure” to appear in the show was Sappho enacted by Margery K. Welsh (1880-1960), a student from the British School of Archaeology. “Miss Welch was Sappho, all in a white Grecian costume (otherwise a sheet) with a lyre. She had to throw herself off a crag and then be set up on her crag again ready for next time.” With a B.A. from Newnham College, Welsh spent several months in Greece in 1903-04 studying portraits and honorific statues which she published as an article the following year.
Sappho’s act was followed by that of a famous couple, Lord Byron and the Maid of Athens, also known as Zoe, since the last line of each stanza in Byron’s famous poem “Maid of Athens” ends with “Ζωή μου σας αγαπώ” (My life, I love you). “Mrs. Darrow and Hastings were Ζώη μου and Lord Byron. She was in native Greek costume (borrowed for the occasion) and he in more or less Byronian attire. She had a heart of pasteboard covered with red paper which she was thrusting toward him repeatedly while he as often raised his arms to seize it.” Of Mrs. Darrow, the newlywed bride of Fritz Darrow, I have written above. Her real-life Byron was Harold Ripley Hastings, a second-year student at the School and a Fellow of the Archaeological Institute. Unknown to me was that Hastings was studying material from Harriet Boyd’s excavations in Kavousi in 1900. According to Heermance’s annual report, “Hastings […] was busy in the early part of the year on some original material contained in a Bronze Age deposit from Avgo (near Kavousi) in Crete” (AR 1903-04, 20).
“Then came Battle, really the most comical figure of the lot. He was the infant Heracles strangling the serpents. He is smooth-shaven and quite bald and was simply killing in his baby dress with pink ribbons at the neck. We rigged up a cradle with the library wood box and excavation comfortables and the fact that it was a snug fit made it all the funnier. The serpents were constructed by Mrs. Fowler and were very effective” scribbled Heermance. A professor of Classics at the University of Texas (UT), William James Battle (1870-1955) was one of the older members of the group.
Baby Herakles was followed by Columbus. “Caskey was Columbus and devised himself a most fetching costume with red bands on doublet and trousers and an ermine cloak –someone’s golf cape with canton flannel inside spotted with ink. He had an egg which was flattened below to stand alone on a table. His acting was the best of anybody’s.”
Lacey Davis Caskey (1880-1944), a graduate of Yale and a Fellow at the School, was working on a dictionary of technical words used in Greek architecture and building. He also completed an inventory of inscriptions found in the Corinth excavations until then (383 in number) and brought up to date the collection of squeezes (AR 1903-04, 25). (In the ASCSA Archives, there is a shoebox with more than 500 notecards, titled “Caskey – Heermance Catalogue of Architectural Terms, 1904.” I also wonder whether some of the Corinth squeezes housed in the ASCSA Archives form part of the collection that Caskey made in the early 1900s.)
“Next came Stevens as Miss Muffet. He is quite short and with a big hat, a white dress (it did not come together at the back, that didn’t show) and white stockings was a very pretty girl. A big spider was let down by a cord at the proper time.” Trained as an architect and apprenticed in McKim, Mead, and White, one of the best architectural firms in America, Gorham Philipps Stevens (1876-1963) was appointed as the School’s first Fellow in Architecture in 1903. Although the main reason for the creation of this new fellowship was the need to create plans for the Corinth Excavations, Heermance assigned Stevens the task of drawing the Erechtheum which was being restored by architect Nicholas Balanos. The scaffolding that had been erected about the building offered a unique opportunity for its detailed measurement and drawing in preparation of a much-desired new publication of the monument. “Everyone who has seen the drawings is loud in their praise…” Heermance reported (AR 1903-04, 22).
“The last was a group of Agamemnon and Klytaimnestra. Agamemnon (Mr. Harold North Fowler) with royal pillow on head was discovered seated in a bath tub, covered with a sheet and holding in either hand, a sponge and a bar of soap. Klytaimnestra (Robert Cecil McMahon), in a Mycenaean skirt, stood behind with a raised double-headed axe ready to slay Agamemnon.”
A professor of Greek at Case Western University, in addition to being the School’s Annual Professor that year, Harold North Fowler (1859-1955) also carried the honor of being the first student at the American School in 1882-1883. (Thanks to Curtis Runnels and Priscilla Murray, Fowler’s notebook from his first year at the School is now part of the School’s Archives.) While in Athens he lectured in the museums twice a week on sculpture, “but deliberately curtailed his course because ‘there seemed to me to be too many lectures’-a belief with which Heermance heartily concurred. ‘The lecture-going habit of the American student is notorious in Athens.’ Heermance expressed himself as strongly in favor of ‘independent research’” (Lord 1947, 110-111). I suspect that there must have been more to these statements but I don’t know what. Perhaps another sculpture specialist from the English or German schools competing with Fowler? Fowler also assisted in the measurements of the Erechtheum, which also gave him the opportunity to study closely the fragments of the building’s frieze. Robert Cecil McMahon, with a B.A. from Wesleyan and an M.A. from Columbia University, was in Athens to study the development of portraiture in Archaic Greek Art.
Special mention is given to Mrs. Jarley’s assistant, who was no other than Heermance, to his slight disappointment. “Rather to my sorrow I was picked out as Mrs. Jarley’s assistant who would go up the figures, set them on their pins when they toppled over, and when not needed for anything else kept busy oiling or dusting them. I was supposed to be willing but stupid. I should have preferred to be a wax figure, but not having any valid objections took the part assigned me. My uniform I am proud of. I had a pink stripe sewed down each trouser seam, a white coat (my old standby) with pink frogs across the front and pink stripes on the collar and sleeves and on the back wJw (for ‘Jarley’s Wax Works’). I borrowed a yachting cap of Darrow and decorated that with pink also. All together it was most fetching […]. On the coat, on each side, were further three huge buttons as big as small saucers. A folding collar turned up made a collar as high as my ears” Heermance described himself with a touch of gusto.
Theodore Woolsey Heermance, a graduate of Yale (1893), had already spent two years at the School from 1894 to 1896. After finishing his doctorate in 1898, he was made Instructor in Classical Archaeology at Yale and was serving in that position at the time of his appointment to the School as Secretary in 1902-1903. In 1903 he had started his five-year term as director.
Although the performance was staged in the library, the photos were taken on the roof of the Director’s House, most likely before, in order to make use of the natural light. Amateur interior photography was notoriously difficult for the largest part of the 20th century.
When looking at old photos, one is tempted to fast forward and look into the lives of the people depicted. How did they fare in life? The most unfortunate person of the eleven people in the photo was Heermance, who died of typhoid fever two years later in Athens on September 29, 1905. He was just 32 years old.
Helen Fowler, who had the idea to organize a party inspired by Mrs. Jarley’s waxworks, also died a few years later, in 1909. Her husband, Harold Fowler, continued to return to Athens for research and teaching, in addition to chairing the School’s publication committee, being the Editor of the Corinth Excavation series, and writing and revising the reports on the Erechtheum, which was not published until 1927. In 1925 he would marry the much younger painter and sculptor Mary Zay Blackford (1892-1982) and move with her to Washington D.C. where they both figured prominently in local society. Together they penned a children’s book Picture Book of Sculpture.
“In April 1962 Mrs. Harold North Fowler sent [to the School] the bronze relief head of her husband […] which she made in Cambridge in about 1925. It still hangs on the wall of the entrance hall where all who enter may be reminded not only of the distinguished career in classical studies and services to the School of its first student in 1882” wrote Lucy Shoe Meritt in the second volume of the School’s History (1984, 95).
Two months after the Christmas party, Edith Hall was invited to join Harriet Boyd’s excavations at Gournia. This was a defining moment in Hall’s academic career since she would carry on in Boyd’s steps, directing more excavations in East Crete (Sphoungaras in 1910 and Vrokastro in 1912) and pursuing a career in archaeology.
Upon her return to England in 1904, Margery Welsh married Augustus Moore Daniel and moved to Rome for a few years, while Daniel was the librarian at the British School at Rome. He later served as Director of the National Gallery in London (1929-1932) [Gill 2002].
Harold Hastings, who played Lord Byron, opted for a career in the insurance business after getting his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Lacey Caskey and Gorham Stevens, Columbus and Miss Muffet respectively in Mrs. Jarley’s waxworks, would continue their association with the American School, especially Stevens who served as Director both of the American Academy in Rome (1912-1932) and of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1939-1946), and whose drawings formed the core of the Erechtheum publication in 1927. Lacey Caskey’s son, John (Jack), became a famous field archaeologist excavating two major prehistoric sites, Lerna and Kea, and served as the School’s Director from 1949 to 1959.
Baby Heracles, William Battle, taught classical languages at the University of Texas for more than four decades. Battle Hall at UT was named for him. Robert Cecil McMahon, the funny Klytaimnestra, made a career as a book dealer and an authority on classical books before dying of mastoiditis in 1929 at the age of 49.
I left the Darrows for the end. They continued to make the headlines in newspapers with their unconventional lifestyle and their sensational divorce. In 1910, Fritz sued Drury College for having been fired because of his religious beliefs. “Prof. Darrow alleges that he was expelled from his professorship without cause and that he was slanderously accused in sermons and other public statements and was called an ‘atheist’ and ‘scatter-brained.’ He fixes the actual damages at $10,000 and demands $40,000 punitive damages” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, July 3, 1910). The case did not conclude until 1914 when the Missouri Supreme Court held that Darrow had not been slandered. Although Drury had become nonsectarian (in order to take advantage of the Carnegie Foundation teacher’s pension fund), the judge claimed that they were “yet unable to conceive of the avowal by a college teacher of devotion to a cult such as theosophy…”.
Meanwhile, Fritz and May had already moved to California where they joined a colony of theosophists run by Katherine Tingley at Point Loma (Lomaland). In early 1917, the local newspapers in California were occupied with the sensational Darrow divorce, running headings such as “Denials Mark Darrow Trial,” “The Correspondent Tells of Point Loma Affairs” and featuring photos of May Darrow and her “rival” Alice Pierce in a love triangle. Fritz was forced to depart from the community and also lose custody of his children after his divorce in 1918 ( Kirkley 1997; Ashcraft 2002).
I was able to track down Darrow again a year before his death in 1929. “Girl of Three Killed in Bed by Lightning. Daughter of Business School Head Shocked by Bolt at Summer Home” was reported in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), Aug. 29, 1928. Following his divorce Fritz moved back to the East Coast, remarried, not Alice Pierce from his Point Loma days, and started a new life heading the Darrow School of Business. Less than a year after his daughter’s death, Fritz Darrow, the mighty King Xerxes of Mrs. Jarley’s waxworks, died of heart failure at the age of 47.
Ashcraft, W. M. 2002. The Dawn of the New Cycle: Point Loma Theosophists and American Culture, Knoxville.
Chapman, M. M., 1992. “Living pictures”: Women and tableaux vivants in nineteenth-century American fiction and culture (Diss. University of Cornell).
Gill, D. W. J. 2002. “’The Passion of Hazard’: Women at the British School at Athens Before the First World War,” BSA 97, 491-510.
Kirkley, E. A. 1997. “Starved and Treated Like Convicts” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly 43:1 (https://sandiegohistory.org/journal/1997/january/theosophical/)
Lord, L. E. 1947. A History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1882-1942, Cambridge, Mass.
Meritt, L. S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1939-1980, Princeton.