The weight of composition now lifted, the fun of Emilie Loring’s biography has returned. Bits of fascinating things keep bubbling up in my thoughts, so with snow on the ground outside and a steaming, Emilie Loring mug of extra-foamy latté at hand, let’s see what bubbles up today.
This is the Park Theater in Boston. It was on Washington Street, not far from the southeast corner of the Boston Common. Don’t be confused by the Public Library nearby. That was the old one; the “new” Boston Public Library on Copley Square wasn’t built until 1896.
But the time we’re going to be looking at is March 1885. The Park Theater was six years old, and Emilie Baker was eighteen. On a Thursday night, the theater was filled to overflowing. The governor and mayor sat in viewing boxes with their wives.
The entertainment was George Melville Baker’s play, “Rebecca’s Triumph,” the first in a weekend of activities to raise funds for the Civil War Soldier’s Home. The cast included Emilie’s sister, Rachel, her best friends Martha and “Georgie” (named for Emilie’s father!), Georgie’s mother, and a bunch of girls from Emilie’s church dramatic group: Edith, Frankie, Susie, Hattie, Mary… twenty-five in all.
A mystery spins about an orphaned girl and a reclusive widow against the backdrop of a cooking class. It’s “Cake Day,” and the recipe is “Rebecca’s Triumph.” Try it, if you like:
(That’s 1 cup butter, 2.5 cups sugar, 4 cups flour, 1 oz blanched almonds, 3 tablespoons raisins, 1 cup milk, 1.5 tablespoons baking powder, and 6 eggs.) The recipe makes two loaf cakes, which we discover when the girls get distracted and allow the first to burn.
Emilie spoke often about her sister and brother as both actors and playwrights. She seldom acknowledged that she, too, acted on stage. Sometimes, that was in people’s homes or on a small stage at a church or community hall. In this case, she was on stage in front of more than one thousand people.
But that was after she did something else in front of the assembled multitude.
Have you ever heard of a “broom drill?”
Think of a girls’ drill team that performs choreographed, military-like maneuvers, but in place of rifles, they carry brooms. It was all the rage in 1885, both as a party activity and as a physical education exercise for girls.
The girls dressed alike, in black or white dresses with touches of red on their caps and white aprons. “Each has a bright dust-pan strapped around the waist like an ammunition box, and a large red dust-cloth at the left side in the belt, so it can easily be drawn out with the right hand.”
The Captain is dressed like the rest, but she carries a feather duster instead of a broom. Emilie was the captain. Picture her on the Park Theater stage, in front of that large audience, feather duster in hand:
She enters, right, and stands at the back center of the stage. The other girls enter in pairs, marching to form a straight line behind Emilie, who then leads them to the front of the stage. She steps to one side and commands, “Present arms!”
One by one, she leads the girls through their drill: “Carry arms! Support arms! Order arms! Parade rest! Right shoulder arms! … Load! Aim! Kneel and Aim!”
“Forward in line, charge!” The girls advance quickly, threatening with the brush end of their brooms. “Forward by fours, charge!” They rush toward each other and attack.
“Triumph!” The girls form a single line across the stage, pull the red dust-cloths from their belts, and wave them in the air, in celebration. They salute each other, salute the audience, and Emilie marches them off the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we present tonight’s entertainment, ‘Rebecca’s Triumph.'”
Only now, the ‘triumph’ is a cake.
Emilie rushed to get into costume and wait for her cue…