Today’s Historical Treasure from the Vigo County Historical Museum is a set of ledgers from the Grand Opera House in Terre Haute, built at Seventh and Cherry Streets in 1897 by the owners of the Terre Haute House. From its opening and throughout its heyday, the Grand Opera House was managed by Theodore Barhydt, who came to Terre Haute after managing opera houses in other cities.
The stage hosted a number of famous acts in the early-20th century. Surviving programs record appearances by Ethel Barrymore, John Phillip Sousa, Lillian Russell, George M. Cohan and many more. Lilly Langtry was reported as being the worst stereotype of a prima donna when she performed at the Grand Opera House. Newspapers wrote of her complaining about her visit to Terre Haute, refusing to go on because her dressing room did not have carpet and she had to share a bathroom. Barhydt finally put his foot down, ordering her to perform or leave.
The ledgers in the museum attest to Barhydt’s meticulous management of the Grand Opera House. The two books in the archives record the details of every performance at the Opera House between 1898 and 1913. For every performance, he recorded the attraction, the weather, the number of people in attendance, the amount of money collected at the box office, and the amount paid to the acts. The first entry is from “The Geisha,” January 14, 1898, the weather was fine, and attendance was 509.
Some of the most interesting entries are artists from Terre Haute who had gone on to fame and fortune in Broadway. Alice Fisher, who left for New York as a young woman after performing locally, performed at the Grand Opera House on a rainy day in December 1902. Attendance was 1,006, and Alice got 70% of the gate, or $704. Another Terre Haute girl who made it big on Broadway, Valeska Suratt, performed in December 1911.
The Grand Opera House saw lots of excitement in its six decades of operation. Actor Jim Lane was actually shot in the leg on stage rather than pretending to be, the result of a pistol overloaded with wadding along with its blank cartridge and a suspicious badly-aimed shot.
The last performance recorded was on March 1, 1913. Five years later Theodore Barhydt would cease to manage the theater, having built the Hippodrome on Ohio Street which he would later sell in 1920.
The records of his management of the Grand Opera House are still available for examination by us today not far from where he originally recorded them more than a century ago.
The Vigo County Historical Society Museum is now open. With appropriate sanitizing, social distancing, and face masks we encourage you to come enjoy a safe atmosphere to learn about Vigo County history. Memberships are available at www.vchsmuseum.org.