Last summer, while Messrs. Ludlow & Smith were entertaining our denizens with their theatricals, a youth from Suckerdom arrived in town, and engaged himself at a printing establishment to learn the art and mysteries of printing. While thus engaged the desire grew strong upon him to see some of the “ doins” at the theatre, for he had never been inside of one, and had but a lean idea of what such a place really was. On expressing his wishes to some of his brother “ cubs,” he was told that there was nothing in the world easier to do than to get in the theatre. “ Why don’t you go to Sol. Smith, [1] ” says one, “ and get him to put your name on the free list—you belong to the press, don’t you ?”

There was no denying the fact ; he did belong to the press, and was himself that spirit—that fallen individual, who brings light out of darkness—the “printer’s devil.” Accordingly, one bright morning, he waited upon “ Old Sol.,” and made his desire known. Sol.’s eye twinkled ; (he loves a joke, and plays one up to the handle, as the saying is,) as with a serio-comic expression of face he said—for he recognized the youth, whom he had seen pursuing his daily avocation, with all the “ honors” daubed upon him—“ I know that you are a member of the press, and an important one, too, and I suppose I’d have to grant your request, therefore you can apply at the lower door, on Olive street, and say Supe, [2] and you will be admitted without any difficulty.”

The rollers never flew faster over the face of a form than they did the balance of that day, in the hands of the “ Sucker” youth. At the appointed time he presented himself before the keeper of the stage entrance to the theatre, and the magical word Supe gave him immediate admission. He stumbled up the dark stairway until he finally reached the stage, where he was greatly astonished at the admirable confusion that seemed to prevail there ; every thing appeared to be mixed up so, that it was impossible for him to get a distinct idea of what it was all about. As he was standing with staring eyes and open mouth, a man came up to him saying, “ Hello, green one, what do you want here ?”

Supe,” resolutely answered the youth.

“ Well, then, go up stairs there and get ready, and don’t stand here like a fool,” was the reply. Our hero, mounting the stairs indicated, began the spiral ascent and thought he would never reach the top. The feat was accomplished, however, and he found himself among the motley group, mostly boys, who were bestowing all their attention upon the decoration of their persons. We must now let the youth tell his own story as he told it to his companions :

“ They gin me some truck to put on, loose breeches and a sorter shirtcoat—nurther fitted me very well, but I got into ‘em ; and then a smart chap with a sword at his side, gin me a long stick, with one eend painted and looking like a lance. All this time I heerd an orful noise goin’ on below, trumpets playin’, drums beatin’ ; jist then a bell rung two or three times, and I thought the house was a comin’ down, there was sich a stampin’ and clatter. The chap with a sword told us to go down—and down we went, Ingen file, to the bottom of them stars, the derndest, longest stars I ever did see. I then heerd a terrible spoutin’ goin’ on somewhere round thar, and before I could make it out, the chap with the sword, drawin’ it out, said ‘ rush on,’ and away they went, carryin’ me with ‘em, till we fotched up in a whole blaze of light, and a house full of people. I felt mighty skeery, I tell ye, when I seed all them folks thar, but a big fellow, with his face painted, and sun’thing queer on his head, said some big words, and back we went agin. Wall, so we kept a goin’, for ever so long, till I got orfully tired and wanted to go in, when the chap with the sword told us that we might go up and take off our fixens, and then go in front. What he meant by goin’ in front I don’t know, nor didn’t care, for I wanted to skeet off. I rigged myself up agin in my own toggery, and when I come to feel in my pocket for a couple of dimes I left there, I swow if they wern’t gone. I tell you what, boys, I’ve got enough of the Theatre, and I’m a goin up to Mr. Smith to git him to take my name off a that derned ‘ free list.’ ”

St. Louis Reveille


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 15.46 (10 January 1846): 546.(University of Virginia Alderman Library).

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Southwestern Humorist Solomon Franklin Smith, who had thirty years of experience as a theatrical manager and actor (Cohen and Dillingham 65). We were unable to find a referernce to this incident in Smith's The Theatrical Journey-Work and Anecdotal Recollections of Sol Smith Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson, 1854, or his Theatrical Management in the West and South New York: Harper, 1868. More astute researchers may find a cross reference, or the incident may be apocrophal with Smith himself appearing as a supernumerary to enliven the tale.

[2] A supernumerary, or extra in a theatre for mob scenes or battles.

Works Cited:

Cohen, Hennig and William B. Dillingham, eds. Humor of the Old Southwest. 3rd ed. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994.

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