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The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America's…
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The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America's First Great Disaster (utgåvan 2012)

av Meredith Henne Baker (Författare)

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1721,024,252 (3.83)Ingen/inga
On the day after Christmas in 1811, the state of Virginia lost its governor and almost one hundred citizens in a devastating nighttime fire that consumed a Richmond playhouse. During the second act of a melodramatic tale of bandits, ghosts, and murder, a small fire kindled behind the backdrop. Within minutes, it raced to the ceiling timbers and enveloped the audience in flames. The tragic Richmond Theater fire would inspire a national commemoration and become its generation's defining disaster. A vibrant and bustling city, Richmond was synonymous with horse races, gambling, and frivolity. The gruesome fire amplified the capital's reputation for vice and led to an upsurge in antitheater criticism that spread throughout the country and across the Atlantic. Clerics in both America and abroad urged national repentance and denounced the stage, a sentiment that nearly destroyed theatrical entertainment in Richmond for decades. Local churches, by contrast, experienced a rise in attendance and became increasingly evangelical. In The Richmond Theater Fire, the first book about the event and its aftermath, Meredith Henne Baker explores a forgotten catastrophe and its wide societal impact. The story of transformation comes alive through survivor accounts of slaves, actresses, ministers, and statesmen. Investigating private letters, diaries, and sermons, among other rare or unpublished documents, Baker views the event and its outcomes through the fascinating lenses of early nineteenth-century theater, architecture, and faith, and reveals a rich and vital untold story from America's past.… (mer)
Medlem:Megan_Emerson
Titel:The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America's First Great Disaster
Författare:Meredith Henne Baker (Författare)
Info:LSU Press (2012), Edition: 1st, 352 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek
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The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America's First Great Disaster (From Our Own Correspondent) av Meredith Henne Baker

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A thoroughly researched and necessary book for what would qualify as one of the worst disasters in American history (for the time). Not only do we get minute by minute detail of the terrible evening, but some of the religious backlash that reverberated after the fire. My only complaint would be a better CAD diagram of the building, but that's petty. Well done. ( )
  noblechicken | Sep 27, 2012 |
The Richmond Theater Fire is another facet of local history I grew up hearing about, but about which there was precious little written. Sometime in the mid-80s I got the opportunity to tour Monumental Church - built as a memorial to the victims of the fire on the site of the theater - including going into the basement where the large concrete bunker-like vault is located which houses the remains of many of the victims. Creepy factor aside, how could one not want to learn more of this event? Until LSU Press released Meredith Henne Baker's book The Richmond Theater Fire: Early America's First Great Disaster earlier this year, there wasn't really much to go on in the way of modern writings of the story.

On the day after Christmas 1811, an audience of hundreds packed into the Richmond Theater, situated on what is now Broad St, about a block from the Capitol near the crest of Shockoe Hill. When a stagehand mistakenly hoisted a chandelier with a still-lit candle into the rafters, disaster resulted as curtains, scenery and backdrops caught fire. The flames quickly spread and chaos quickly descended. Too few exits, narrow corridors and stairwells, locked windows, inward-opening doors and resulting confusion all combined to cost approximately 70 lives, including that of Virginia's Governor George Smith. The temperature of the resulting inferno is estimated to have been in excess of 1000 degrees. Few of the victims were able to be identified after the fire. Dozens of others suffered injuries either from burns, smoke inhalation, leaping from windows, or simply being trampled underfoot by the crowd. In the wake of the disaster, the city of Richmond formed a committee - headed by John Marshall - to construct a memorial. The resulting Monumental Church opened a few years later, with the remains of many of the victims entombed beneath it. "The death count alone did not make the event so horrific and psychologically traumatic; it was its unexpectedness and the helpless nature of the victims it selected." (pg 111)

I have mixed feelings about Baker's book. The parts about the actual fire itself and the immediate aftermath are excellent. However, they occupy only about half of the book. The rest is given to Virginia's religious history up to that time and a history of 18th and 19th century theater. Granted, some of both are required to put the event in the proper context, but the author gets too carried away with the social and religious history for my taste. For all the religious history that the author presents, I would have liked more about Monumental Church - beyond the actual fund-raising and controversy over the design, there is precious little about it.

The author's recounting of the actual fire is excellent - it just occupies a very small portion of the book. The first-hand accounts of it are far more numerous than I had expected them to be. One of the greatest assets of the book is a 3-d diagram of the likely design of the interior of the theater - very vital to understanding how the crowd became trapped inside. However, one has to search for the final death count - a rather important statistic for the event. Unless I somehow missed it, the "official" death toll (72) - although referenced several times - is not presented until page 219 - long after its proper place in the narrative. She also briefly tackles the myth begun by one Edgar Allan Poe that his parents were killed in the fire (pg 116).

It is surprising to me that given the importance of the theater fire in Richmond's history that it took more than 200 years after the event for the first worthwhile study of it to appear. This is definitely a much-needed work. The depth research is incredible, both into the fire and Richmond's religious history as well as early American theater history. The latter two were quite unexpected in this work. Definitely recommended for anyone with an interest in Richmond history, as well as theater history and religious history. I would have given more stars if there was more about Monumental Church, or if the social history were scaled back - I find the book's title does not reflect the proper ratio of actual event history to social history. ( )
1 rösta reenactorman | Jul 9, 2012 |
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On the day after Christmas in 1811, the state of Virginia lost its governor and almost one hundred citizens in a devastating nighttime fire that consumed a Richmond playhouse. During the second act of a melodramatic tale of bandits, ghosts, and murder, a small fire kindled behind the backdrop. Within minutes, it raced to the ceiling timbers and enveloped the audience in flames. The tragic Richmond Theater fire would inspire a national commemoration and become its generation's defining disaster. A vibrant and bustling city, Richmond was synonymous with horse races, gambling, and frivolity. The gruesome fire amplified the capital's reputation for vice and led to an upsurge in antitheater criticism that spread throughout the country and across the Atlantic. Clerics in both America and abroad urged national repentance and denounced the stage, a sentiment that nearly destroyed theatrical entertainment in Richmond for decades. Local churches, by contrast, experienced a rise in attendance and became increasingly evangelical. In The Richmond Theater Fire, the first book about the event and its aftermath, Meredith Henne Baker explores a forgotten catastrophe and its wide societal impact. The story of transformation comes alive through survivor accounts of slaves, actresses, ministers, and statesmen. Investigating private letters, diaries, and sermons, among other rare or unpublished documents, Baker views the event and its outcomes through the fascinating lenses of early nineteenth-century theater, architecture, and faith, and reveals a rich and vital untold story from America's past.

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