The Town Hall

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In the Elegant Eighties and Naughty Nineties, Town Halls flourished like mushrooms on American soil. To them flocked entertainment-hungry audiences who laughed and wept and cheered for political speakers and minstrel shows and pure-young-girls-betrayed and Mark Twain. Harlowe R. Hoyt has re-created in Town Hall Tonight the whole gaudy world of the grass roots theater, from P. T. Barnum’s lectures on temperance to ten-twent’-thirt’ melodrama. Using his grandfather’s Concert Hall in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, as a prototype of the American Town Hall, he restages a joyous collection of scenes from a time gone by.

Town Hall Tonight , by Harlowe R. Hoyt. Prentice-Hall, Inc. 292 pp. $7.50.

There was a time when the success of Little Lord Fauntleroy produced in countless romantic mothers an urge to clothe their sons in velveteen knickers and ruffled collars—still worse, to ask their outraged offspring to call them “Dearest.” There was a time when audiences thrilled to see Laura Cortland, heroine of Augustin Daly’s Under the Gaslight , locked in a ticket office while goodhearted Snorkey, lashed to the railroad tracks, awaited an oncoming express.

But wait! Laura seizes an ax, Snorkey encourages her. “Don’t mind the lock—cut around it!” ( Steam whistle heard offstage, then a rumble on the tracks. ) Laura hacks away. Snorkey cries out, “There’s a true woman for you! Courage!” Laura rushes to his side. ( Glare of headlights illuminates stage. ) Says Snorkey, “Victory! Saved! Hooray! And these are the women who ain’t to have a vote!” ( As Laura takes his head from the track, the train rushes past … CURTAIN.)

The book is gaily illustrated with some fine old photographs, including Tom Thumb and his wife, Loie Fuller doing her famous skirt dance, and the only picture of Lillian Russell in tights.