Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Mark Lynch Mystery


This first blog entry for 2015 has nothing to do with voiceover. However, it is an opportunity for me to play the role of storyteller. So here goes.

I am the self-designated family historian for many of my ancestral lines. Genealogy is one of my many hobbies. So, over the years I have been the repository of old photographs. I always try to identify the subjects or location and then digitize them for safe keeping. In so doing, I often find some that are either unidentified or if their identity is known, I may not know how the photo connects to my families. Mark Lynch is subject of one such photo.

There's one cabinet photo that was handed down that has always intrigued me. It's one of a woman dressed rather handsomely and manly as a gun toting character out of the Old West. Fortunately the photo has the following written in pencil on the back: “Mark Lynch also known as Esther Cushman” For years I have tried to connect the photo to someone in our family but was never able to. Then,last week I decided to query some old newspapers and finally solved the mystery.

On Friday evening December 11, 1896 a play was performed in what was then “The Bullion House” in the tiny village of Schuyler Lake in Otsego County NY. The building was once located on the lot where the U.S. Post Office now stands. From 1927 to 1953 the building also housed a hardware and general store operated by my grandfather E.F. Washburn, long after it ceased to operate as a popular hotel and public meeting place. The play performed in the ballroom of the Bullion House was titled: Joe Ruggles or The Girl Minor.

An advertisement placed by the Dramatic Publishing Company describes the play, written by Frank J. Dean as: “A vigorous, stirring play depicting peculiar types of life in a large city and in the mining districts of the west. The parts of Joe Ruggles, the minor, Hans Von Bush (Dutch dialect), and Richard Hamilton, the scheming villain, all afford opportunity for clever work, while the part of Madge (soubrette), who afterwards assumes the character of Mark Lynch, is an excellent one for a bright young actress.” 

The article I found containing the play announcement was a local column for the village of Schuyler lake published in the Richfield Springs Mercury on December 3, 1896. It states that there would be a fund-raising event for the school library and that a play would be performed by the Dramatic Association. Then at the bottom of the announcement for the play I found the one line that solved the mystery. “Madge, a brave girl in spite of disheartening circumstances assumes the character of Mark Lynch, a young minor – Miss E. Cushman.”

Esther Cushman was the daughter of George and Mary Jane Cushman, born in 1876, and twenty years old when she performed in that play. The Cushman family was well known for many years in Schuyler Lake. Esther's brother, Keith and nephew Gordon would later operate a very successful farm implement dealership. The buildings housed the business and would include the site of village's first blacksmith shop which was recently restored. Esther was a close friend of my grandmother Hattie Allen Washburn and later married a gentleman named LeGrande Southworth. Esther died in 1934. So all other guesses as to the identity of the mysterious Mark Lynch photo can now be put to rest. Mark Lynch really was Esther Cushman.

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