Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vaudeville and Kelleys Island, Ohio

Toward the end of the 19th century, Kelleys Island was a playground for the wealthy, whose visits often lasted several weeks to several months of the summer. Many of these wealthy visitors to the island stayed at the Himmelein Hotel. The Himmelien, like other former hotels on the island, offered exclusive amenities that enticed the elite, such as third-floor accommodations for patron’s servants.

John Himmelein, born on the island in 1868 to hotel proprietors, Johann and Johanna Himmelein, helped with his family’s hotel until approximately 1886, when he left home to attend business college in Evansville, Indiana. Upon completion of his studies, John returned to the island to assist with the hotel operations. There, he was introduced to various Vaudevillian acting companies that lodged at the Himmelein Hotel during visits to the island to practice their repertoires. John’s growing intrigue with the entertainment industry would eventually lead to a new career.

In 1890, John left the family hotel business and began working with Howard Wall’s Ideals Stock Company as the company’s agent. Soon, Wall and Himmelein formed a partnership with Wall focusing on the shows and Himmelein focusing on the business. By the start of the 1892-1893 season, Howard Wall and John Himmelein had organized two complete acting companies, the Robert Wayne Theatrical Company, managed by John, and The Ideals, managed by Wall.

By December of 1892, Himmelein’s company was faltering, and John decided that he needed to hire a soubrette. He learned of a young actress named Bertha Wiles, whom he hired. Bertha Wiles, born in 1869 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, graduated from the Cincinnati College of Music and first pursued an operatic career with the Spencer Opera Company of St. Louis. Using the stage name of "Beatrice Earle," Bertha soon expanded her repertoire and performed as a dramatic actress, comedian and vaudevillian. Her contributions to the Robert Wayne Theatrical Company, beginning in the 1893-1894 season, resulted in great success for John Himmelein and lead to a life-long partnership. On June 6, 1894, John and Bertha were married at the English Hotel in Indianapolis, after the company’s regular evening performance. By the start of the 1894-1895 season, John Himmelein had purchased Howard Wall’s company and thus began John A. Himmelein ‘s Imperial Stock Company, also known as The Ideals.

Despite his travels, John Himmelein never lost his love for Kelleys Island. In 1905, John and Bertha purchased a choice lakefront lot on the island and constructed a grand home. Bertha christened the home, Cricket Lodge, after one of her favorite stage portrayals from the children’s play, Fauchon The Cricket. While most of the year was spent traveling with their stock company, the Himmeleins always summered at Cricket Lodge.

On December 28, 1909, the Himmeleins only child, Dorothy, was born in Sandusky, Ohio. Thereafter, Bertha left the stage as a full-time actress. Also in 1909, John Himmelein began directing operations of his stock companies, then considered the largest stock-show operation in the country, from New York City. On November 28, 1930, Bertha gave her final stage performance as Mrs. Schultz in the Robertson Young Players rendition of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch at the Sandusky Theater. However, despite her retirement from the professional stage, Bertha continued to entertain family and friends for the rest of her life. She was often known to begin performing at any given moment, an attribute much enjoyed by her grandchildren.

At the end of 1930, John Himmelein shut down his stock companies, and his reign as “King of the Repertoire” ended with the advent of the movies. Several of the theaters owned by the Himmeleins were subsequently converted to movie houses. In 1942, after 52 years in the theater business, John Himmelein officially retired.

Throughout his life, John Himmelein owned 10 stock companies, five of which were traveling companies, while the other five were permanent companies in Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Texas and Maryland. He also owned two theaters in Sandusky, one in Elyria, Ohio, and financed the building of a theatre in Tiffin, Ohio. In addition, he served as a Sandusky City Commissioner, an officer in Sandusky’s Commercial Bank, and as Vice President and Director of Sandusky’s Western Security Bank, which he helped to found. Bertha Himmelein was an accomplished singer and actress who garnered glowing reviews and was behind much of the success of her husband’s first stock company. On October 6, 1955, Bertha Himmelein died at the age of 86. John Himmelein died on July 23, 1956 at the age of 88.

After John Himmelein’s death, ownership of Cricket Lodge was passed to the Himmelein’s daughter, Dorothy Himmelein Sun. In 1984, a year after her husband’s death, Dorothy Sun sold her treasured family home to Frank and Christine Yako. In 1985, the Yakos opened the doors of their home as Cricket Lodge Bed and Breakfast. Over the past 26 seasons of operating the bed and breakfast, the Yakos have become year-round residents of Kelleys Island, welcomed guests who now return as long-time friends, and continue to host visitors to their fine, historic home. Throughout this time, the Yakos have always respected their lovely historic home and have embraced its history, while becoming part of its history themselves.

Photos of Cricket Lodge and the Himmeleins can be found on the Kelleys Island Historical Society's website:

No comments:

Post a Comment