American National Biography Online
Haverly, Jack H. (30 June 1837-28 Sept. 1901), minstrel showman,
was born Christopher Heverly in Boiling Springs (later known
as Axemann), Pennsylvania, the son of Christopher Heverly, whose
occupation is unknown, and Eliza Steel. After schooling in Axemann,
Heverly moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in 1854 as a tailor's
apprentice. A dispute with the tailor led to a thirty-day jail
sentence for Heverly, who soon left for Ohio. Many of the details
of his next few years are obscure, though he apparently performed
a number of jobs, including "baggage smasher" on the railroads.
By 1864 he was well settled in Toledo and opened his first variety
theater. A printer's misspelling of his name on a batch of huge
colored posters--one of many trademarks of his later work--was
more cheaply left uncorrected and Heverly became Haverly. He
had married Sara Hechsinger, one-half of the singing Duval Sisters,
probably by 1864. She died in 1867 in Toledo, and he married
her sister Eliza Hechsinger that same year. He had no children.
Although Haverly eventually acquired enough theaters to be acknowledged
as the originator of the theatrical chain, it was another 1864
venture that began his ascent to fame. On 1 August the first
Haverly's Minstrel troupe began a one-month tour of Michigan.
Later in the year Haverly joined his troupe with Cool Burgess's,
performing in Toronto, Canada. For the next several years, in
keeping with America's boom-and-bust Gilded Age, Haverly formed
and dissolved various minstrel partnerships throughout the Midwest.
Between 1870 and 1873 he managed Cal Wagner's Minstrels; in Kansas
City in 1873 he again formed Haverly's Minstrels.
Minstrelsy had already wandered from the classic three-part
format of Edwin P. Christy. Haverly eventually expanded it to
its historical limits in satisfying his P. T. Barnum-like ambition,
"To astonish and satisfy the most exacting amusement seeker in
the world." As theatrical historian Robert Toll wrote, variety,
drama, opera, and equestrian shows "had all increased and enlarged
their dimensions until their attractive qualities appeared unlimited."
By the 1870s there were black minstrels as well as whites in
blackface makeup, and in 1876 Haverly set up a "colored" troupe
with Tom Maguire in Nevada. In 1878 he went into partnership
with Charles Callender to run the Georgia Colored Minstrels.
With a show bigger than most, Haverly and Callender introduced
religious music and attracted an African-American audience. Laying
the groundwork for generations of show-business stereotypes of
African Americans, Haverly advertised his company as "The darky
as he is at home, darky life in the cornfield, canebrake, barnyard,
and on the levee and flatboat."
As Haverly's shows and reputation grew, so did the tales of
his debacles--eventually he was supposed to have lost as many as seven fortunes. By 1877 he was reportedly $104,000 in debt.
Still, Haverly bought out Callender and increased the size of
the company enormously. In 1879 the first of many songbooks attributed to him, Haverly's Genuine Georgia Colored Minstrel Songster, was published.
Meanwhile in 1878 Haverly had organized his most famous company,
which would invent a new theatrical form, bridging the gap between
old-style minstrelsy and the enlarged, highly organized form
of variety that became known as vaudeville. Haverly simply threw
everything that proved popular into his shows and spent enough
on them so that the customers could see the money. He quadrupled
the standard number of performers and advertised them thus: "Forty--Count
'Em--40--Forty--Haverly's United Mastodon Minstrels!" Haverly
was superstitious about forty, recalling wanderings in the wilderness
and Noah's flood. As for Mastodons, this was the era when herds
of circus elephants were stampeding the customers into the big tops.
When Haverly's Mastodon Minstrels came to town, they came in
with a drum corps and a brass band, wearing silk hats, frock
coats, and lavender trousers, marching two abreast through the
town. Charles Frohman, Haverly's treasurer (later a major theatrical
producer), marched with them, carrying a three-foot iron money
safe. In the "humbug" style of the era, it was probably empty,
but the display created awe anyway. Everything was vast and tasteful.
In a single program could be found a scene showing a "Turkish
Barbaric Palace in Silver and Gold" as well as a baseball sketch,
a tableaux of the dying athlete, and a parody of Barnum: "Pea
Tea Bar Nones Kolossal Cirkuss, Museum, Menagerie and Kaynes'
Kicadrome Kavalkade." By 1879 the Mastodons were offering serious,
if Marx Brothersish, parodies of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Using a barrage of publicity, including what minstrel historian
Harry Reynolds called "Haverly's gorgeous lithographed posters,
about 30 by 40 inches," the Mastodons conquered Britain in 1880,
displaying two rows of vocalists, two of instrumentalists, and
an enormous drummer. There were sixteen corner men and eight
each of Bones and Tambourine. The Mastodons toured to Germany,
where arrest was threatened for impersonating Negroes. An all-African
American Mastodon troupe repeated the company's success in 1881.
The high point of Haverly's career proved to be 1881; he owned
three theaters in New York, and one each in Brooklyn, Chicago,
and San Francisco, and he ran the largest black and white minstrel
troupes. There were two opera companies, two sporting organizations,
two mining companies, an agency in London, and a great many ventures
in the stock market. A slight, grey-eyed man with a drooping
mustache, Haverly gained the reputation of an expert poker player.
Using the advice of his friend John Cudahy, the packing-house
magnate, he apparently tried unsuccessfully to corner the market
on pork. "Haverly" shoes, neckties, and hats became fashion hits.
Haverly was able to boast of his entertainment empire that "The
most select society in every large city in America visits periodically."
He insisted, "I've got only one method . . . to find out what
the people want and then give them that thing . . . There's no
use trying to force the public into a theater."
In response to the "refined" minstrelsy of Sam Haynes's Touring
British Minstrels in 1881, Haverly mounted a "colossal Japanese
show," hailing from "the court theatre of his Imperial Majesty,
the Mikado of Japan." In 1883 Haverly acquired the San Francisco
Minstrels, New York's last resident minstrel company, dating to 1865.
The Mastodons returned to Britain in 1884. A heat wave and the
competition from Callender's new troupe turned the venture into
a nightmare, and in August Haverly was back in New York, his
latest fortune gone. He continued to run minstrel troupes until 1898.
By 1901 Haverly was running a small museum in Brooklyn. The
last three years of his life were spent trying to build another
fortune by gold-mining. Haverly died in Salt Lake City.
The Harvard Theater Collection, Cambridge, Mass., specializing
in minstrelsy, contains a number of references to Haverly. Haverly's
various songbooks can be found in the British Library, London.
Hugh Manchester, Colonel Jack Haverly (1976), a monograph by
an author from Bellefonte, Penn., corrects many inaccuracies
in earlier biographical sketches and includes data not to be
found elsewhere. The Bellefonte Bicentennial Celebration (1976)
honored Haverly. Highly useful books include Robert C. Toll,
The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth Century America (1974) and On
With the Show: The First Century of Show Business in America
(1976), as well as Harry Reynolds, Minstrel Memories: The Story
of Burnt Cork Minstrelsy in Great Britain (1928), and Carl Wittke,
Tambo and Bones (1934). An obituary is in the Salt Lake City
Deseret Evening News, 30 Sept. 1901.
James Ross Moore
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