Way We Were: Toasting to the luck of the emerald isles | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: Toasting to the luck of the emerald isles

Emily P. Beeson
Park City Museum
In this photo from 1899, these amateur actors, including Irishman Jim Burns (far right), raised their glasses to celebrate a successful performance of “Rio Grande” at the Dewey Theatre.
Park City Historical Society and Museum, Gwendolyn Shields Collection

Many may be toasting “the luck o’ the Irish” this week, however, these men rose their glasses to their successful performance of “Rio Grande,” at the Dewey Theatre in August 1899. These amateur actors held the play as a benefit for the Catholic Church’s St. Mary’s Altar Society. The show raised about $120 — impressive, since they only charged 25-50¢ per person!

Charles Keith (second from left with mustache), son of mining magnate David Keith, died in 1905 from pneumonia, however his pallbearers Charles Shields (seated, fourth from left), John Malia (standing, far left), and Jim Burns (seated, far right), continued to act in local theater. They gave a “Cracker Jack Performance” while appearing as the Score Club Minstrels the following year. Burns performed the final act, and the Park Record noted the second generation Irish bartender was “as good an end man, or ‘an Irishman,’ as ever blinked at the footlights…[and] received an ovation that would make the heart of an old stager glad.”

From its beginnings, Park City’s Irish population was sizable. While most Irish settled in eastern United States cities after emigrating to escape the Great Famine, many found their way to western mining towns. The 1880 census reported that more than 10 percent of Park City’s population were native to Ireland (with many more being first and second generation Irish Americans, including at least four of the ten men in this photo), so celebrating St. Patrick’s Day was a matter of course, and various organizations held dances to commemorate the holiday. The Park City branch of the Irish National Land League, which aided poor Irish tenant farmers, held a ball in 1888. The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), a fraternal organization whose members were either Irish born or of Irish descent and Catholic, became known for their popular annual St. Patrick’s Day dances. The proceeds from their March 17, 1891 event went to “the noble cause of freedom for the Green Isle.”

The 1900 census reported nearly 15 percent of Park City’s population had been born in Ireland. Reflecting this large part of the local populace, an Irish folk story, a report on talented Irish women, and a portrait of St. Patrick himself appeared on the front page of the St. Patrick’s Day edition of the Park Record in 1901. And if that wasn’t enough, it was printed entirely in green ink, which drew attention from newspapers around the state.

Despite the lack of (legal) Irish whiskey, the first St. Patrick’s Day during prohibition in 1918 saw a rousing crowd at Rasband’s Dance Hall. The Park Record predicted, “Everybody, irrespective of nationality, will be tripping the light fantastic” on the dance floor at the time-honored AOH ball.

The Park City Museum wishes all the Irish, and those only Irish-for-a-day, a Happy St. Patrick’s Day this weekend. May you all (safely) “trip the light fantastic.”

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