The Codys: Looking Backwards at the Woman in the Mirror
Adam Bogardus� refinement of the glass target ball was the major factor in the rise of Wild West show shooting acts. However, even before that development, public performances by marksmen were seen on American stages and in tent shows. These acts focused on set trick shots rather than on wing shots or moving shots. On stage, they often occurred within frontier-themed melodramas, such as those that Buffalo Bill Cody starred in prior to developing his Wild West show. Some shooting acts were presented without any dramatic context, and were components of touring variety shows and circuses--a tradition that eventually found a home in Vaudeville circuits and theaters.
The set trick shots demonstrated by these performers varied little in the 25 years between 1875 and 1900. More creativity was put into wing shots--where the target is thrown into the air�and moving shots�where the shooter is in motion on horseback, or swinging from a trapeze, or (Annie Oakley�s innovation) on a bicycle. Since wing shots and moving shots were difficult to stage in theaters, those shows relied more on trick shots. The repertoire of every set trick shot act included some or most of the following feats:
One trick shot in particular was so enthralling that it was usually saved for the climax of a performance. It was a shot that became indelibly associated with Annie Oakley, and by extension with all Wild West show sharpshooters: the mirror shot. The mirror shot�or backwards shot�requires the shooter to fire the rifle backward over the shoulder while aiming it by looking forward at a reflection of the gun sights in a mirror. The effect is counter to the way a gun was designed be used. The mirror shot has become an icon in popular culture. However, Annie Oakley did not originate the shot and was not the first to perform it publicly. In fact, before any audience saw her do the mirror trick, it already had a deadly history.
The man credited with the first public performance of the mirror shot was Frank Ivers Frayne, a showman who moved from trained animal acts into frontier-themed dramas. He first appeared on stage in western melodramas in 1874, but it was his 1875 production of the play Si Slocum that introduced his most spectacular shooting stunts. Frayne, a Kentuckian by birth, picked up his marksman skills in mining towns following the Civil War. In the climatic scene of Si Slocum, Frayne�s character, Si Slocum, is forced by the villain to perform the mirror shot in order to secure the release of his wife, Ruth Slocum. The action was made sensational by the fact that Frayne had to shoot an apple from the top of her head�an obvious allusion to the legend of William Tell.
Audiences were savvy to stagecraft that could fake shooting stunts through the use of blank cartridges and manipulated targets, but Frayne was known to use live ammunition, and people flocked to his production of Si Slocum. Often, Frayne would open a theater engagement by giving a private demonstration to disbelieving members of the press. The play toured the country for over seven years, and played in Great Britain, as well. The public was undoubtedly well aware of the fact that the role of the wife in Si Slocum was Frayne�s real-life spouse, Clara Butler Frayne. To quell potential uproar over the perilous entertainment, Frayne issued public assurances that several precautions were taken during the mirror shot: Clara wore a hat that elevated the apple above her head four-to-six inches; and underneath the hat she wore a chainmail skullcap with metal plates.
In the five years that she performed the role of the wife in Si Slocum, Clara Butler suffered no injury during the hundreds of times she held the apple for the mirror shot. However, during another shooting set shot in which Frayne fired at a target held from her hand, she lost a finger. Despite that mishap, Si Slocum made a small fortune for the Fraynes, and in the spring of 1880 they had an elegant new house built in Chicago. Clara, however, hardly had time to enjoy their new home; she died from asthma just two weeks after they moved into their new abode.
Frayne continued touring with Si Slocum, replacing Clara�s part in the cast with another actress for a short while, then later in 1881 with 25-year-old actress Annie Von Behren. Within a year, Von Behren and Frayne were engaged to be married. Si Slocum opened in Cincinnati, Ohio, in November of 1882. A matinee was given on Thanksgiving, November 30th, well-attended by women and children. In the climatic scene, the arrangements for the mirror shot were made, the rifle cracked a report, and the character of Ruth Slocum fell to the floor without uttering an audible sound. Frayne looked around in a dazed way, looked down at his shirt which had been singed, and then rushed towards the fallen Annie Von Behren, crying, �My God, my God, what have I done!�, and then fainted beside her. The curtain was immediately dropped. The audience was still unaware that the script had not been followed.
Frayne had been using a breech-loading Stevens rifle, where the barrel folds down from the stock to load a cartridge. When the barrel is straightened back up, a snap catch secures it in position. On this occasion, the catch gave way as the shot was fired, which caused the barrel to drop below its aim; at the same time, the flash from the cartridge blew out of the breech onto Frayne�s shirt. The ball hit Von Behren in the forehead above the left eye. The entrance wound was a large hole, and as it bled, pieces of her brain oozed out. She never regained consciousness and died within fifteen minutes.
Frayne, once he was revived from his swoon, was arrested. After a preliminary hearing, he was released on $3000 bail. He was quickly brought to trial on the charge of manslaughter, supported by a statute that outlawed the pointing of a loaded gun at another person. Frayne�s defense counsel countered that the rifle was not pointed at Miss Von Behren, but was instead pointed at an apple several inches above her head. The judge agreed, and furthermore noted that Frayne, who lost his composure in court to grief, had suffered enough.
Frank Frayne immediately announced he had sold his shooting apparatus and was retiring from the stage. However, the next year he did appear in another production, without guns. Instead, he added thrills to the production with animals, including a wild dog, a bear, and a den of lions. By 1886, he was back on stage doing shooting stunts in the New Si Slocum, although he did not shoot at targets held by people. No more mishaps appeared to plague Frayne�s career; he died in 1891 of heart disease at the relatively young age of 52.
Though Frank Frayne originated the mirror shot, his fatal shooting of Annie Von Behren in 1882 was not the first tragedy caused by the stunt. Following the publicity that followed the opening of Si Slocum in 1875, other performers began to imitate Frayne�s shooting tricks in their own acts. Among the first were the Austin Brothers, who in 1877, for a $125 a week variety theater salary, would take turns shooting at targets held by each other. The mirror shot was a main feature of their program. The Brooklyn Eagle thought the act went too far:
�Does the pleasure of witnessing so nice an aim compensate for the possible spectacle of two corpses on the stage, and the sickening thought of brains spattered over the audience?...It is no consolation to know that there has never been an accident, for human calculations are not infallible, and as surely as this feat is attempted, it will be attempted once too often. The fatal performance may not take place tomorrow. At the same time it may�Brooklyn audiences are not degenerate Romans whose holiday is incomplete without a gladiatorial butchery. There is no amusement in waiting to see two men drop dead.�
The inevitable fatal performance that the Brooklyn editor feared took place a little more than a year later, on April 6, 1878, in Pawtucket, R.I. The shooter was a woman named Jennie Fowler, who used the stage name Jennie Franklin to match the stage name of her husband. Mrs. Franklin, before performing as a marksman, first showed her mettle as a female boxer. She fought male boxers in the ring inside Harry Hill�s East Houston Street, New York City saloon, the most notorious establishment in nineteenth century America, and center of the sport of prizefighting. [This Harry Hill owned several saloons around the country that all shared the unsavory�but wildly popular--reputation of the original; but he should not be confused with the Harry Hill of Oklahoma fame.] Mrs. Franklin claimed she was an outcast member of a prominent Brooklyn family, but that fact remains unproven.
Because her regular assistant was ill, Jennie Franklin was aided by another member of the variety troupe, Louisa R. Maley, a trapeze artist who used the stage name of Mademoiselle Volante. During the performance that evening, Franklin displayed skill in hitting her target and other objects while firing directly at them, and she seemed confident and assured when the final feat was to be attempted. Mlle. Volante stepped alertly to her station, smiling at the audience as she did so and placed the apple on top of her head, where it rested in her luxuriant hair. Jennie Franklin also took station near the footlights, in front of the mirror, and aimed over her shoulder through the looking-glass at her ill-fated accomplice. The audience sat in silence, watching the performers, when suddenly the trigger was pulled and at the same instant a shriek resounded through the hall, as Volante fell forward on the stage. At first it was only supposed that Mlle. Volante had been wounded, but within an hour the news spread that the woman had been killed, the fatal bullet having entered the forehead at the beginning of the hair and came out on the other side of the head. The surgeons who were called immediately probed the wound, causing the blood to flow profusely.
A month later, Jennie Franklin was back performing her act. The New York Sun covered her return to the stage and included a candid interview that sounds as compelling to a modern reader as it did 130 years ago:
Mrs. Jennie Franklin, advertised as �the daring shot, and principal in the terrible catastrophe and innocent killing of a woman onstage in Pawtucket,� stepped on the stage of Tony Pastor�s theatre, at the matinee yesterday, gun in hand. She is five and a half feet in stature, and lithe and straight as an Indian. A blue velvet cap, knotted to her shoulders with ribbons, hung jauntily down her back, leaving her arms free. Blue short skirts, snow-white tights and blue leggings adorned the rest of her graceful figure. Before she shot Volante, a little more than three weeks ago, her cheeks were rosy and she weighed 157 pounds. Now she weighs 119 pounds and her cheeks are pale.
Mrs. Franklin�s twenty-nine-pound gun was held with the steadiness of a Creedmoor rifleman. Her husband fastened apples on the face of a target, and she split them in two with bullets. She extinguished a lighted candle and broke a clay pipe. The range was the width of the stage. At last turning her back to the target, she pointed the gun over her shoulder, and taking aim over the reflection of the gun in a mirror, at the reflection of the apple�missed. She tried three times without success, and then bringing her gun to an order arms, with an angry pout, bowed and retired, the spectators heartily applauding.
�I could have hit the apple,� she explained in the green-room, �if the audience had kept still. Just as I was raising the gun I could hear people say��That�s the shot she killed Volante in.�
�I had to miss then. I can hear what people say if it�s only a whisper in the back of the room. Then some ladies in one of the boxes made some remarks about me. I want people to know one thing--that I never shoot below the mark. If I miss, the bullet always goes above it. I think Volante must have breathed so (drawing a long breath), after getting off the trapeze that night, and that threw her head up. I laughed when she fell, and sat on the floor with her hands on her knees; I thought she was making believe, as she had done before, to scare the audience. Then I said: �My God!� I went over to her and I knew at once the bullet had come out again. I saw a few drops of blood under the hair just over her forehead. The wound in the forehead where the bullet went in didn�t bleed. I wanted then to wash her head and let her go to sleep, but the doctor inserted a probe, which cut the principal vein that carries the blood all through the head. The blood came out in a stream, and it continued to bleed. They wouldn�t believe me when I told them that the bullet had come out, but they had to afterwards. I attended her, and when her right side was paralyzed, she tried to talk to me, but she couldn�t shape her lips to speak the words. She would take my arm in her left hand and draw me to her, and when I stood close beside her, leaning over her bed, she would put up her hand and raise her left eye so that she could see me.
�I am paying $5 a week for the board of a woman who used to stand for me [in the act.] She wants to do it again. I have to support my child, and it [the shooting act] is all I can do. I can�t save anything. You look at me here and you don�t know me, but you would know me well if I should tell you the name of my family in Brooklyn. That is a secret I have kept through all my trouble.�
Following that brief booking at Tony Pastor�s theater in May of 1878, Jennie Franklin disappeared for six years. Then, in May of 1884, newspaper reports detailing the exploits of �the Jersey Amazon,� surfaced. Jennie had since remarried to a poor woodchopper named Jackson Moore, and they lived with Jennie�s daughter, now 12, in a dugout log cabin in the wilds of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, near Dennisville, Cape May County. She admitted to having once performed as Jennie Franklin, but the reports made no mention of the Volante killing. In the spring of 1884, she gave a demonstration of her shooting skills at the town hall in Dennisville, astonishing her neighbors. During these shoes, she did the mirror trick�with Mr. Moore holding the apple on his head.
Over the next year, Jennie likely became envious of the fame and good fortune that was now being showered on lady shooters like Annie Oakley�the new star of Buffalo�s Bill�s West West�and Lillian Smith. With her own daughter now a teenager, the bucolic shelter offered by Jackson Moore lost its attraction to Jennie. She left Mr. Moore and the Pine Barrens and remarried again, this time to a showman named William B. Kennedy. Together, they forged a new identity to obscure the history of Jennie Fowler/Franklin/Moore, and to avoid any reminders of the killing of Volante. Jennie�s new shooting act became a mainstay in circuses and Vaudeville theaters for thirty years, from the mid-1880s to 1915, during which time her new stage name was passed on to her daughter.
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Another of the earliest performers of the mirror shot was none other than the famous wing shot, Doc Carver. Carver showed it off during demonstrations in 1878, just as he was starting to make a name for himself. Carver preferred to work alone, and wisely shot at free-standing or thrown glass ball targets, rather than at targets held by or on top of living assistants. Ten years after his first national tour as a marksman, Carver was the star of the Forepaugh Circus Wild West show. The female shooting star of Forepaugh�s Wild West was the �Mexican heroine�, the �rifle queen,� who went by a single name: Mexis.
Her maiden name is still not known, but at different times, Mexis answered to the names Jennie Fowler or Franklin or Moore or Kennedy. During Forepaugh�s season of 1888, the young cowboy S. F. Cody met both Doc Carver and Mexis, both masters of the mirror shot. Samuel learned most of his trick shooting that season, and incorporated many the shots into his pistol act. Cody eventually developed his own variant of the mirror shot using a revolver rather than a rifle�he stood with arms outstretched, the pistol pointing in one direction while he faced the opposite direction, holding a mirror.
The failure of Harry Hill�s Historical Wild West show in August of 1889 left S. F. Cody and his young wife stranded in Wichita. They telegraphed a plea back to Maud�s parents in Norristown, Pa., and were sent money to pay for their travel fare to get back east. It was too late in the season to catch on with another circus or Wild West show, so the Codys tried to get Vaudeville theater bookings for the next half year. During those months, under Cody�s tutelage, Maud took up a .22 caliber rifle and practiced the mirror shot. They were preparing to introduce it into the act during the next circus season of 1890.
The tragic legacy of the mirror shot was about to be passed on to another shooter.
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The best touring company that the Codys could get a contract with for the 1890 season was a small northeastern circus, Washburn and Arlington�s �United Monster Show.� It boasted 100 grey horses and 100 performers, but had only one ring under its tent. The W & A 1890 season route began in Bristol, Penn., and headed north through New Jersey, past New York City, and into Connecticut. On Saturday, May 10, 1890 the circus opened at 2:00PM for its afternoon show in Stamford. S. F. Cody and Maud performed their pistol shooting stunts, then Maud picked up a rifle as it was announced that she would shoot a half-dollar coin while aiming over her shoulder using a looking glass.
As Maud leveled the rifle on her shoulder, she glanced into the hand mirror. For a few seconds her mind wandered, and she didn�t recognize her own reflection, but the moment passed. She saw that strands of her long brunette hair had strayed over the top of the barrel, and needed to brush them back to sight her target. Her right hand was holding the gunstock and the thumb was on the trigger. So she brought her left hand holding the mirror around to the right side of her neck to pat her hair back, but her hand knocked the barrel of the gun. The movement forced her finger against the trigger and the rifle fired.
Cries rose from the audience, followed by screams. A young girl sitting in the crowd about twenty feet away from Maud had been hit by the bullet just above her right breast. Mary E. King, age, 12, slumped in her seat as people rushed to her aid. Maud stood frozen in terror.
The bullet had entered the girl�s chest without exiting; at first the attending doctors feared it was close to her heart. They were reluctant to try an extraction, and sought an experienced surgeon. Her condition was described as critical, and her family was warned that her prospects for survival were not good. Maud was placed under house arrest at her hotel. She told reporters that she would not touch a rifle ever again. The circus moved on from Stamford to Norwalk, but was attached from opening or moving from Norwalk by the local sheriff until Maud�s hearing. The next day, a surgeon was able to extract the .22 bullet from beneath Mary King�s armpit, and her chances of recovery were said to be improved. Maud was brought before a judge, who heard the circumstances of the accident and was assured by witnesses that the gun had not intentionally been pointed in the girl�s direction. The shooting was ruled accidental, and Maud was released.
It is impossible to tell what impact the girl�s shooting had on 19-year-old Maud Cody. When she swore to reporters that she would not touch a rifle again, the unspoken inference was that she no doubts about continuing to perform with a pistol. Mary King�s speedy convalescence must have encouraged Maud to think that she had escaped disaster.
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Following their run with Washburn & Arlington's circus, in the late summer of 1890, S. F. Cody thought that he and Maud could boost their careers by going abroad. They had experienced a string of bad luck: Cody's arrest in 1888, the collapse of the Oakley stage production, the stranding of the Harry Hill's show, and Maud's traumatic experience in Stamford. Buffalo Bill Cody's greatest success had come while overseas in England in 1887, so S. F. Cody could be excused for thinking that his and Maud's fortunes might fare better across the Atlantic. However, without any advance bookings, they could not afford passage across the Atlantic for the two of them, so S. F. convinced his wife that he should go to England first. Possibly, his own steerage was provided as compensation for caring for some horses being transported to England. He promised to send for Maud if he had success in getting engagements.
Cody quickly found employment in the French Exhibition that ran at the Earl's Court Exhibition grounds from May to November of 1890. The outdoor arena had been the scene of Buffalo Bill Cody's first tour of England in 1887. Producer James Just three weeks after he arrived in Britain, he notified Maud that she should book passage on the next steamer to come join him.
S. F. Cody had implored Maud to take a stage name, and he preferred �Lillian.� That named evoked two of most famous beauties of contemporary Anglo-American theater: Lillie Langtry and Lillian Russell. Cody�s little sister was also named Lillie; and Lillian Smith had been one of Buffalo Bill's stars. Whatever the source was of that choice, for the rest of her show business career Maud went by the professional name �Lillian Cody.� During the previous two years in America, they had toured as �Mr. and Mrs. S. F. Cody.� However, in England, they decided to bill themselves in variety halls as �Captain Cody and Miss Cody, Buffalo Bill�s Son and Daughter.� The change in how they billed themselves could have been an effort to further exploit the name of Buffalo Bill Cody; or it could have been done--as a common theatrical practice�to increase their sex appeal to the audience by posing as unmarried. However, it also could have been symptomatic that S. F. Cody and Maud were drifting apart in their affections towards each other, whether both of them realized it or not.
It would have been interesting to have been in the room when S. F. Cody and Maud discussed the first performance they had been able to book in London. While it was true that they would be demonstrating their shooting skills dressed in western garb, the setting was unlike anything they had ever encountered before. In fact, it involved three elements of Victorian popular culture that survive today only in much changed forms, making the setting seem even more obscure to anyone trying to imagine it more than a century later. So in order to appreciate what S. F. Cody and Maud Lee did in April of 1891, one needs to look briefly at three uniquely Victorian-age phenomena: cast-iron and glass architecture; stage burlesques; and the roller skating craze.
The mid-1880s was the heyday of cast-iron and glass construction, made possible by innovations that came earlier in the century in producing strong, flexible wrought iron glazing bars. The first builders to realize the potential of these materials were not architects, but instead were engineers of greenhouses and conservatories. Greenhouses were needed to cultivate exotic plants brought to England from its far-flung Empire, and soon became a crucial element of the grounds of country estates in order to support the gardening tastes of the aristocracy. Horticulturists, mainly John Claudius Loudon and Joseph Paxton, experimented with greenhouse roof design and criss-crossed iron trusses and eventually applied their knowledge to non-greenhouse structures. The main benefit of cast-iron and glass construction was its ability to enclose large open areas with minimal internal supporting columns and without heavy weight-bearing walls. This made it ideal to apply to greenhouses, train sheds, grandstands�and exhibition halls.
Exhibition halls came into vogue to support agricultural shows, industrial/trade shows and entertainment spectacles that were too large for conventional theaters. Trade shows blossomed in the late 1800s, fueled by the increased foreign trade made possible by telegraphy, railroads, and steamships; and by the need to promote all the new technological inventions of the Industrial Age. The most famous British exhibition hall was the Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton and built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Many called the Crystal Palace an engineering marvel, but it did not garner much praise from architects and artisans, some of whom felt that it was an aesthetic monstrosity. The same reaction occurred many years later to another iron structure built by an engineer for an exhibition�the Eiffel Tower. Cast-iron and glass construction never evolved beyond these limited applications; architects waited until steel building materials were developed to establish truly adaptable designs.
At any rate, the Crystal Palace was a popular success, and spurred the construction of more exhibition and entertainment halls in London: Alexandra Palace, the Islington Royal Agricultural Hall, Earl�s Court Exhibition Hall, the Albert Palace in Battersea, and the Olympia National Agricultural Hall. Olympia, completed in 1886, boasted the largest roofed arena in Europe. [Blueprints also showed a private salon attached to the hall labeled the �Prince�s Apartments,� said to have been made for Prince Edward for his romantic liaisons.] By the time Olympia was completed, there were probably more exhibition halls in the London area than there were shows to put in them. Olympia�s builders had hoped to lure the popular simulated battles of the Grand Military Tournament and Assault-at-Arms from the Islington hall. That hope never materialized, but Olympia opened with perhaps an even stronger event, the Hippodrome Circus from Paris, the largest circus in Europe.
The Hippodrome Circus played ay Olympia in both 1886 and 1888, but in the intervening years, the hall struggled to make money with sportsmen�s exhibitions, sporting dog shows, horse shows, an Algerian Wild East show, and an Irish exhibition. In 1889-90, P. T. Barnum�s Circus took over the Olympia, and briefly returned it to solvency. However, by the spring of 1890, it was clear that a handful of limited engagements, no matter how popular, could make Olympia profitable on an annual basis. Olympia�s receivers decided that what the hall needed was a year round attraction. They decided to partner with an America promoter to build inside Olympia�s arena the world�s largest roller skating rink.
To understand why Olympia�s owners gambled the financial future of their wonder-building on roller skating, one needs to appreciate the immense popularity of the skating fad�a fad that had already seen several up and down cycles in the decades before 1890. The public was first exposed to roller skates in the early 1800s when they were used in theatrical productions to simulate ice skating scenes. Large rinks for the public were opened in London in the late 1850s. After a burst of popularity, rink attendance waned until a new improved skate design, the quad, was brought on the market by American James L. Plimpton. Plimpton�s design allowed the paired wheels to pivot, greatly enhancing the ability of the skater to make turns and stops. Plimpton�s design gave a boost to the sport in the 1860s. A decade later, ball-bearing wheels and toe-stops were added to skates, resulting in a design that endured for a hundred years.
The Olympia rink promoters pinned their chances on a minor refinement in skate design�the use of hemacite-coated wheels. Hemacite was a composite based on an ancient mud brick formula made from cattle blood and sawdust. Hemacite was produced by subjecting this mix to intense pressure. The result was a material that offered a smooth ride compared with wooden or metal skate wheels. Olympia�s arena was decked with an acre and a half of mitered beech and maple floor paneling. The Olympian Club Elite Roller Skating Rink opened in April, 1890, heralded by the 50-member Honourable Artillery Company Band.
Over the next year, the rink managers held special events to help market the facility. They sponsored competitive costume balls, fancy skating exhibitions, trick skating, and skating races. By the folloowing year, 1891, the Olympian Club was staging theatrical productions on skates to attract its patrons. One of the most popular forms of theater at that time was a type of light slapstick comedy that satirized other dramatic productions, and used mildly risqu� sex appeal to assist in the parody of the original. This genre was known as �burlesque�.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, burlesque became synonymous with blatant sex shows--the lowbrow striptease act. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, burlesques were presented at mainstream theaters. A common element of Victorian burlesque was to substitute men�s roles with casts of women, scandalously underdressed in pants or tights. The humor relied heavily on puns and wordplay; the music was often pastiches of popular songs. Scripts were revised frequently to insert topical references to current events, and were rarely published. The sly references found in burlesques were likely intended to be caught by young men-about-town and their companions, so the audiences that frequented burlesques were neither lower class nor stolid, respectable middle-class members. Burlesque was daringly subversive, and it would have appealed to the same crowds that patronized roller skating rinks.
The Olympian Club managed hired Frank Hall, a writer and producer of burlesques, to stage a series of shows in April, 1891. In picking an object to lampoon, Hall selected Buffalo Bill�s Wild West show, which had created a sensation in London in 1887 (and would return in 1892). However, even burlesque needs to bear some semblance to the original, so Hall was undoubtedly greatly interested to hear that a real American cowboy sharpshooter was in town; that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Buffalo Bill; and that he shared his name; and was accompanied by a woman who could shoot like Annie Oakley. Hall cast S. F. Cody in the Buffalo Bill role, and Maud was cast as �Any O�Klay.�
S. F. Cody and Maud were booked for Hall�s burlesque �Wild West,� which opened on April 13 and continued for a short run. It is possible that the rink staged other events at the same time, such as the roller skater vs. bicyclist races it had run in the past. It is not known whether S. F. and Maud were forced to sing or strap skates on during the burlesque, but the rest of the cast was, including the pantomime mustangs. Samuel Cody must have experienced some moments of self-awareness in the midst of this extravaganza, as he stared up at the largest roof in the world, in a foreign capitol, and waltzed among leggy skating cowgirls with his pistol-toting Norristown bride. He must have felt that he was very far from the cattle drives on the windswept plains of the American West. He must have wondered if this was the exhibition hall that Bronco Charlie Miller--his fellow cast member in the Oklahoma Historical Wild West Show--had staged his horse against bicycle race.
Though successful, the run of the �Wild West� burlesque might have been shortened by a legal writ issued against the show�s producer by English representatives of W. F. �Buffalo Bill� Cody. The real Cody was protective of the term �Wild West,� and had already fought legal battles against Doc Carver and others who attempted to use it. Cody�s English agents were aggressive, knowing that the Buffalo Bill Wild West show was going to return to London the following year. Even so, the Olympian Club had previously announced that a burlesque of Barnum�s �Greatest Show on Earth,� was to follow the �Wild West,� so the legal threats may not have made a difference.
Following the Olympia show, the Codys were booked in variety theaters, like the Washington Music Hall and Gatti�s. This was a setting they were more familiar with. They were also placed on the program for an outdoor variety event held at the Half Moon Grounds in Putney, London, scheduled for Whit Monday (May 18, 1891). The advertising for the event did stress that they would present �representations of a portion of their great drama, The Wild West.� Whether this was a wry reference to the Olympia burlesque, or was an allusion to a script that the Codys were creating isn�t clear, but at any rate what they performed was their shooting act. Another performer on the program at the Putney show was a parachutist who used the name �Professor Charles Baldwin.� Baldwin�s act consisted of jumping from a 100-ft tall gantry. Perhaps the closeness of buildings prevented anything more daring, but it hardly compared with a balloon aeronaut descending from a mile up. �Prof. Baldwin� was probably trying to capitalize on the fame of Captain Tom Baldwin, the American aeronaut who had created a sensation with his parachuting demonstration in England several years earlier.
The printed program�s reference to �Wild West� shows that the Codys did not heed the seriousness of Buffalo Bill�s earlier legal threats. The show�s stage manager, Frank Albert Hughes (who was known in business as �Frank Albert�), was taken to court for using the term �Wild West.� In court, Hughes was asked for the Codys� current address, which he was not able to answer. The case dragged on from May to November 2, 1891, and eventually was decided in Frank Albert Hughes� favor, since he testified that he did not organize the Putney show or print the programs. During that entire interval, Cody and Maud were not heard from.
During those five months, Buffalo Bill�s legal representatives were on the lookout to serve papers against the Codys for representing themselves as Buffalo Bill Cody�s son and daughter. They did not find them. Both S. F. Cody and Maud Lee had already faced terrifying court proceedings in America�S. F. on the child assault charges, and Maud for the shooting of Mary King�and were no doubt afraid to appear before a judge again. The resolution of the Putney show court case must have been a relief to both of them. Just a few days later, on November 8, 1891, Maud boarded the steamer Scythia bound for Boston. Samuel F. Cody was not with her. When the ship�s registrar entered Maud�s name, occupation, and destination, she gave her name as �Lillian Cody�, heading to Pennsylvania. There was some confusion about her occupation: �Dressmaker� was crossed out and �Actress� written above it.
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Many years later, Maud�s family had a different explanation for what happened during those five months. They claimed that Maud had suffered injuries during a parachuting accident in England. It certainly would have been within Maud�s fearless character to try a jump from Prof. Charles Baldwin�s gantry; and if she did have an accident, that would explain why they were not found performing after the Putney show. Maud�s family also claimed that S. F. Cody had abandoned Maud. They said he promised to follow her back to America by Christmas, and that he put the sick woman on the ship home with no money and only the clothes on her back. Maud�s family blamed the parachuting accident for continued bad health that ultimately proved to be a very serious condition.
However, there is another possible explanation for what happened to S. F. Cody and Maud Lee during those five months. Maud could have experienced a worsening case of mental illness, which reached a point at which S. F. Cody knew he could not care for her. When Maud arrived back home in Norristown in November, 1891, her family described her as �very worried,� and that her health declined at a fast pace, and that she became �alarmingly ill,� but they made no mention of doctors. While it is possible that Maud had suffered a head trauma in an accident months earlier, a few facts suggest that her condition might other causes.
Little is known about Maud�s parents, Joseph and Phoebe Lee, but what is known is curious indeed. Joseph Lee, born about 1852, was a common laborer who hailed from Bollington, Cheshire�south of the industrial city of Manchester, England. He married Phoebe Nadin, born about 1851 in Ashton-under-Lyne�just east of Manchester. Phoebe had a younger sister, Elizabeth, born about 1858. Both Phoebe and Elizabeth Nadin also came from a humble background, and both worked as card room sorters in a cotton mill near Manchester. Elizabeth later married a coal miner named William Kay, but he died young. Joseph and Phoebe married before they reached 20 and immigrated to Canada. At Innisfil, Ontario, their daughter Maud Maria Lee was born on Feb 22, 1872. Joseph�s occupation at Maud�s birth was laborer.
Oddly, the Lees, with their modest income, decided to go back to England at some point in the 1870s, for they reappear in the 1881 as residents of Aston-under-Lyne, Phoebe�s home town. Three years later, in 1884, Joseph immigrated to Pennsylvania by himself. The following year, in 1885, Phoebe and her daughter Maud rejoined Joseph in America. Among the possible reasons for the moves back and forth across the Atlantic, it is possible that Phoebe was sick and unable to care for her daughter---and needed care herself. Once Maud was old enough to help look after her mother, the family could survive on their own in America.
Once in America, perhaps even before S. F. Cody married Maud in 1889, Phoebe�s widowed sister Elizabeth came over from England to live with the Lees near Norristown. Phoebe died in 1910; a short while later, Joseph married her sister, Elizabeth. So Maud�s aunt became her step-mother. The text of Phoebe�s funeral notice in the Philadelphia Inquirer urges mourners to visit the home of �her brother,� Joseph Lee. This was either a bizarre reporting error�or Phoebe had long been so ill that she was introduced to others as Joseph�s sister, and Elizabeth and Joseph had posed as husband and wife for many years. They continued to live together as husband and wife for twenty more years after Phoebe�s death.
If Phoebe had a long-time illness, how does that relate to Maud�s condition in 1891?
Schizophrenia most often first manifests itself in women between the ages of 20 and 30, the age at which both Phoebe and Maud became ill. There is not always a family history of schizophrenia�i.e. it is not purely a genetic disorder�but schizophrenics are ten times more likely to have a schizophrenic parent than non-schizophrenics. Physical factors, such as stress, poor nutrition, and drug abuse are known to trigger episodes. Of course, during their lives, neither Phoebe nor Maud was diagnosed with schizophrenia�the term was not clearly defined or yet in general use. Instead, the term used at the time Maud was treated was known as �dementia praecox.� Also not well known at the time was that sufferers of schizophrenia have an acute fear of being abandoned by their loved ones.
For his part, Samuel F. Cody had already demonstrated an ability to cut off ties with family members. During his entire adult life, the only time his Cowdery family of Davenport, Iowa�mother, brother, sisters�heard from him was when he needed a written testimonial from them for his defense when he was arrested in Reading, Pa. There was a cold side to S. F. Cody�perhaps someone who spent a large portion of his adult life shooting at objects inches away from loved ones needed to be emotionally detached.
But it is also true that one other crucial event occurred during those months before Maud returned alone from England. Samuel Cody met an older married woman named Elizabeth Blackburn Davis King. Most likely, they met when Cody found employment as a horse trainer when his show career was in a forced hiatus. Mrs. King�s father, John Blackburn Davis, who had died in 1890, was an established horse trader, so it is possible that S. F. and Elizabeth were introduced while looking after his business. Mrs. King, who went by the nickname �Lela,� had four children, but was trapped in an unhappy marriage. During those months in 1891, Maud Cody also met Lela and her sons and had prolonged exposure to them, because she later claimed that she taught the youngest son, Vivian, how to shoot a rifle. Maud apparently did not perceive that her husband Samuel had developed romantic feelings towards Mrs. King.
In the early months of 1892, a neighbor of the Lees came to their house in Swedeland, Pa. (near Norristown) carrying a newspaper from London. In it was an advertisement for a variety program at the Royal Aquarium, London. Listed among the acts was �S. F. Cody and family, the Champion Shooters of America.� Samuel�s new �family� consisted of Lela and her three sons: Edward, Leon, and Vivian. One can only imagine the effect this betrayal had on an already sick Maud. She and Samuel were never divorced; in future years, Maud would tell people that her husband S. F. Cody was dead. They never saw one another again.
Perhaps the most terrifying fact about schizophrenia is that it is a progressive disease, and after the first onset episodes, schizophrenics can recover some normal function. However, they are aware that they are different, and live in fear of slipping into the next episode. Maud had defined herself as a Wild West show performer�an actress, horsewoman, and sharpshooter. In the years following 1891, she tried to continue her career, and in doing so met with more pain, shame, and sadness than any person should have to endure. Over a decade later, her muddled efforts to explain her experiences in 1891 to others would bring her even more misfortune.
The accidental death of Annie Von Behren during Frayne's mirror shot, 1882.
Jennie Fowler/Franklin/Moore/Kennedy, aka Mexis, with last husband William B. Kennedy and her daughter, in an affectionate portrait.
Mexis circa 1896
Coleman & Mexis, the last incarnation of the shooting act that began with Jennie Franklin in 1878, ran until 1915
Cross-section blueprint of the largest roofed arena in Europe, the National Agricultural Hall, Olympia.
Facade of Olympia, 1886, with cast-iron and glass construction used in its barrel roof. The insert in upper right shows smaller exhibition halls fitting within Olympia.
Olympian Club Roller Skating Rink. Note the large galleries of spectators around the perimeter.
Roller skating in Victorian London.
Cunard steamship S. S. Scythia (I), brought Maud from Liverpool to Boston.
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