25 July 2010

"Little Mary Marsh" of the Marsh Juvenile Comedians Troupe

Little Mary Marsh was a member of the Marsh Juvenile Comedians troupe from 1855 until her death in 1859. These travelling performers were famous in their day. "Mary Marsh," daughter of the troupe organizer, was actually a stage name. Her real name was Mary Eliza Guerineau. She was born 4 March 1847 in Troy, New York to Robert and Jane C. Guerineau. Little Mary was their only daughter. Her brother George was also a famed member of the juvenile comedians.

Mary's life was cut short at the age of eleven on 27 January 1859 in Macon, Georgia. Her death was reported in newspapers across the United States. Here is one such report from the 8 February 1859 Plain Dealer in Ohio:
The Death of Little Mary Marsh.
Full Particulars by one of the Troupe.

MACON, Geo. Jan. 31.
FRIEND GRAY: Knowing how much interest you have always taken in our little children and especially in the pet of the company, "Little Mary," I thought I would let you know about the horrible accident which caused her death. On Wednesday night last, after the first act of the "Naiad Queen," Mary, in her blightsome glee ran tripping across the stage so near a candle that the flare of it caught the bottom of her fairy dress, and in a moment she was a mass of flame. Her mother and Georgiana were instantly by her side, but she was literally a ball of fire, and in their efforts to smother the flame were themselves badly burned. Poor little Mary screamed terrifically and the house was in frightful commotion. It was soon all over with her. She died the next afternoon.

Her poor father and mother are almost distracted, but we are all comforted with the hope that she is where suffering and death are known no more.

She died with the name of "Mother" on her lips, and with the prayers of all her little companions in her behalf.
Yours, as ever, ____ .

Mr. MARSH, the father of MARY, in an obituary notice of her, truly remarks:
"Mary was a model for the whole Troupe, both on and off the stage; she was the ground work on which our Troupe was founded. Her modest deportment towards and affection for her friends and enemies, won all hearts."
An article in the same paper one year later describes the monument erected for Little Mary: "A handsome upright monument, ordered by Mr. MARSH, has just been completed at Charleston, S.C. It is an elegantly polished piece of Italian marble, with its edges chamfered, and enriched with an ivy vine with berries cut thereon, and surmounted by an urn enwreathed in immortelles. The stone springs from a marble base, which is set in a ground stone of brown freestone. The obverse of the monument bears an appropriate inscription."

Here is that monument today, minus the urn. There is a hole on top where it once sat.


The "appropriate inscription" includes her name, the name of her parents, as well as birth and death dates with locations. All of which were mentioned at the beginning of the article. The epitaph further includes a poem. It begins on the front side of the monument, and continues on the back:

Winds Of The Winter As Ye Wildly Sweep
Across The Grave Where Perished Beauty Lies,
Pause For A Moment There Are Eyes That Weep
The Lost To Earth, But Blessed In Paradise;
Pause Ye And Mourn; Not For The Freed From Pain
But, That The Sighs Of Love Could Wish Her Back Again.

Pause Ye And Mourn; That Spirit Is Now Breathing
An Atmosphere Of Love Divinely Pure;
Oh: Why Should Kindred Hearts On Earth Be Grieving,
Since God Hath Sent His Angels To Secure
This Pearl Made Bright Through Suffering; No Decay,
Nor Time, Nor Change, Can Steal Her Youth Away,
Mourn Then Ye Winds; Not For The Freed From Pain
But, That The Sighs Of Love Could Wish Her Back Again.

"Naiad Queen" playbill.  Little
Mary performed the part of Idex.
I found mention of the Marsh Troupe in history books about the American Stage and Burlesque. It was organized by Robert Guerineau 1 June 1855, and featured mostly girls with some boys, ages 6 to 16. The children performed legitimate plays in a comedic or satirical fashion. A History of Burlesque (by the San Francisco Works Project Administration, 1940) describes them by the following: "The repertoire was made up of farces, fairy extravaganzas, sensation plays, and burlesques. Daring exposure of limb for an adult became sweet exposition; riotous farce became cute fancy; sex appeal of Greek myth became tinseled daintiness; crime page sensation plots became intellectual exercises..." About George Marsh, Mary's brother, it was said he "proved to be a comedian of almost mature ability..." And of Mary -- "...she was an uncommonly attractive child, bright eyed, graceful, fresh, and fair..."

Another interesting note from the history books is that Georgianna Mosely (described as a sister of Mary, but I am not sure that is true), after her stint in the troupe "married William Henry, a property man, in 1862, and died in New York from the effects of burns received in trying to save Mary Guerineau..."

I have another tidbit for you, if you'll remember from the 1917 Seeing-Macon Car article I posted -- "Here is the grave of little Mary Marsh, the stage name of Mary Eliza Guerineau,... She was a mere child, and was performing with the Marsh Family in the old Ralston Hall, the theater building that stood where the Fourth National Bank now stands."

Old maps show the bank referred to as being on the corner of Cherry Street and 3rd Street, in the 500 block. That space is now occupied by the Market City Cafe.

View Larger Map

The article goes on to say -- "For many years the wreath of artificial flowers worn by the child on that night, enclosed in a circular metal case, remained on the top of the marble slab until some ghoul removed it. For fifty years, in fact up to a few years ago, a lady in black visited the grave and covered it with flowers... It was supposed that she was the mother, and made this annual pilgrimage to Macon until death caused her to cease them."

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