Exploring the world of Wairarapa's history

Archive for September, 2016

Miriam Street

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Miriam Street was named by the developer Tom Wrigley in the mid-1880s, after his daughter Miriam, born in 1879.  The family moved around a lot but ended up in Auckland, where Miriam became a well-regarded singer.  In 1900 she married Abel Rowe, described as New Zealand’s best tenor, the couple performing in New Zealand and Australia before divorcing in 1924.  Miriam remarried Clyde Ryland and died in Auckland in 1970.

 

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Chasing Winetta

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Working on a community archive, you find yourself stumbling over all sorts of odd stories hidden in the papers of local families.

Among the places that such records are discovered are old photograph albums.

Many families kept collections of small card-sized photographs (the technical name is cartes-de-visite) which featured family and friends but also contained images of prominent people, and those who would today be called celebrities.

The cards from one local farming family’s album were produced mostly in Wellington and Wanganui, but many other New Zealand towns also appear.   There was also a smattering of cards from overseas – Australia, the Unites States, and Great Britain.

Many of the photographs had annotations, indicating who the subjects were, and we have fun finding out more about the people portrayed and the photographers.

In the album was an image taken by Napoleon Sarony, America’s most famous photographer of celebrities. Canadian born, his studio in Union Square, New York, attracted the likes of Nikola Tesla and Oscar Wilde.

A name was recorded on the reverse of the image in our album – Winetta Montague, a name we were not familiar with, but it turned out to be the stage name of a “Boston stage actress”.  She was born Laleah Burpee Bigelow in 1851.  At a young age she married Boston merchant Arnold Taylor but fell in love with the famed actor Walter Montgomery. The two wed bigamously on both counts, and following a tempestuous scene several days after they wed, Walter dies of gunshot wounds, apparently self-inflicted.

Winetta returned to the stage, sometimes playing Hamlet in Montgomery’s clothes. After a series of discreditable adventures, she died of pneumonia, in great poverty, at New York, in 1877.