Jack Langrishe entered Deadwood Gulch in July 1876 with his theatrical troupe in tow. He was already an actor with a national reputation and planned to stage performances in exchange for gold dust.
Even before his arrival a theater had been erected on Main Street measuring thirty feet wide by 100 feet deep complete with canvas roof. The theater was greatly appreciated as it was used in the daytime for murder trials, receptions for distinguished visitors, receptions, funeral services and dances. Before its erection these events were held in the street and inclement weather made it necessary to hold these functions in a saloon.
By June 1, 1876 there were three “dance halls”, two “variety shows”, and one legitimate theater, operated by Jack Langrishe, prospering in Deadwood. Langrishe’s theater was the only one of the above that any respectable lady would set foot in.
The Bella Union Theater is the fourth building from left, pictured in 1877. Jack Langrishe rented the Bella Union for a brief time before building his own theater.
PHOTO COURTESY ADAMS MUSEUM, DEADWOOD
As Estelline Bennett wrote in her book Old Deadwood Days, “The Langrishe Theater left an unforgettable memory in Deadwood Gulch after three years of such acting as might have been offered to Puritan playgoers and metropolitan critics. Jack Langrishe and his wife are the only actors in the history of theater who, given the choice, prefferd the mountains of the West to Broadway.”
During the blizzard of 1876-77, lamenting the freezing weather, Jack wrote:
Oh, the stove, the beautiful stove,
Heating the room below and above,
Broiling, roasting and keeping warm,
Beautiful stove, you can do no harm.
Fill her up to thaw your toes,
Fill her to thaw the end of your nose,
Open the damper and let her go,
She’ll soon knock the hell out of beautiful snow!
Many came to Langrishe’s theater to be seen as much as to see. Mrs. R.O. Adams, wife of the postmaster, found need of the aid of opera glasses. The sight was all the more ridiculous as the theater was extremely small and you would have to be blind not to see the stage from any seat in the house. An old prospector became annoyed at the sight and attending the next performance brought a two-foot piece of one-by-six with two beer bottles stuck through holes in it. He proceeded to view the whole performance through his spectacular glasses. Langrishe was so taken he barely made it through his performance and even the postmaster’s wife was amused.
The great fire of 1879 burned the original theater to the ground. Standing over the ashes Jack was heard to remark to one of his actors, “Put out the standing room only sign, Jimmy, there isn’t a seat left in the house.”
See also the people and places of Deadwood.