Story type: Essay
Last week we went up to the Coliseum, at Minneapolis, to hear Theodore Thomas’ orchestra, the Wagner trio and Christine Nilsson. The Coliseum is a large rink just out of Minneapolis, on the road between that city and St. Paul. It can seat 4,000 people comfortably, but the management like to wedge 4,500 people in there on a warm day, and then watch the perspiration trickle out through the clapboards on the outside. On the closing afternoon, during the matinee performance, the building was struck by lightning and a hole knocked out of the Corinthian duplex that surmounts the oblique portcullis on the off side. The reader will see at once the location of the bolt.
The lightning struck the flag-staff, ran down the leg of a man who was repairing the electric light, took a chew of his tobacco, turned his boot wrong side out and induced him to change his sock, toyed with a chilblain, wrenched out a soft corn and roguishly put it in his ear, then ran down the electric light wire, a part of it filling an engagement in the Coliseum and the balance following the wire to the depot, where it made double-pointed toothpicks of a pole fifty feet high. All this was done very briefly. Those who have seen lightning toy with a cottonwood tree, know that this fluid makes a specialty of it at once and in a brief manner. The lightning in this case, broke the glass in the skylight and deposited the broken fragments on a half dozen parquette chairs, that were empty because the speculators who owned them couldn’t get but $50 apiece, and were waiting for a man to mortgage his residence and sell a team. He couldn’t make the transfer in time for the matinee, so the seats were vacant when the lightning struck. The immediate and previous fluid then shot athwart the auditorium in the direction of the platform, where it nearly frightened to death a large chorus of children. Women fainted, ticket speculators fell $2 on desirable seats, and strong men coughed up a clove. The scene beggared description. I intended to have said that before, but forgot it. Theodore Thomas drew in a full breath, and Christine Nilsson drew her salary. Two thousand strong men thought of their wasted lives, and two thousand women felt for their back hair to see if it was still there. I say, therefore, without successful contradiction, that the scene beggared description. Chestnuts!
In the evening several people sang, “The Creation.” Nilsson was Gabriel. Gabriel has a beautiful voice cut low in the neck, and sings like a joyous bobolink in the dew-saturated mead. How’s that? Nilsson is proud and haughty in her demeanor, and I had a good notion to send a note up to her, stating that she needn’t feel so lofty, and if she could sit up in the peanut gallery where I was and look at herself, with her dress kind of sawed off at the top, she would not be so vain. She wore a diamond necklace and silk skirt The skirt was cut princesse, I think, to harmonize with her salary. As an old neighbor of mine said when he painted the top board of his fence green, he wanted it “to kind of corroborate with his blinds.” He’s the same man who went to Washington about the time of the Guiteau trial, and said he was present at the “post mortise” examination. But the funniest thing of all, he said, was to see Dr. Mary Walker riding one of these “philosophers” around on the streets.
But I am wandering. We were speaking of the Festival. Theodore Thomas is certainly a great leader. What a pity he is out of politics. He pounded the air all up fine there, Thursday. I think he has 25 small-size fiddles, 10 medium-size, and 5 of those big, fat ones that a bald-headed man generally annoys. Then there were a lot of wind instruments, drums, et cetera. There were 600 performers on the stage, counting the chorus, with 4,500 people in the house and 3,000 outside yelling it the ticket office–also at the top of their voices–and swearing because they couldn’t mortgage their immortal souls and hear Nilsson’s coin silver notes. It was frightful. The building settled twelve inches in those two hours and a half, the electric lights went out nine times for refreshments, and, on the whole, the entertainment was a grand success. The first time the lights adjourned, an usher came in on the stage through a side entrance with a kerosene lamp. I guess he would have stood there and held it for Nilsson to sing by, if 4,500 people hadn’t with one voice laughed him out into the starless night. You might as well have tried to light benighted Africa with a white bean. I shall never forget how proud and buoyant he looked as he sailed in with that kerosene lamp with a soiled chimney on it, and how hurt and grieved he seemed when he took it and groped his way out, while the Coliseum trembled with ill-concealed merriment. I use the term “ill-concealed merriment” with permission of the proprietors, for this season only.
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