|Brooklyn Theater, December 5, 1876. Kate Claxton at the front of the stage, |
trying to prevent a panic as the fire rages.
|Cabinet Card photo of popular 19th century actress Kate Claxton.|
After her marriage ended in divorce, she made her stage debut in Chicago in 1869, then had minor roles for the next three years in New York with the Fifth Avenue Theater Company. The general public did not begin to notice her until she joined the Union Square Theater in 1873.
|Kate Claxton in costume for one of the many productions in which she was featured.|
|Kate Claxton in her signature role as Louise in The Two Orphans|
It was during a production of "The Two Orphans" that the fire broke out at the Brooklyn Theater. Miss Claxton was onstage at the time and noticed the fire in the wings - as did the other actors - but continued in character thinking that the flames would be extinguished quickly. There was no water available on stage, and attempts to beat out the fire only caused it to spread.
The actors pleaded with the audience to remain calm and proceed in an orderly fashion to the exits. This worked for a few minutes - but when the patrons in the balconies discovered they could not make it past the smoke-filled stairways, it was total chaos. It was reported that Kate Claxton was one of the last to flee the building, narrowly escaping with her life.
This Thomas Nast cartoon, which appeared in a June 1877 issue of Harper's Weekly,
did much to rehabilitate Kate Claxton's reputation.
In fact, the publicity occasioned by the fires, the mudslinging, and Miss Claxton's pleas for restraint and fairness, generated a great amount of sympathy, only helping her career.
After a second marriage in 1878 to actor Charles Stephenson - which ended in a bizarre 1901 annulment - and the death by suicide of their son Harold in 1904, Kate Claxton retired to New York City, where she died in 1924.