Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Success on the stage masks a home in chaos
Abby and Daniel McFarland continued their rocky life together in New York City. Abby discovered that she had a natural talent as an actress, and there were many opportunities in New York for a person of her beauty, charm, and intelligence.
To polish her public persona, she studied with the renowned English actor, elocutionist and drama teacher George Vandenhoff and his wife, a retired actress.
Abby began to give dramatic readings which were well-received, and soon she found respectable work on the stage, acting in dramatic roles. This included a part in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" alongside the celebrated actor Edwin Booth. He was the brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's future assassin. Abby's stage roles alone netted her as much as $25 a week of much-needed income.
Abby also published articles for children in periodicals, and published a book of her own children's poetry in honor of her elder son, entitled "Percy's Book of Rhymes." Her fame grew, and she became a popular figure in New York social circles. She developed close friendships with Horace Greeley, the founder of the New York Tribune newspaper and his sister Mrs. John Cleveland. Greeley, originally from Amherst, New Hampshire, is remembered today for his advice, "Go west, young man, go west…" Abby's friends also included the Tribune's publisher Samuel Sinclair and his wife. Through Greeley's influence, Daniel McFarland was given a paid administrative position in local government. It was thought that this might help him rise up from his alcoholic decline.
As Abby's success grew and as her coterie of friends expanded, Daniel McFarland became increasingly jealous. He read Abby's personal mail and obsessed about her activities. Abby later wrote, that "…he became a demon…He would rise in bed, tear the bed clothing into shreds and threaten to kill me." After each wild episode McFarland would beg Abby for forgiveness. She would dutifully give him another chance and tell him that she loved him. One day, however, he hit her in the face so violently that she nearly fell to the floor. She decided then that she had no more love or forgiveness to give McFarland.
On one occasion, when Abby was visiting with the Sinclairs, she was introduced to the handsome and distinguished writer Albert Deane Richardson. Richardson was born in 1833 in Franklin, Massachusetts. When he was 18 he got his first job as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Journal. He later worked in Cincinnati and was a correspondent in Kansas for the Boston Journal and other papers. He became politically active, advocating for Kansas' admission to the Union as a free (antislavery) state. In 1859 and 1860, he traveled west as a reporter for the New York Tribune, accompanying Horace Greeley on a trek to Pike's Peak in Colorado. Afterwards, he edited a newspaper in Colorado and in 1860 the New York Tribune sent him to New Orleans to report on the Secessionist movement. Richardson remained in the South after the war started. He traveled with the Union Army, reporting on several important battles as they happened, and he also acted as a spy for the Union.
Richardson was captured by the Confederates near Vicksburg, Mississippi, in May 1863. For the next 20 months he was incarcerated in Confederate prisons under horrifying conditions. In December 1864, he and another Union reporter managed to escape from a prison in Salisbury, North Carolina. Over the next four weeks they walked 400 miles to the Union lines near Knoxville, Tennessee. When Richardson returned home, he was devastated to learn that his beloved wife Mary Louise and their baby daughter had died. He was left a widower with three children ages 13, 10 and 6.
Richardson wrote about his exploits and ordeals during the war in a New York Tribune article which he later expanded into a popular book, "The Secret Service, The Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape." He was promoted to an editor position with the Tribune, and earned enough from book sales to become a shareholder in the paper.
Fate brought Abby McFarland and Albert Richardson together again in January 1867, when they ended up living in the same boarding house on Amity Street in New York.
Next week: A Valley Cemetery Story — A love affair ends in tragedy.
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at email@example.com