Call me ignorant if you wish, but Adah Menken was a name I had never heard until yesterday. Menken it turns out was a circus performer, published poet, and theater actress who played Broadway in the early 1860s. The starlet was hugely popular in her time and, like the World War 2 sex symbols who came two generations later, often entertained the troops. Madonna circa 1983 has nothing on Menken. The artist and bohemian had five husbands and was a personal friend of Walt Whitman, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Samuel Clemens. Twain nicknamed her “The Great Bare ” for her often risqué roles. Born in the sexual gumbo of Louisiana, Menken was of mixed Irish and African-American lineage. She later converted to Judaism. Menken died in Paris in 1868 at the tender age of thirty-three and is buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I may add this to my winter 2012 reading list.
(image/Charles D. Fredrick & Co.)