The box office phone is the busiest line at Long Wharf. Every day our box office staff fields dozens of calls about ticket purchases, subscription inquiries, and a wide range of questions. Box Office Manager Josh Sinclair recently picked up the phone to hear a very interesting question on the other end. “Would you have any interest in a newspaper from Woodrow Wilson’s second inauguration?” How else could we respond but with a resounding, “Yes!” We just so happen to be getting ready to put history on stage with our production of The Second Mrs. Wilson so what could be more appropriate than to be able to hold an actual piece of that history in our hands.
Sometime after that most unique of phone calls a package arrived at Long Wharf. Enclosed was a note: “I came across an inaugural newspaper my great grandmother had saved – in very fragile condition but thought perhaps it might be useful in some way in your upcoming Second Mrs. Wilson.” Under the note lay two clear plastic sleeves of yellowed newsprint. When opened they were revealed to contain the front page of a March 4, 1917 edition of The Sunday Star celebrating the second inauguration of Woodrow Wilson set to take place the following day, March 5th, 1917. The Star was the newspaper of record in Washington D.C. that ran from 1852 to 1981. When laid out the weathered pieces of the front page displayed four glamorous portraits: President Wilson, Vice President Marshall, the vice president’s wife, and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Edith Wilson’s preferred title.
Along with the remnants of the May 16th and 31st issues of The New York Times also found in the sleeves, the newspaper pieces gave us a rare direct peak at this particular era in history. One newspaper marks a month before the United States’ formal entry into World War I while the other two issues exist in a world over a month after the declaration. Articles about German U-boat sinkings sit next to advertisements for corsets. An optician on the back page advertises Folding Oxford glasses, very similar to the ones perched on the president’s nose on the front page, as “very in vogue.” Coverage of President Wilson’s now historically famous Memorial Day address at Arlington Cemetery to departing doughboys quotes him as saying “the great struggle in to which we have now entered…is a struggle of men who love liberty everywhere.”
To read and study about the history behind The Second Mrs. Wilson is certainly interesting, but to touch and read ink printed on paper when Edith and her dear Woodrow were in the White House has been a special treat. Thank you to our loyal patron Cary Peterson for allowing Long Wharf to engage with the history we’re telling onstage at this unique level!
– Kimberly Shepherd