George Melville Baker

George Melville Baker

George Melville Baker was a prolific Boston playwright and novelist in the 19th century, producing some 90 plays and three playwrights and novelists (two daughters and a son). Among them was one from 1873 that became the top-selling amateur drama of all time: Among the Breakers. (It’s still available in print from Amazon or for download in Google Books.) In 1887, Bremen’s own Hose Company #2 decided to put it on.

The work is a two-act play that revolves around Fairpoint lighthouse and its keeper and assistant keeper. The main location is the keeper’s house during a fierce storm, and it has the requisite murder and shipwreck survivors anyone would expect in a potboiler melodrama.

The fire brigade engaged a brother-sister pair out of Ligonier to help prepare and manage the production, got Ferdinand Henry Brechtel (the local house-painter, wallpaper-hanger, and artist) to paint the scenery, and, in a scant 11 months, had the show ready for the stage in Wright’s Opera House (above Wright’s Store, where the Chinese restaurant is today).

Click on any of the images to view a larger version.

The play’s principle characters are David Murray (the lighthouse keeper) and Bruce Hunter (a shipwrecked gentlemen with his household in tow). Among the others is Peter Paragraph (a newspaper reporter), an African American servant, a fortune teller, an Irish girl stereotype, and a woman who rows out to rescue shipwreck survivors named Bess Starbright.

The script includes interesting instructions for ginning up a thunderstorm.storm instructionsThe story involves an old rival being shipwrecked and begging hospitality of the lighthouse-keeper. Bess complains that every many she rescues wants to marry her but then runs off as soon as their clothes are dry. The fortune teller makes a dire prophesy of lost relatives and enemies reunited. Love is declared, rebuffed, and insisted upon. Revenge is attempted. Secret identities are revealed (did Shakespeare to put so many in one play?). And finally all is put right and several new households are arranged.

The production was well-received, so much so that the Hose Company #2 Players took it on the road and played to houses as far away as Bourbon.

The play’s script, via Google Books:

Among the Breakers cast

A cast of the play in Washington state – 1894

Being so popular, the play was also put on around the same time in Nappanee, Garrett, Evansville, and Edinburg (just south of Indianapolis) by their own local talent. The Edinburg production did not fare half so well, however, and the review led to some hard feelings against the newspaper’s correspondent.

Several of the players were not well heard [loud enough], and we have not yet found any one that can give us any information concerning the nature of the ‘Romance’ or the manner in which it terminated, except that the curtain fell and the characters appeared no more.

—Edinburg Courier