Question of the Week

What Philadelphia-born actor was involved in the Astor Place riot of 1849 in New York City?

Sunday, 5/8/11

Answer: Edwin Forrest.

Edwin Forrest, often described as America’s first great tragedian, was born in the Southwark section of Philadelphia in 1806 and began his acting career at the South Street Theatre at age eleven.  From there, he went on to great acclaim and fortune. In addition to sponsoring playwriting contests, the actor is remembered for his portrayals of tragic Shakespearian characters such as Richard III, Hamlet, and Coriolanus. His popularity is perhaps best illustrated by the Astor Place riot of 1849 in New York City between Forrest’s fans and the fans of his theatrical rival from England, William Charles Macready. Twenty-two were killed when police fired into the crowd to break up fans protesting Macready's performance at the Astor Place Opera House.

In his will, Forrest, created a facility to house aging and infirm actors. After careful consideration of their health and their resumes, admitted retirees were permitted to live at the home, free of charge, for the duration of their lives.  Retirement homes, like the Edwin Forrest Home, eliminated many of the financial burdens of old age, including medical treatment and burial expenses. In 1986, the institution merged with the Lillian Booth Actors' Home of the Actors' Fund of America in Englewood, New Jersey.

The records of the Edwin Forrest Home (#3068) that contain images of Forrest can be found at HSP.  Additionally, HSP holds large collection of playbills (#3131) that document the history of theatre in and around Philadelphia from the 1700s to the late 1900s.

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