On October 16, 1859, abolitionist John Brown led an interracial group of men on a raid on the armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown hoped to arm slaves and instigate a slave rebellion. The mission failed, and Brown became a villain in the South, but his trial and execution for treason made him a martyr in the North and inspired one of the United States’ most enduring national hymns.
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The years Lola spent in California, 1853 to 1855, coincided with a period of transformation in the Gold Rush ethos, and her megastar status reflects how she, perhaps unwittingly, poised herself to take advantage of this; I understand her performance as occupying a liminal space during the shift that occurred in 1853 away from male-centered leisure and towards more respectable theatre and family-friendly amusements. This change in popular culture was concomitant with and largely a product of urbanization and a new sense of social and economic stability that San Francisco residents experienced. A constant throughout this first decade of major Anglo settlement in California was internationalism, an aspect of society that was reflected in popular culture but also extended into labor life. Large populations of individuals of Latin American and Spanish descent characterized the multiethnic setting of California, and Lola’s constructed identity as a “Spanish dancer” played into this contested status of race, as Anglo Americans in California oscillated between appreciating and rejecting aspects of non-white cultures.
Note: this is the introduction to a short series on Lola Montez. Read the next two articles, “The Showgirl ‘Full of Sin’ or ‘Respectable Theatre’?” and “Lola Montez Denies Conventions in Her Image”. “Feel the fire where she walks Lola Montez so beautiful Shady and a tempered dame Blinding your eyes with her Spider Dance –… MORE