Boston Museum

Originally built as the old New England Museum; Boston, MA
Developer/Manager: Moses Kimball / R.M. Field
1st Production: September 4, 1843
Closed in 1893 (Demolished )

Conceived by Moses Kimball, who had purchased the old New England Museum, the Boston Museum was opened on
June 14, 1841. Its stock company gave its first performance on September 4, 1843, and became one of the nation's
finest ensembles. The subterfuge of housing a theatre in a museum at the time was not uncommon, for it allowed many
otherwise puritanical people to enjoy play-going.


- from the website of Wayne S. Turney, theatre historian (

Originally opened as the Boston Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts by Moses Kimball (1809-91) in 1841, the Boston Museum housed a large auditorium on the top floor which was intended to serve as a sort of lecture hall. Hardly a model of extravagant luxury, the original auditorium was reached by two steep flights of "breakneck" stairs; at the door was a huge stump of a tree with the top hollowed out to hold programs for the patrons who could stay for the platform entertainments if they wished after they had looked at the museum's other offerings. Seating in the auditorium was on crudely built benches. Programming originally consisted of a forerunner of what was to become "vaudeville" in the 20th Century: olio acts consisting of singers and musicians of various peculiar instruments, trained canaries and other "curiosities." The first theatrical performance was held there in 1843, and proved so successful that a new building specifically to house plays had to be erected on Tremont Street between School and Court Streets. The first stage manager was William H. Smith, "an able, scholarly, and sterling actor.

Joseph Haworth & The Boston Museum

After four years with John Ellsler’s company in Cleveland, Ohio, Joseph Haworth was offered a twenty-week tour playing Laertes opposite Edwin Booth’s Hamlet. Joe turned down Mr. Booth, and instead joined the Boston Museum Company as its leading juvenile. It was a brilliant decision. Joe’s years in Boston developed him into an actor of unequaled range, and provided him with a home base audience that he could return to year after year.

Joe had a growing reputation when manager R. F. Field hired him for the Museum. Official news releases touted a bright young talent out of the west who was arriving to strengthen the Museum’s acting ensemble. His September 7, 1877 debut was as Count Henri de Beausolet in Satin in Paris. Joe then did five seasons of rigorous and frequently changing repertory, playing leading roles in every piece produced. He played in new commercial comedies and dramas including Dion Boucicault’s The Shaughraun and Lester Wallack’s Rosedale. He also acted in the beloved "old comedies" such as School for Scandal, in which he played Joseph Surface, and She Stoops to Conquer, in which he played Hastings. Joe gained experience performing in romantic costume dramas such as Ruy Blas and Guy Mannering, and melodramas like The Marble Heart and The Two Orphans. For all four seasons, Joe shared the stage with the comic genius of William Warren, and the Museum’s versatile leading man Charles Barron.

Joe also had great success in the theatre’s comic opera productions. The Museum staged the American premiers of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore (1879) and Patience (1881). The sophisticated satire of these works was new territory for Boston audiences who were more accustomed conventional operettas like The Little Duke. Kate Ryan in her book "Old Boston Museum Days" wrote: "Everyone about the theatre was somewhat doubtful as to the success of Pinafore. Even Mr. Field was uncertain about the outcome till the song ‘He is an Englishman,’ sung by Joseph Haworth, took the audience by storm and received encore after encore. Joseph Haworth played the part of Bill Bobstay and added greatly to the success of the opera." As Grosvenor in Patience, it was said that Joe danced and sang with as much ease and abandon as though he had been reared in a burlesque company.

But Joe’s primary ambition was to play the great classical parts. For his benefit performance on February 12, 1881, he selected the role of Romeo opposite ingénue Nora Bartlett. In his final 1882 season, he played Iago opposite Charles Barron’s Othello, and Romeo opposite Mary Anderson’s Juliet. The latter production set a Boston box office record for a single night’s gross receipts. It was Haworth’s driving ambition in the classics that led him to decline the Museum’s 1882 offer to make him leading man, instead joining forces with the great Irish tragedian John McCullough. Joe made a notable return to the Boston Museum in November of 1896, appearing in his New York success Sue. In subsequent appearances at other Boston playhouses, he was often billed as "Boston’s Favorite Actor."

Green Room

Programs available from this theatre:

  • That Nose (1862)

  • Pinafore (1879)

  • Boston Museum foyer

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