Sarah Bernhardt performs in Seattle on September 24, 1891.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 2/22/1999
  • Essay 903

On the morning of September 24, 1891, actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), along with her company, arrives in Seattle on a special train to perform a four-act play, Fedora by Sardou.

The Divine Sarah

Bernhardt, called The Divine Sarah, was known as Queen of the French stage in classical and romantic tragedy. She arrived in a special 12-car train comprising three Pullman cars, two private cars, a day coach, five baggage cars, and the engine.

One of the Pullman cars was Mme. Bernhardt's personal car, a traveling home "fitted up in the most elaborate style" as "a palace on wheels." Her Pullman car, named Coronet, carried five traveling companions. Henry E. Abbey, Bernhardt's manager, and his wife and maid rode in the Pullman car named Hazelmere. Other members of the troupe rode in the third Pullman car, Alcatraz (Seattle P-I, September 24, 1891).

Bear Hunting in Seattle

Upon learning that bears lived in the vicinity, Sarah Bernhardt decided to go on a bear hunting expedition. Shortly after arriving in Seattle, she and a party of six plus three servants drove two carriages from downtown Seattle to the wilds of Green Lake. They rode through Woodland Park (owned by Guy Phinney) on their way to the Lake.

Before the hunt, Sarah Bernhardt went behind one of the carriages and changed out of her skirt into a "man's hunting attire -- [a white flannel shirt], a corduroy jacket and trousers, buckskin leggings and tan shoes ..." (Seattle P-I, September 25, 1891). To top off her outfit, she chose a white cowboy hat from among the four hats she'd brought with her to the lake. Armed with numerous guns and a sumptuous lunch, the Bernhardt party got into boats and rowed along the west shore of the lake. They went ashore at a level grassy place shaded with trees.

"There lunch was spread out, the wine placed in a convenient spring to cool and all feasted heartily." After lunch Bernhardt and some of the party, with Seattle attorney Frank H. Jones as guide, went on a hunting expedition in the nearby "forest in rank profusion" (Seattle P-I, September 25, 1891).

They saw bear tracks but failed to sight a bear. After more than three hours in the woods, Sarah Bernhardt returned with a gray squirrel, a flicker, a blue jay, and several smaller birds. The party ended their excursion where they ate lunch. For a half hour they shot empty bottles thrown into the lake. The party returned to downtown Seattle shortly before 7 p.m.

A Brilliant Performance

That evening Sarah Bernhardt, a "woman of a thousand altering whims" gave a "brilliant performance" of the four-act play Fedora by Sardou (Seattle P-I, September 25, 1891). More than 1,500 attended a sold out, standing-room-only performance at Cordray's theater in downtown Seattle (located at 3rd Avenue and Madison Street). Tickets were expensive: Box seats sold for $50.00; first floor seats for $5.00; and balcony seats for $4.00 (front rows) and $3.00 (back rows). The tragedy in four acts is about Fedora, played by Bernhardt, avenging her lover's death.

The Play is in French

Few of the 1,500 in attendance understood the nuances of the play because it was performed in French. But the costumes were "rich, even magnificent," the scenery was "excellent," and the acting was, of course, supreme. Those in attendance gave "frequent and hearty applause" (Seattle P-I, September 25, 1891).


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 24, 1891, p. 8; Ibid., September 25, 1891, p. 8; The Seattle Telegraph, September 25, 1891, pp. 5, 12; Edwin Leonard Nelson, "The History of Road Shows in Seattle From Their Beginnings to 1914," (MA thesis, University of Washington, 1947), pp. 64-65.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You