From John Hennessy: 

Oh but for the accident of birth we missed the chance to see The Great Wizard of the World. 

Fredericksburg News, December 11, 1860

Here is a little item from the Fredericksburg News of December 11, 1860–nine days before the dismantling of the nation began with the secession of South Carolina. On top is an ad for the upcoming show at Citizens Hall on Princess Anne Street: A night in Wonder World–of magic, mystery, and mirth–with Professor Anderson. Below is an ad for the upcoming military fair for the benefit of the Fredericksburg Battalion of volunteers, a clear signal of what was coming. 

Citizens Hall was one of the most important now-vanished buildings in mid-19th Century Fredericksburg. It stood next to old St. Mary’s Church on Princess Anne, and while it hosted various meetings and gatherings, it mostly served as the town’s theater from 1851 until its loss to fire in the 1880s. It was at Citizens Hall that the Sweeneys performed in 1858, and where you could have seen Signor Blitz and his Learned Canary Birds, or the Holman Juvenile Opera Troup, which consisted of “the most talented children in the world.” 

The only known image of Citizens Hall, extracted from the 1856 Sachse panorama of Fredericksburg. Citizens Hall is the white building at center

 During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers put on performances at Citizens Hall. In 1864, it was turned into a Union hospital. Both Jane Swisshelm, one of America’s only female newspaper publishers of the time, and Julia Wheelock worked there nurses.  Both left vivid accounts of their experiences (while Wheelock’s is often quoted, Swisshelm’s has been largely ignored, though it’s perhaps the best of all the 1864 chronicles of Fredericksburg as a “City of Hospitals”).  

The newspapers are full of vivid little pieces like the ad above–items that reflect the vitality of a town spinning toward disaster.

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