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Joe Jefferson appeared in York

Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle gravure, Gebbie & Husson Co. Ltd. (ca. 1887) Library of Congress

There are many York newspaper accounts of famous entertainers of each era appearing here. York countians have always been supportive of their favorite musicians and actors, turning out well to see them in person, so their agents often manage to work York into schedules.

Joe Jefferson (1829-1905) was one of the most famous actors in 19th century America. The short item below from the York Daily, November 19, 1884 tells of Jefferson’s upcoming appearance.

Joe Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle

One of the greatest events of the season, in the way of amusements, will be the appearance of Mr. Joseph Jefferson on Saturday evening next, in his great character of Rip Van Winkle. The managers of the opera house have been trying for three years to get a date with Mr. Jefferson, the contract for this appearance having been made over a year ago. So great is the demand for Mr. Jefferson that engagements have to be made a long time ahead. It is to be hoped that our citizens will compliment the great actor by a full house. The box office will open at Dale & Hart’s drug store, Thursday morning at 8 o’clock.

Movies were in their infancy around the turn of the last century, technologically limited to less than a minute, but the Library of Congress has restored a series of 30 second silent film clips of Jefferson acting out the Rip Van Winkle story. Click here to view them. Gestures and actions were by necessity much more broad in silent films since the actors had to convey the story without spoken words.

Sound recordings had also recently been invented. Click here to hear Jefferson as Van Winkle greeting his daughter, Minnie, who hasn’t seen him in 20 years.