The Brooklyn Eagle
Unsigned Article
28 April 1904


Veteran Lives on State Street and Though 85 Expects to Return to Stage.


'Twas No Joke to Play His Old Part Down in Louisville—One Engagement That Didn't Pay.

  Sam S. Sanford, the old time minstrel and, according to himself, the creator of the part of Uncle Tom in the dramatized version of Mrs. Stowe's famous book, has suffered a stroke of paralysis and is spending his declining days at the home of his daughter, at 429 State street, Brooklyn. Mr. Sanford is 85 years old. Although he has lost the use of his legs, temporarily, he believes, his mind is still very active and he delights to relate the reminiscences of the years immediately following the Civil War, when sectional feeling was still strong in the border states along Mason and Dixon's line, where he played Uncle Tom.

  When seen yesterday by an Eagle reporter Mr. Sanford was reclining in an arm chair at his daughter's home. "I've just finished my breakfast," he said, "and I feel fine. I'm laid up with this attack, but I guess the warm weather will thaw me out. I expect to be back on the boards again before very long. I wish some of my old friends would come in to see me and talk over old times.

  "Yes," continued Mr. Sanford, "I am the original Uncle Tom of Mrs. Beecher Stowe's romance. After President Lincoln was shot I played Uncle Tom all through Ohio and Kentucky and I had a great many narrow escapes with my life. I remember one instance in Louisville where the memory of a poker game saved my life.

  "It was like this. I had Uncle Tom booked that winter mostly in Ohio, but I had booked the show for one week in Louisville. I received several letters, mostly anonymous, warning me that if I tried to play Uncle Tom there I would never leave the town alive. I told my wife she had better remain behind while I made the trip, but she insisted on going with me.

  "Well, we took the show to Louisville. There were a good many demonstrations against us when we arrived in town, but no signs of open violence. Apparently the citizens decided that the best way to treat us was to boycott the show.

  "On Monday night we opened and played to a $5 house. The next night it was just as bad. On Wednesday I went to the manager of the theater and said, 'Look here! I've contracted to pay you $75 a night for the theater and I'd like to have you let me off.' He said, 'Well, well, Sanford, I thought you had more nerve than that. I didn't think you were a quitter.'

  "'I've got nerve enough under certain circumstances,' I said, 'but both of us are throwing away our money. What's the use of going on with the show when it's clear the people don't want us.'

  "'Don't you worry about the pay for the theater,' he said. 'If you'll go on and show these Rebs you've got nerve I won't charge you a cent for the use of the house.'

  "On the strength of that I decided to stay. We got together and sent out several hundred envelopes with two reserved tickets in each to the best people in the place for the Saturday night performance. All through the week we played to empty seats, but whether it was curiosity or some other feeling, when Saturday night came we had a crowded house.

  "The play went off very well, and I thought we were making a good impression. There were hisses at some of the lines, but no one went any further than that. We had reached a point where Uncle Tom comes in with a candle in his hand. My dressing room was down below the wings of the stage, and I had made up and was on my way up the stairs with the candle in my hand.

  "Half way up a man met me with a revolver, and said: 'Hold on there, Sanford. You don't go on the stage until you have paid your bill posting bill.' I explained that the act would be ruined if he held me there, but his only answer was:

  "'Why, don't you know that if I say the word, I can get the whole troupe mobbed?' I looked the man over and decided I had seen him before. I said, 'Look here, Mr. ———, do you remember one night when you played poker all night with Tony Pastor and Tony Hart and another chap, and in the morning we had a round of brandy at 75 cents a throw, only I took beer?" He paused a minute, and then he said, 'Are you that Sanford, that used to be with the old gang? Now I see that you are. Well, go right up. The bill posting won't cost you a cent.'

  "Well, sir, after the performance we had a great old time, and he turned out to be a first class chap. Most of these Southerners were when you got them away from their bitter sectional feeling, and after all you couldn't blame them much for that—"

  Mr. Sanford told many other interesting stories, among them that of how he created the part of Sambo and how again in the old Hooley Theater in Brooklyn he played Uncle Tom before Henry Ward Beecher and Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe.

  "I always played Uncle Tom in a light colored make up," said Mr. Sanford, "and Mr. Beecher asked me why I did so. I explained to him that in order to do the part justice I had to have a make up in which every changing feeling could be seen. He agreed with me then that I was right."

  Mr. Sanford said when the Eagle man was leaving that as soon as anything turned up he expected to go back on the stage.