The New-York Times
10 February 1878




  Poor old Uncle Tom doesn't get much of a chance to rest in his grave, even though all the Uncle Toms have gone out of the Eva and St. Clair business and joined the Freedmen's Bureau. The "Uncle Tom's Cabins" Combination that has been stirring Philadelphia and some smaller towns to tears by the death of Eva, the tragic crossing of the Ohio on blocks of pasteboard ice, and the thrashing and subsequent red-peppering of Uncle Tom, is soon coming to New-York again under Jarrett and Palmer's management, and an advertisement in the newspapers called for "100 octoroons, 100 quadroons, 100 mulattoes, and 100 decidedly black men, women, and children capable of singing slave choruses," to take part in Jarrett & Palmer's revival of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." All these sweet singers were to apply at Hatter and Berg's, Twenty second-street and Broadway, between 10 and 12 o'clock.

  Hatter & Berg's is a curiosity shop of the deepest dye. It is in the third story of the building, and a sign hoisted so high above the sidewalk that its letters can hardly be distinguished announces that the firm are the successors of Jarrett & Palmer, in the theatrical costuming business. The rooms are filled with everything that goes to dazzle the eye and daze the sense of the theatre-goer. Expensive dresses of magnificent pink calico hang from pegs on the walls. Suits of gilded, silvered, or bronze armor stand unconcernedly about in corners, keeping company with shoes, slippers, and sandals that undoubtedly have escaped from a huge box on one side of the room, on the side of which is painted "Jarrett & Palmer. Shoes and sandles." Long rows of shelves are filled with suits of clothing in the most striking colors, tipped off with fringe of shining gold and silver. Banners are there, and toy castles, and dilapidated urns, and gilded human heads, and spearhandles bearing the mystic letters, "S.P.Q.R.," which, being interpreted, is said to mean Society for the Prevention of Quruelty to Rats. There are cimeters for Pashas, dirks and daggers for brigands, and rusty broadswords for civilized warriors. There are silk caps and white wigs, and false noses, and everything that makes the life of the tragic actor endurable. A workman sat by the fire nailing together some torn sandals. In a little room fenced off in the corner a woman was mending a torn jacket of the fourteenth century. Into this storehouse of the gods the colored singers were to come.

  At the foot of the stairs, in full view from the Broadway sidewalk, was a large black and white placard, whose excellence of composition and smoothness of flow betokened at once that it was the work of Commodore Joseph H. Tooker, the sole responsible representative in the City, at present, of the Jarrett & Palmer Combination. This ornate handbill announced that so many "Sweet-voiced mulattos, quadroons, &c., were wanted for the approaching reproduction by Jarrett & Palmer of the unique, ornate, magnificent, and triumphant work of genius, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' the colossus of the stage, and the wonder of the nineteenth century." The sign attracted much attention from passers-by, hardly anybody succeeding in passing it by without stopping to read.

  About 10:15 o'clock a darky with a crimson necktie, a pipe in his mouth, and his hands in his breeches pockets, stopped before the sign. It may be unsafe to say that he read it, but he stood before it, and admired it. After gazing at it for 5 or 10 minutes, he relit his pipe, which had gone out, looked up at the third story of the building, scratched his head, and went on down Broadway. Ten minutes later a young colored girl, who will have to be classed under the "decidedly black" head, took a look at the sign, smiled, and went on. At 10:30 a young colored gentleman with a brown velvet coat somewhat the worse for wear, paused on the corner and looked suspiciously up and down the street. Seeing none of his friends in sight, he stepped cautiously up to the sign, stood before it for a minute or two, again looked up and down the street, and sprang up the steps. But, unfortunately, some one happened to be coming down the stairs at the same moment, and as soon as the singer heard the footfalls he sprang out to the sidewalk again, hurried around the corner, and did not reappear for more than three-quarters of an hour.

  A TIMES reporter who had just finished his breakfast at the Cafe Brunswick, and was sauntering down Broadway, waiting to be overtaken by his carriage, saw the sign and went in. The colored engagement department was under the charge of Mr. Evarts, (presumably not the Secretary of State, although also a small, sharp-looking man.) Mr. Evarts accounted for the absence of colored sweet singers by saying that it was rather early in the morning for them, but that they might be expected in force about 11 o'clock.

  "We never have any trouble in getting all the colored singers we want," said Mr. Evarts. "In Philadelphia we didn't advertise at all, but just sent word round among them, and we had such a crowd the police had to clear the sidewalk. You never saw anything like it. They can all sing. When the orchestra gets to going they can't help themselves, but either stand perfectly still and bewildered or go to dancing and shouting to the music. I've seen them get down and bump the stage with their heads. We don't try each particular voice. I can tell about what each of them can do by the cut of his jib."

  "How much do you pay them?" Mr. Evarts answered this question definitely and satisfactorily by saying, "Not much," and then going on to tell of half a dozen of the Uncle Tom actors who get from $50 to $150 a week, and are "the very best in the business."

  "We have a Topsy that is a Topsy," continued Mr. Evarts. "Now, there's Mrs. ______; she's a very good Topsy, but she's too refined for the part. Our Topsy can sing plantation songs like a born slave. Her nose lays right flat down on her face, too. She was made for the part. Why, she stands on the stage and turns a somersault without touching the floor. That's the kind of a Topsy we have."

  While Mr. Evarts was expatiating on the beauties of the Topsy whose nose "lays right flat down on her face," the first of the would-be singers arrived. He slid swiftly up to the glass door leading from the hall, looked curiously in, disappeared for a moment behind the wall, and then made a dash for the door, and came in. He could not be described as an octoroon; he was neither a quadroon nor a mulatto, and he was not decidedly black. His color was a sort of cross between New-Orleans molasses and New-England rum, and the exact shade was one to be found nowhere out of Thompson and Sullivan streets.

  "Is dis de place fur to sing fur Jarrett & Palmer?" inquired the singer.

  "This is the place," said Mr. Evarts. "What can you do?"

  "I'm a jubilee singer," was the reply. "I was in 'Uncle Tom' in de Gran' op'a-house."

  "Then you know pretty well what to do, without being told about it again."

  "Well, I 'specs I does, boss. I knows all 'bout 'hearsin' and them things."

  "You can leave your name and address," said Mr. Evarts, "and come here next Wednesday morning. The pay won't be very big, but, of course, we'll pay you more than we would a greenhorn who don't know anything about the business."

  The singer gave his name as George W. Brown, and his residence as No. 124 South Fifth-avenue. The negotiations being finished, he took a seat on a box to listen to the story of a young mulatto with black side whiskers, who had just come in.

  "Don't you have anything but singing to do in the piece?" inquired the new arrival, a very intelligent young fellow.

  "Yes, plenty of things, "said Mr. Evarts. "What can you do?"

  "Mos' anything. I never acted any of the parts, but I've studied 'em all. I could play George Harris."

  "Why, bless your heart, man," said Evarts, "we have a man at $100 a week to take the part of George Harris. That's one of the biggest parts in the play."

  "Well, I could do mos' any of 'em," said the would-be actor.

  "You'd make a good Eva, I think," said Mr. Evarts, with a very sober face. "But, unfortunately, we have an Eva engaged. But you come round next Wednesday, and we'll see what we can do for you."

  A young man who can safely be called a "decidedly black" man came in, accompanied by a companion whose shortness would measure about 3 feet 10 and whose broad, round, smiling mouth, would be the fortune of a minstrel.

  "Well, young man, what can you do?" asked Mr. Evarts of the taller and elder black, who had his neck tied up in a way suggestive of mumps.

  "I was in de Gran' Op'ra," he replied.

  "That's all right then. Leave your name and address, and come here next Wednesday morning. What can you do, my little man," addressing the black dwarf.

  "I dunno."

  "Can you sing?"

  "Dunno. Guess mebbe I might, ef I sh'ld try."

  "Can you dance?"

  "Dunno. Mebbe."

  "Do you want to sing in the chorus?"

  "Wat's dat?"

  "That's to sing plantation songs and jubilee songs. You can do that can't you?"

  "I jes' can, boss. I'se yer man"

  Within an hour there were enough jubilee singers on hand to start a small Liberia in Broadway. But there was one peculiarity about them; they were all young men. The women and children advertised for did not show themselves. There was not even as much as a mulatto girl with a turban.

  "This is going to be one of the biggest things ever brought out in New-York," said Mr. Evarts, "and I want you all to be here next Wednesday morning at 10 o'clock, sharp, and bring your friends. Bring your mothers and sisters."

  They all went off vowing that the whole family should be sharp.

  One of the singers, smarter than the rest, was heard to say, as he went down the stairs, that this would be the fourth time "the most magnificent spectacle ever produced in New-York" had been brought out this month.