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John Nickinson and EJ Phillips had known and performed with the Zavistowski ballet troupe.  Christine (Aunty) and Uncle Antonio, daughters Emmeline Zavistowski Shailer and Alice Zavistowski Webb were dancers who boarded Albert and Hattie as EJ Phillips worked and traveled after John Nickinson's death in 1864.

An Oct 1874 money order was sent by EJ Nickinson in Chicago to Mrs. Zavistowski in Suffern NY. A Nov 1874 money order was sent from Detroit to Mrs. Christine Zavistowski in Philadelphia. Aunty and money

Zavistowski "sisters" Allister Hardiman Illustration and Design, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA  Christine Zavistowski and daughters Alice and Emeline 1872-1873

Shortly after putting these letters on the web I received several e-mails from Allister Hardiman in Australia,  wanting to know more about the Zavistowskis.  My knowledge was pretty fragmentary -- a few playbills mentioning them, some letters from Cris "Aunty" Zavistowski and some references to "Uncle" and their daughters Alice and Emmeline.  I never expected to see a picture of any of them, or to hear about their travels in Australia.  Many thanks to him for Catching Zs --  story of  the Zavistowskis and their far flung travels to Australia, which so many of EJ Phillips' colleagues undertook, though she never seems to have left North America, and more photographs and information from censuses than I ever expected to see.

Allister's expertise in dating photographs and costumes has also been invaluable, as have been his alerting me about photographs of EJ Phillips for sale on EBay -- including a young c1870s New York photograph by CD Fredericks

1870 Census records for Rockland County, New York show Christine Zavistowski as born about 1834, her husband Antonio born about 1825, and daughters Emeline about 1850 and Alice about 1852. Antonio who was born in Poland ["Wasaw".  Christine was born in England, Emmeline in Pennsylvania and Alice in New York. EJ Phillips and Hattie and Albert appear in the same census. Occupations are listed as actor [Antonio], and actress for all the women.  Hattie [11] and Albert [7] were in school. Dollar figures are given for real [estate] and personal value and only Antonio [$500 personal] and Christine [$15,000 real and $5,000 personal] have anything listed in these columns.  The census had a line for month married, but this only applied to marriages in the previous year.      EJ Phillips and John Nickinson Chronology 1808-1904

Christine Zavistowski, daughter of the ballet master of Warsaw's Imperial Theatre, danced with her sisters [sic], Emeline and Alice, and mother, Christine Ludlam, in the 1850s and 60s. The sisters made their New York debut at Wood's Museum in 1869. 1875 carte de visite photograph by Gurney  http://www.picturehistory.com/find/p/23642/mcms.html 

Emmeline Zavistowski, Harvard Theatre Collection has seven photographs  http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou01726  The Harvard Theatre Collection also has 14 photographs of Alice.

Alice Zavistowski http://www.picturehistory.com/product/id/23640
New York Public Library Cartes de Visites Women Dancers Collection has 14 photographs by Sarony, Gurney and Howell  http://digilib.nypl.org/dynaweb/dhc/findaid/cdv/@Generic__BookTextView/4598;pt=4619  unavailable 10/21/2006 

According to Harvard's  Catalogue of Dramatic Portraits Emmeline Zavistowski was born in NY Dec. 9, 1850 and Alice May Zavistowski on [May?] 15, 1851, also in NY.  [Dates don't seem right, how could sisters be five months apart?]  Harvard Theater Collection portrait folder seems to be misshelved, but they are to email me when/if it turns up. 

Alice and Emmeline made their first appearance on the stage for their father's benefit at ages 3 and 4 at the Arch St. Theatre, Philadelphia.  Shortly after they were engaged by William Wheatley to appear at the Arch St. in the "Tempest". First appeared in New York at Wood's Museum, Aug. 30, 1869 in the burlesque of Masaniello

Both sisters married in 1873.  Emmeline married Julius Shailer [b. 1848, Plainfield, Union NJ]  in Manhattan and Alice married Marshall Webb in Brooklyn. Anton Shailer was born in 1877 (and shared a birthday - Oct. 7 - with Ted Nickinson (born 1890 ).  Martie Webb, referred to in some letters, seems to be Alice's husband Marshall..

Masaniello 1620?-1647, Neapolitan revolutionist Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/M/Masaniel.asp 
Burlesque, Nick Humez, St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture, 2002  http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g1epc/is_tov/ai_2419100196 

On the Sly, Zavistowski Sisters program, Alhambra Theater, San Francisco, 1870 http://www.mip.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/csmp?001004  "Composed and dedicated to the Zavistowski sisters by Willie A. Ryan and sung by Miss Alice to immense applause."

The Zavistowskis lived fairly close to New York (Ridgewood NJ, later moving to Elizabeth NJ) and seem to have had some money (to lend to Albert and to buy a house and 2 and 1/2 acres) but  Sister Cris sounds much less articulate or educated than EJ Phillips

Sacramento, Sept. 7, 1886 [Hattie] enjoyed her visit very much, the only drawback being Aunty's eccentricities about poor Uncle! And of course Aunty succeeded in having all sympathy taken from her and given to Uncle.

Antonio Zavistowski earnings 1887

Oct. 14, 1886 I was very busy yesterday.  Went to look at rooms, took them and move today to 39 West 12th Street -- near the old camping ground, opposite where Alice [Zavistowski Webb] used to live.  
39 West 12th Street photographs

Alice seems to have married money.  Alice, husband Marshall and his mother  sailed to Europe in April 1886, with Alice and Marshall returning in June, and Marshall's father going over then to bring his wife back. .

New York, Apr 29, 1886   Aunty [Zavistowski] went to Linden [NJ] last night.  Poor Uncle all alone.  Aunty had a letter from Alice [Zavistowski] Webb.  They had arrived at quarantine and Alice had found her jewels. 

New York, Jany 21st, 1887  Alice called yesterday, is well and very busy getting ready for the receptions, &c.

New York, Jany 28th, 1887 Alice is very busy doing the Society business that she does not have time to come see us very often.

New York, Jany 31st, 1887 Hattie called in and took lunch with Alice who is very busy getting dresses ready for reception, Lunches &c Society! you know. 

New York, Dec 16th. [1887]  Alice called today but of course I was out.  She called between 1 & 2. I was on 23rd. St. for about 1/2 hour and of course that was the time she called.  So, 504 5th Ave. is the address and you can send it [a hat from Albert's factory] at your convenience.

New York, Nov 8th,1889  Aunty [Zavistowski] came in yesterday and stayed all night and was here when Will called.  She then left for home. She has left your [Albert and Neppie's]  [wedding] present  with me, a plated silver tray, Teapot, sugar bowl, spoon holder & cream jug. It is a very pretty present. She only regrets she was not able to give you solid silver. Sends her love and best wishes. The cream jug and spoon holder are gold lined.

The sugar and creamer seem to be a Zavistowski wedding present.

Robert Conlon, Derry NH

New York, 12-29-95 .  From Aunty a celluloid glove box.  Alice [Zavistowski] Shailer a picture frame, hand painted.  Mrs. [Emmeline] Webb a small medicine box containing bottles for different medicines, and another little case with pens, pencil, ink bottle, calendar &c to carry in a satchel when travelling.  

Philadelphia, June 28, 1891  Aunty of course writes that she wants me to spend some of the vacation with her. Emmeline and the two younger children have been visiting her the past two weeks.

Aunty and Uncle and La Grippe Jan 1890

Salt Lake City Sept 1896  Gustav Frohman says Gay Parisians to be sent to Australia [but EJP never went.] 

Catching Z's the Zavistowskis in Australia
Melbourne, Australia got to see at first hand the footlight stylings of the Zavistowski Sisters when they made their debut on September 9th, 1872 at the Theatre Royale that Saturday evening. Ixion, their stock piece was their opening number. Critics praised their lightness, quick speech, and mercurial suitability to burlesque. 

Ixion was a Lydia Thompson piece, that British queen of the art who had taken America by storm with her "British Blondes." Offering the perfect vehicle for Alice and Emmeline, coming out of juvenile ballet and popular song, Emmeline, the blue-eyed, luscious lipped extrovert, sang her popular Californian number, "Moet and Shandon", a sequel to "Champagne Charlie" that insanely popular hit of 1868 by Alfred Lee and Alice, the doe eyed, more graceful younger sister sang "Love among the Roses." 

Christine was not actually a sister but rather the mother of the other two. They dyed their hair three different colors for easy identification; Silver for Emmeline, Gold for Christine and Red for Alice according to the press who likened them to flowers, naming them, Camellia, Fuchsia and Pansy. (Which was which we are not told.) Emmeline was noted for her liveliness, Alice for her demeurité and Christine for her more polished skills. The inclusion of "masses of hair" upon their person demanded several mentions. Mr. J. Hennings, a local scenery painter executed the backdrops and various local talent appeared (as was the custom) in the piece including Miss Juno, the local Scots actress.

The critics, not admitting burlesque as legitimate met them with resistance. The cheeky brazen and very American style which so thrilled Californian audiences stunned the Melbourne patrons who (like mad chickens) weren't quite sure what to think. To some it was fresh air, to others it was beneath the stage arts. 

The Zavistowski sisters were primarily dancers, daughters of Antonio Zavistowski, primary male dancer with the Polish Imperial Theatre who had immigrated to America where he married Christine Ludlam, an English actress and dancer who trained at the school attached to Covent Garden. She came to the United States as part of a ballet troupe. Their daughters were born in New York in 1850 and 1851, raised on dance, and formed the core of a juvenile troupe of some 20 youngsters who toured the states as the "Zavistowski [Juvenile] Ballet". The then raven haired Emmeline and red-headed sister Alice went into burlesque upon being unable to hold the pretense of being pirouetting juveniles. They presented a program of sketches, dramatic simplifications of dramas and songs, usually based upon the other successful female acts of the time. 

The Zavistowski's were gingerly received, for the population of Melbourne thought them frankly not so talented as the trumpeted expectations of the press had lauded them to be. Was it a third rate act or was the population of Melbourne so hyped with six months of press salivations that expectations ran too high? Maybe Melbourne simply did not "get" burlesque and American style burlesque at that. 

Several problems plagued the trio; high expectations, ill-adapted dialogue (Ixion was criticised for containing too many references to Americanisms and Negro vernacular which meant nothing to an Australian audience, and so encouraged intermittent passages of confusion). Ixion ran for two weeks before the programme changed to "The Field of the Cloth of Gold" a Tudor- cum- Elizabethan theme with a comediette called "The Little Rebel" as chaser. October 14th saw Christine separate and take a serious role in "The French Spy". Emmeline fell ill, causing concerned paragraphs to spontaneously appear in the press, but she recovered in time for Cinderella on Oct 28th. "Masaniello" and "Pocahontas" covered the next two weeks and then the girls headed off to Bendigo, northwest of Melbourne. 

Audiences still hadn't quite adjusted themselves to the Sisters, with some critics passing comment on their singing and amateurish style. Christine always got good press both for her dramatic skill and restrained elegance in her dance movements. It is no surprise that she would later in New York take to serious acting more and more. The sometimes snooty overtones of the theatrical critic for the Melbourne Weekly Times made mention of the peculiar nasal twang that both Alice and Emmeline possessed, and which he suggested, was not entirely pleasant.

However, professionals of the stage as they were, they ploughed on, performing to houses sometimes filled with just three people. The press, while panning the act, reprimanded the jeering and 'impoliteness" of the audiences, whether in theatre seats or on the street, with one critic noting with shock in 'Town Talk' of the time that a man insulted the singing of Miss Alice while passing the Sisters in the street at Ballarat. Emmeline, rampant and courageous cyclone of feminine virtue that she was, took to the man with liberal and well practised coups d'umbrella. Brava. The press lamented the manners of the Ballarat 'gentleman' whilst being taken aback at the energetic street-theatrical offensive executed by Madame Zavistowski and her lace-trimmed instrument of vengeance. 

But the trios' trouble had not started there. Earlier, in October Emmeline Zavistowski's jewellery was stolen from her rooms at 4 Nicholson Street in suburban Fitzroy (the boarding house of Mrs. Amelia Ackerman) by William Williams and William Smith who broke the pane, flipped the latch and made off with £100 of bijoux de Z. The same thing happened to the world touring Satsuma troupe of Japanese acrobats during the previous year, but this time the nefarious guillauminade was foiled by the investigations of Detective Brown who solved the thing and provided the readers of the Melbourne Weekly Times with a kind of amusing satisfaction which the Z sisters had not evidently provided on stage. 

In late November the sisters completed their Melbourne season to try their luck in country areas like Ballarat. The Zav's, upon returning to Melbourne in mid December engaged Robert Sparrow Smythe, London born editor and Australian emigrant journalist who eventually turned to managing San Francisco operatic stars the Bianchis, Horace Poussard and Dr. Lynn 

He toured the Orient, India, and South Africa for a number of years, finally bringing Daniel Bandmann (the German actor), Robert Heller (the magician) and the Zavistowskis to tour Australia, and succeeding in the closing days of his career to snare Mark Twain there. How the Zavistowskis decided to come to Australia (or by whom they were lured) is not clear, but possibly it was George Seth Coppin, a Sydney based American Australian investor who subcontracted management of artists going off his own Sydney turf to places such as Melbourne.

Smythe immediately put them into pantomime, an area for which they had experience and for which Emmeline and Alice were particularly better suited. This arrangement seemed to work well the few times that it was offered. I suspect a mixture of the press damage and the odd and unpredictable taste of the Ballaratians had done its work. 

At the beginning of January the three Z's put on their winged boots and left for California (via Sydney first) under the pretext of their father's illness, never to return. Their father died in 1901 so his illness of 1871 wasn't fatal, merely advantageous. One press note about the three sisters impressing the Mormon Prophet Brigham Young in Utah made it into the Australian papers and nought was heard again. 

By mid January of 1873 the Zavistowskis had left for Sydney to perform at a benefit while waiting for the next steamer to arrive. They took with them a local soprano and comedian of four years experience, Miss Henrietta Grainger, who signed a contract with the Z's for two years.

I can well imagine them eager to leave the colonial audiences of Melbourne that had given them such a dis-welcome. It is to be noted that in 1874 Christine Zavistowski returned with Mr. Zavistowski and Annie Pixley to Sydney, but they had no connection to Smythe and they did not visit Melbourne, but strutted their dramatic stuff upon the Sydney boards. 

In 1873 both sisters married in New York. Emmeline married Julius Shailer in Manhattan and Alice married Marshall Webb in Brooklyn. I assume they retired from the stage. I'd shave a shilling if I could find out.

It seems Christine had a fondness for the stage and serious acting that burlesque did not offer her. The girls by this time were married New Yorkers and there was no further need to screech out a living in burlesque. The girls it seems never went in for 'the drama" but were happy in the caricature of burlesque which offered a little more freedom than most theatrical channels. Perhaps the best summary comes from "Call Boy' in the Australasian dated January 20th, 1872.

"The Zavistowskis have been four months in this colony and perhaps of any actresses was there ever said so much in the way of conflicting criticism, one set of critics claiming for them the merit that perfection only is entitled to, the other discovering in them nothing but imperfections. As in most instances of the kind the truth lies midway. It is admitted that the burlesque in which they excelled was burlesque of a special sort. It was burlesque with an Ethiopian flavour [minstrel blackface] and though it may not have been acceptable to some persons, it is to be remembered that a modification to this particular class of the drama could have been invented only in response of a demand for it. The Zavistowski burlesque is to be taken as exemplifying a prevalent taste in the United States. They gave us what they do well, what they are accustomed to do. They were dashing, lively and piquant. They dressed with consummate richness and elegance. they never let the action flag and although the action of the pieces they played might not be always dramatically consistent they kept the attention continually alive, and fulfilled, at any rate, one purpose of drama - namely that of amusing the audience. It was impossible not to be pleased with them."

Allister Hardiman
Biographer of R.S.Smythe
19th Century Illustrious Pilgrim


Philadelphia, June 7,  1897  Mrs. Dolman left for New York on Saturday Morning to visit Mrs. [George] Wood.  She was to leave NY yesterday Morning and stop at Elizabeth to visit Mrs. Zavistowski.  She wanted to stop and see Uncle & Aunty as she said it might be the last opportunity she would ever have of seeing them, Aunty having written to me that Uncle was so very feeble it was unsafe to let him go in the street alone.  God bless you all.  Your loving  Mother 

712 Garden Street
Elizabeth, NJ
August 10th 1896 [probably 1897]

My dear Neppie 

I had a very cool pleasant trip to New York.  I took boat to 23rd Street;  I took a B'way car at 23rd Street and went up to see Mrs. Fernandez, having first checked my satchel at the Pennsylvania ferry which I found just North of Erie ferry. 

Saw Mrs. Fernandez and about a thousand actors & actresses -- more or less -- going in and out of her office.  I had a little chat with her.  She had an idea that I was booked for next season, and was surprised when I told her I was not.  She took my address and said she would look out for me. 

Then the skies had such a threatening look that I thought I had better seek shelter and here I came.  I think Uncle has failed since I saw him five weeks ago, and no wonder for they had a most terrible time of it with the flood. 

Just imagine!  Three feet of water in the basement!  They are still in a very uncomfortable state for it does not dry quickly and workmen have to wait.  They have fire in the range again all right, but the heavy rains caused the roof to leak and that will be another expense.  So in the end she will not find the house such a bargain as she expected.  Au Revoir.  Love and Kisses to Albert, Neppie and Ted from me, their loving Mother  

3219 Clifford St 
Phila. Aug 26/97 

My darling Sister, 

Mama arrived home just about noon looking very well indeed, but she has had a little of her old trouble since her return.  Auntie had got pretty well straightened out but the poor soul is in the same mess again owing to the rains and floods of Monday night.  She wrote Tuesday & said everything in the cellar & kitchen was afloat, pots, pans &c &.  Said if we could see her, we would pity her.  It does seem a dreadful shame!  I am glad Mama was not there, for I am afraid she would have pitched in to help & overtaxed her strength. 

I felt a little at first as though I had called her home unnecessarily, for with cooler weather John improved in health & did not go away last week.  So I have felt a little as though I had brought Mama home under false pretenses, but am glad now I did.  Auntie does not know that John did not go away. 

Mama had to go into New York the day before she left Elizabeth.  She had a telegram from Mrs. Fernandez offering her an engagement at the Schiller Theatre, Chicago in a Stock Co.  But the whole thing seemed so uncertain & unsatisfactory, she thought it best not to accept. 

We are going to Willow Grove this afternoon.  Mama has never been there, & I want her to see it, so this is our birthday spree.  John will meet us out there.  We will ride out by trolley. It is such a beautiful ride.

Do not go out a great deal, feel more comfortable at home.  I am glad Jess and her baby are getting on so nicely.  I think "Douglas" is prettier than "Pete" though Josie thinks the name "Peter" is very pretty  Love to all & lots for you, Albert & Ted from Mama, John, Jack &  Hattie

Douglas came to see us in Pensacola when he was stationed at Fort Benning during WWII.  His wife, Dorothy and two sons stayed in New York as "she had such an important job teaching kindergarten".  POL [ETNK's mother the Poor Old Lady]  was rather scornful as she said she would go anywhere Daddy was stationed.  They were both just as happy to stay in Pensacola, but I would have loved to have traveled.  

Letter from Aunty to Albert on his 22nd  birthday, July 8, 1886

Obituary of Antonio Zavistowski, New York Clipper, Apr. 20, 1901
Through Col. T. Alston Brown we learn of the death of Mons. Antonio Zavistowski  which occurred Jan. 24 at Morris Plains, NJ, aged seventy-six years.  He was a well known ballerina master to old timers. He was at Covent Garden, London, Eng. for some time and came to America with his wife (Christine Ludlam), a well known premiere danseuse, in November 1848.  He appeared with his wife in the small theatre called the Amphion, adjacent to the old Broadway Theatre. He then went to Philadelphia and appeared at Ellsbee's Lyceum They then came back to the old Bowery Theatre, this city. Returning to Philadelphia, they appeared at the Arch Street Theatre in 1853, dancing between the plays.  For Zavistowski's benefit , June 27, 1854,  the pantomime of "Too Many Cooks" was acted, when his wife first appeared in pantomime.  The season of 1858-9 , Zavistowski was at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia. Leaving Philadelphia, they traveled as the Zavistowski Family, consisting of Mrs. Zavistowski (Christine Ludlam) and their two daughters, Alice and Emmeline.  As the family, they were at Pike's Opera House, Cincinnati in the season of 1864. They traveled through the country until they went to San Francisco, Cal. with the spectacle "Snow Flake"  and appeared at the Grand Opera House (now Morosco's), under the management of Fred Bert.  Then Zavistowski went to Australia with Annie Pixley.  He retired from the stage about 1881 and for years resided at Ridgewood New Jersey.  When "Michael Strogoff" was done at Booth's Theatre [which was open 1869-1883] he had charge of the billet.. 

"Uncle" Antonio was 23 when he came to the US, and retired at 56. They seem to have been in  Cincinnati when John Nickinson died in Feb. 1864, and the Zavistowski Troupe is listed on a program with EJ Phillips and Junius Brutus Booth Jr. in Othello.  Alice Zavistowski played Puck in the revival of A Midsummer Night's Dream when Pike's Opera House burned in March   1866. When did Christine die?

Last updated Dec. 29, 2013

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