My apologies to everyone for running late today. I’ve just returned from a writers’ conference in New York and am getting my feet back on the ground. Complicating things is — it seems — the ever present deadline. My new book is due Monday and there is much too do.
When I last blogged, I talked about mines. There are no more famous names in the history of the Northern Mines than those of Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree, two women who parlayed entertainment into great fortunes during those days. One kept the fortune, the other died in poverty.
Lola — born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland — was a sensation in Europe in the 1840’s, both for her theatrical talents and her personal life. She was the mistress of Ludwig of Bavaria and later presided over soirees attended by such luminaries as Franz Liszt, George Sand, Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas.
She embarked on a tour of America in 1852 and eventually made it to San Francisco. According to “Sunset Gold Mining Country,” her famous beauty and notoriety packed the audiences but her mediocre dancing talents were somewhat disappointing to the jaded San Franciscans. She visited mining camps, injecting an element of glamour ino the often tawdry routine of mining camps, but failed in larger venues. She finally retired in Grass Valley, one of the most important gold mining towns in Califonia where she shared her home with her pets: grizzly bears and monkeys.
Lotta Crabtree lived just down the street. At seven, she would stop to visit Lola, and the bubbling irrepressible little girl caught Lola’s fancy and became her protege. Lola taught little Lotta songs and dances and soon the child was performing for Miss Montez’s guests.
About a year after they met, the Crabtrees moved to La Porte, and the two were separated. Little Lotta, though, was on her way. She went on stage at the age of eight and was a smash success. The miners showered the stage with coins and nuggets.
She toured the mines for years, often in one night stands, and built a huge following. She finally went to San Francsico, then New York and on to internatonal fame. She retired at an early age and lived gracefuly unil 1924. At the time of her death, her estate totaled $4 million.
Her mentor, on the other hand, fell on hard times. Trying to renew her career, she went to Australia, but failed there. She failed again when she moved to New York and tried to build a career lecturing. Her health failed, and her money was gone. She died at the age of 43 in poverty, just about the time that Lotta Crabtree was starting on her great career.
These two women brought glamour and pleasure to the mining camps and towns across the west. They each defied convention and lived life to the fullest on their own terms. Two terrific heroines, one with a successful ending, the other a tragic one.
Now I think I have an idea for a new book . . .