Wilde Fire



What a shame. The venue where Oscar Wilde lectured in St. Joseph, Missouri in April 1882, was destroyed by fire on Monday this week.

No longer a theater, it may have been just another empty converted office building symbolic of a Midwest hollowed out by recession, but it was still there. Unlike so many of the Wilde’s lecture venues which were lost to fire in gaslit days, surely, one thought, this building had survived that fate.


But no, and here’s what makes the loss a little more personal.

Just a day earlier I had been discussing which city from Wilde’s lecture tour that I would most like to visit. No kidding. I said St Joseph, Missouri. One reason was that  both Wilde’s hotel and lecture theater were extant, and very few cities that can boast that—although there is one fewer now.

There was also much history attached to the city, and I have already featured the story of Wilde’s hotel on this blog here: Oscar Wilde’s Pony Tale, and thankfully that building remains. But we must now bid farewell to Wilde’s lecture theater. Somewhere, the grand chandelier grows dim one last time.



Built in 1871 by Milton Tootle, Tootles Opera House at 504 Francis Street (at Fifth), in St. Joseph, was designed by Angelo Powell. It opened on  December 9, 1872 with a seating capacity: 1500. It was remodeled in 1923 as commercial office block, and latterly had been the Pioneer Building. [1] [2]

The cause of the fire this week is still unknown, and this echoes the fiery fate of Wilde’s lecture venue in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Here are some poignantly observed photographs of the event taken by photo-journalist Patrick Evenson (used with permission):

15194504_1856471177921436_246169716813273644_o 15196092_1856471267921427_2411932987332831252_o 15111069_1856471387921415_6260449242429984230_o 14054286_1856471394588081_3806822777241224594_o15129600_1856471027921451_2220951621985253339_o
For more from this photo-journal visit: Coverage Photography.


[1] Tootles Opera House Part 1

[2] Tootles Opera House Part 2

Media coverage:


FACEBOOK (Aftermath picture)

KSHB (TV coverage)


Published by

John Cooper

John Cooper is a researcher, author, blogger and documentary historian. As a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America, he has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde, having lectured on Wilde, and contributing to TV, film, and academic journals including The Wildean and Oscholars. Online he is the designer, author and editor of this noncommercial archive Oscar Wilde in America, blogger, and moderator of the Oscar Wilde Internet discussion groups at Yahoo and Google. For the last 14 years he has specialized in new and unique research into Oscar Wilde in New York, where he conducts guided walking tours based on the visits of Oscar Wilde. In 2012 John rediscovered Oscar Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his recent book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

3 thoughts on “Wilde Fire”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s