Bridgeton, NJ


In verifying Oscar Wilde’s tour of America, one occasionally comes across previously unrecorded lectures, such as the ones at the seaside resort of Narragansett Pier, RI, a second talk given by Wilde in Saratoga Springs, and another he gave for the YMCA in Yorkville, New York City [1].

This last lecture in New York redefined what biographers thought had been Wilde’s final lecture in North America at St. John, in New Brunswick, Canada.

Now another lecture has emerged which also post-dates Wilde final Canada visit.

Bridgeton, New Jersey

Bridgeton was, and still is, a small industrial city on the Cohansey River in the Delaware Bay lowlands. A river crossing there gives the city its name. That Oscar Wilde delivered a lecture there is all the more remarkable because Bridgeton is located some distance from New York City where Wilde was living at the time.

Moreover, Oscar found time to travel and stay overnight in Bridgeton on October 26th when he was quite active in the city, including welcoming Lillie Langtry to America at dawn on October 23rd, and attending and speaking at a celebratory dinner for Charles Wyndham on October 28.

No record is known as to how the lecture in Bridgeton came to be arranged in a fairly remote part of south Jersey, but we do have details of Wilde’s travel arrangements and his much derided lecturing style.

Moore’s Music Hall

Wilde lecture venue was 1000-seater Moore’s Music Hall dedicated on November 1, 1879 on South Laurel Street. Moore was an early family name in Bridgeton and the music hall, built by J. M. Moore & Son, also housed the William J. Moore boot and shoe store. The venue was sold-out for Wilde’s visit but his performance, as can be gleaned from the reports, was a disappointment.

There is no record of Wilde’s accommodation in Bridgeton, but the principal hotels in 1882 were the Davis House and Hohenstatt Hotel which was across the street from the theatre.

After a year or so the Music Hall was renamed the Opera House, a trend that was popular in the 1880s in small towns and cities eager to appear more cultured, regardless of whether operas were actually staged. Around the turn of the century, the theatre found its niche as the Criterion, a vaudeville house and later movie theatre. On June 14, 1949, the Criterion met the same fate that befell most of Wilde lecture venues when it was destroyed by fire. It was replaced by the Laurel movie house in 1950, also since demolished.

Wilde returned to New York the next day via Camden, New Jersey. His allusion in the newspaper report (below) to Walt Whitman recalls Wilde’s two visits to the good gray poet earlier in the year.

[1] The New York final lecture was first noted in The Wildean (journal of the Oscar Wilde Society), No. 42, January 2013.

16 thoughts on “Bridgeton, NJ

    1. I thought that! But maybe the reporter expected Wilde to pronounce it in the American way: ‘bin’. Someone needs to dig up this chap’s review of Dickens’ American lectures, just to check if his critical standards were consistent…


      1. Worth noting also that Wilde was Irish, which might not only explain certain apparently British pronunciations (like ‘bean’ for been), but also the use of ‘koortesy’ for courtesy (which we of course pronounce ‘kurtesy’), definitely an Irishism. The general snottiness of the review, though, may have little to do with linguistics. Bridgeton was an industrial city, but also quite the educational hub at the time. This might explain the invitation to Wilde to lecture here in the first place, and his visit may have gone down better among some of the young cognoscenti of the Bridgeton student elite than the review suggests. There is nothing new about the culture wars! Note too that Bridgeton’s nearness to Camden (and Walt Whitman) would also have been a reason to stop and make the most of his appearance opportunities. Anyway, thanks for opening this brilliant window into the city’s cultural life at the time! We here in Bridgeton will definitely be following up!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I am already talking with my friend/colleague/resource person about what went on at Moore’s Opera House (and, in anticipation, he says ‘a lot’), but think about this little town having an ‘opera house’ at all–quite the eyeopener on local culture, isn’t it! And check out the institutions of higher learning here in 1882: the South Jersey Institute (which was coed, no less), the West Jersey Academy (for men), Ivy Hall (for women), and coed Bridgeton High School itself. On the leading edge of industrial development (considered about this time and into the early 20th century ‘the most prosperous city in the state’), Bridgeton actually boasted its educational opportunities for women. There were throwbacks, of course, and a lot of proper Presbyterians or smartass conservatives to stay the course (and maybe write reviews like this one). But generally the culture was quite literate and artistically cultured and politically/socially progressive (and still is), so I bet the reviewer rattled a few cages. Never mind. Thank you. It’s delicious to see how a little touchstone like a visit by Oscar Wilde could throw an historical window like this wide open.


  2. Hi John –

    Just a quick comment to say that the info in your Bridgeton lecture post helped me solve a tangentially related research question involving the building next door to Wilde’s lecture venue. I don’t see you on Twitter so I’ll post a link to the thread here in which I’ve mentioned the post..

    Thanks for a great site — I just discovered it and will be reading more of it. Good luck with your work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John —

      Sure! If you can’t see the thread, the short of it is that I came across that picture of the umbrella shop and store owner in the Minn. Historical Society online holdings identified as Minneapolis, unknown address. In researching it,

      Falling into a research rabbit hole, I found that the person in the photo was probably from Bridgeton NJ. In trying to confirm the location of the building, I eventually ran across your blog and the photo you’d posted of Wilde’s venue. There’s a sliver of the building I was researching visible on the left hand side, and they’re a match. That allowed me to place the photo at Bridgeton, probably about the same period as the Wilde visit. Perhaps they ran into each other and talked to umbrellas.

      Not the highest-order application of your research, I know, but fun nonetheless! Thanks again and all the best. Gary

      Liked by 1 person

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